FVR established AFP's most elite unit in 1962; it was his ‘most exciting, dangerous' assignment

One of the pioneers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) Special Forces paid respect to the late former President Fidel V. Ramos, who was also the founding commander of the military’s most elite unit, during the latter’s wake at the Heritage Park in Taguig City on Saturday, August 6.

Retired Maj. Gen. Jose Magno Jr., one of the pioneers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines' most elite unit, the Special Forces (now Special Forces Regiment - Airborne). (Photo by Special Forces Regiment - Airborne)

Retired Maj. Gen. Jose Magno Jr. revisited his fond memories with Ramos and other pioneers of the Special Forces, now the AFP Special Forces Regiment or SFR (A), in the 1960s.

He shared that Ramos’ “most exciting and dangerous assignment” as a military officer was when he became the first commander of the Special Forces.

“In 1960, Captain Fidel Ramos, Lt. David Abundo Jr., Capt. Cesar Batilo, and I went to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. We trained at the Special Warfare Center and out of 80 individuals, we topped the Special Forces and Psychological Warfare Course. Wanting to learn and achieve more, we also took airborne courses,” Magno said as he recalled how the current SFR (A) was formed.

Retired Maj. Gen. Jose Magno Jr. grants media interview after he visited the wake of former President and Commander in Chief Fidel V. Ramos at the Heritage Park in Taguig City on Aug. 6, 2022.

It was the ninth year of Ramos’ career as a captain when he underwent the training.

After that, the AFP General Headquarters tasked Capt. Ramos to head a committee and study the incorporation of an unconventional warfare capability in the Philippine military, Magno said.

He said this led to the birth of the 1st Special Forces Company on June 25, 1962 with Ramos as its first ever commander.

Former President and Commander in Chief Fidel Valdez Ramos wears the Special Forces green beret in a commemorative photo. (Photo by Special Forces Regiment - Airborne)

During his spoken tribute, Magno then detailed a statement written by the late president.

“In my 52 years of public service, I was honored by our people to serve as Philippine President for six years. But I can truly tell you that the most exciting and dangerous assignment during all these years was my stint as the first commanding officer for the pioneer unit, the 1st Special Forces Company,” Ramos was quoted as saying by Magno.

“That’s the military achievement I’m most proud of since it is the nucleus of what it is now, Special Forces Regiment Airborne,” he added. Magno retired as the commander of the Southern Command in Mindanao in 1986.

But over the decades, the 1st Special Forces Company expanded from one company to a regiment with 20 companies that are now mostly deployed in Mindanao. It now serves as a special forces unit of the Philippine Army and continually trains with its counterparts from the United States, the US Army Special Forces.

Members of the SFR (A) are usually deployed to the most difficult missions as they are trained to do air assaults, anti-guerilla operations, close quarter combats, counter-insurgency, counter-intelligence, counter-terrorism, hostage rescue, jungle warfare, reconnaissance missions, and other special operations.

This undated file photo shows Capt. Fidel V. Ramos (with sunglasses) leading the Advance Planning Group in preparing for the arrival of the 1st Philippine Civic Action Group to Vietnam (PHILCAGV) main body during the Vietnam War in the 1960s. With him (clockwise from left) were: Capt. Francisco Gatmaitan, 1Lt. Ernie Calupig, Capt. Eddie Ermita, Capt. Joe Magno, 1Lt. Lisandro Abadia and Maj. Sixto Belen. (Photo by Special Forces Regiment - Airborne).

At the time of Ramos’ leadership, only one of every five candidates pass the rigid physical and psychological fitness tests in the SFR (A), with candidates having to spend months in training on the mountains of Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija to setup jungle training areas, perform hundreds of kilometers of road runs, and jump from old C-47 transport aircraft into diverse drop zones.

“In addition to honing our airborne skills, we became highly proficient in jungle survival, escape and evasion techniques, and scuba diving. We functioned as a small, well-oiled team with specialists in intelligence, weapons, demolition, communications, and medical support,” Ramos wrote in a coffee table book commemorating the 50th anniversary of the SFR (A).

Aside from Magno, other Special Forces alumni and current officials also visited Ramos’ wake.

Among them were retired Lt. Gen. Donato San Juan II, chairman of the Special Forces Alumni Association Incorporated (SFAAI) and former commander of the SFR (A); Col. Ferdinand Napuli, current SFR (A) commander; former Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, who was a member of the 11th Special Forces Team.

Also with them were former AFP Chief of Staff and former senator Rodolfo Biazon; Former defense secretary Eduardo Ermita; Senator Grace Poe; former president Joseph Estrada and his son, Senator Jinggoy Estrada; Maj. Gen. Roy Galido, acting Army Chief of Staff; and Brig. Gen. Monico Abang, commander of the Light Reaction Regiment.