BACOLOD CITY, Negros Occidental, Philippines – The Army announced the arrival of the 33rd Division Reconnaissance Company on the last day of February 2020.
The company, which is directly under the command of the 3rd Infantry Division based in Panay headed by Major General Benedict Arevalo, has been placed under the operational control of the 303rd Infantry Brigade, an old command of Arevalo, now headed by Brigadier General Innocencio Pasaporte.
The name alone connotes some things about the DRC.
First, it is directly under the command of the Army division that can deploy it to any area under the 3rd ID’s scope.
“Reconnaissance,” the Fort Benning website says, is divided into five aspects, among them area reconnaissance which is defined as “reconnaissance focuse(d) on obtaining detailed information about the terrain or enemy activity within a prescribed area (ADRP 3‐90). An area is commonly described graphically as a named area of interest (NAI) and can also be graphically described as a checkpoint. NAIs can encompass a large surface or a specific point. This is due to the amount of, or lack thereof, mission analysis the staff conducts in developing the area of interest.”
“Company” is a military organizational term that defines a group of soldiers ranging in size “… from a few dozen to 200 soldiers,” the US Department of Defense said on its website.
The country’s Armed Forces is largely patterned after that of the United States.
Pentagon further describes the company as a “tactical-sized unit that can perform a battlefield function on its own. A company consists of three or four platoons and is generally commanded by a captain.”
There is limited information on the Internet about the 33rd DRC except mentions of the unit name in after-battle reports of Army battalions.
In fact, Pasaporte can only give scant details about the unit’s commanders, saying these are” young, junior grade officers.”
He did mention, however, that the DRC includes Scout Ranger and Special Forces soldiers – both elite units of the Philippine Army patterned after their counterparts in the US.
The Rangers, officially known as the First Scout Ranger Regiment, was formed in the 1950s while the Special Forces followed 10 years later.
Both are among the the armed service branches under the AFP Special Operations Command (SOCOM).
Two Filipino officers, both ranked majors in their branches of service – Antonio Lastimado of the Philippine Army and Arturo Rojas of the Marine Corps – pointed out in a paper for their Master’s degree in the Monterey Naval Postgraduate School that the scope of special operations tends to include “a broad range of practices.”
They added it is difficult to define “special operations” in precise terms and “As a result, in the literature, definitions have often been vague and under-inclusive.”
They, however, noted that special operations “is frequently associated with missions involving the following: raids, reconnaissance, demolitions, sabotage and assassinations, counter-terrorism, training and organizing indigenous forces, unconventional warfare, irregular warfare, covert operations, and the like.”
Perhaps a more practical view about the SR comes best from the opposite side of the battlefield.
Some rebels who were active in starting in the 70s told DNX their first experience with a special unit was when they encountered troopers of the then Philippine Constabulary’s Long Range Patrol (LRP).
One, a former cadre assigned then to the regional propaganda bureau, told this writer he and his fellow guerrillas were “shocked” to see for the first time an M14 battle rifle on the field when the NPA was just mainly armed with M1 Garand rifles, some M3 submachine guns or “grease guns,” 30.06 elephant guns or others of World War II vintage firearms.
“One unit even had an Arisaka,” the ex guerrilla said, referring to the bolt-action Japanese rifle, possibly a Type 38 chambered in 6.5x50mm.
The DNX source became a ranking regional cadre in the 80s when the NPA was led then by Ka Philip or Silvino “Macau” Gallardo who died only last year.
Under Gallardo, reputed in the rebel underground as a fine military commander who came from a well-to-do family here, the NPAs accumulated strength and firearms.
The former cadre said even during Gallardo’s time, the Scout Rangers, distinguishable for their black fatigues and black panther insignias, were treated with “more tactical respect” than ordinary soldiers.
The SRs, which rebels sometimes derisively call, “singgarongs” or civet cats after their insignias, were observed to be tactically better than their regular counterparts.
For instance, another ex-rebel who used to head a platoon, recounted doing a scouting mission to check on soldiers who appear to be on long-range patrol.
He and his fellow fighters observed the SRs acted differently when they bivouac in the jungle.
The SRs also act differently as a fire team, a ranking NPA officer once said, as he noted that their movements are more tactical, more coordinated.
He recalled for example, that SRs are more patient in stalking them, moving through tall cogon grasses according to the direction the wind is blowing.
“If the wind stops, they stop. If it blows again, they move,” he said in a mix of Hiligaynon and Bisaya.
Their fieldcraft is also better.
He noted that SRs are more adept in riverine operations as NPAs usually set up camp near freshwater sources.
When operating in rivers, SRs would usually smell the water for signs of soap indicating a possible camp or smell the air for a whiff of cologne or cigarette smoke.
“Which is why we used to discourage the taga-urban (cadres from urban areas) to not use cologne or perfume) or avoid smoking brands of cigarettes that can only be bought in urban areas,” he said.
“I don’t know if it’s true but we suspected those bastards can even tell the difference cheap cigarettes and expensive ones.”
The firepower was also different.
Each SR, the intel reaching the NPA said, has two rifles assigned to him – an M16A1, more known as the Armalite, and the M14 battle rifle.