A U.S. Special Forces (SF) unit trained and equipped a Philippine Light Reaction Company (LRC) drawn from the ranks of the Philippine Army's Special Forces and Scout Ranger organisations. From February to July 2001, while the LRC was being trained, the Abu Sayyaf kidnapped three more U.S. citizens. One key issue the LRC training identified was that, while the Philippines government could develop a tactically proficient Counter-Terrorism force, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) did not have a command-and-control structure to properly employ the LRC or to integrate it with the other armed forces and current operations.
The Light Reaction Company (LRC), Special Operations Command, Philippine Army, is one of the special tasked units of SOCOM trained primarily for counter-terrorist operations. Its mission is to conduct counter-terrorist operation as well as other types of special operations in any type of environment independently or in support to higher headquarters’ mission.
The second quarter of the year 2000 saw the resurgence of the secessionist movement by the MILF in Mindanao. The then President Joseph Estrada issued an all out war against the MILF and ordered the military to capture all its camps including Camp Abubakar. As per guidance, all places under MILF influence should be recovered and be returned back to government control. All efforts were then concentrated in Mindanao. Majority of forces in Luzon and Vises were redeployed to Mindanao to carry out the orders of the President. Meanwhile, while the war in Mindanao was ongoing, Metro Manila was rocked by a series of bombings purportedly done by the MILF and other terrorist groups who seek to divert the attention of the AFP in Mindanao and bring the battle to Metro Manila as well as to sow terror and discredit the government. With most of the troops sent to Mindanao and the 33rd Special Forces (COTU) placed under task force Aduana, no specially trained unit was left to help protect the country’s capital. This problem was addressed during the visit of the then commanding general of the Philippine Army, Lt General Voltaire T Gazmin to Fort Magsaysay. He ordered then Brig General Dionisio R Santiago, SOCOM Commander to organize a small hard-hitting, compact unit, a company that could quickly react at any given time, place, and environment. Coincidentally, the basic airborne class 87-2000 was ongoing at that time and because of the crisis in Mindanao, their qualifying jumps were postponed due to the unavailability of aircraft. CG, SOCOM and other staff saw a quick solution to comply with the guidance of CG, PA. All students not organic to SOCOM were sent back to their respective units while waiting for the availability of aircraft and all those organic to SOCOM became the core of the new Light Reaction Company. On May 11, 2000, pursuant to General Orders no. 104, Headquarters, Special Operations Command, PA dated 14 May 2000 and subsequently General Orders Number 1292, Headquarters, PA dated 24 November 2000, Light Reaction Company was formally activated with 1st Lt Jose Jesus C Luntok as the first official Commanding Officer. It was composed of two (2) Officers and Ninety-Eight enlisted personnel of whom 90 percent are qualified Special Forces and/or Scout Ranger.
To further enhance the skills of the personnel of the newly activated company and in preparation for deployment, the unit underwent several trainings to include Advance Military Operation on Urban Terrain (AMOUT), Close Quarter Battle (CQB), Combat Reaction Firing and Advance Rifle Marksmanship. With the Mindanao crisis shifting from Central Mindanao to Basilan Province and Jolo, Sulu due to a series of kidnapping incidents perpetrated by yet another group, the Abu Sayyaf, one platoon of the company was sent to said area as part of SOCOM’s Light Reaction Battalion to augment the operating troops thereat while the rest of the unit underwent further training and assisted the depleted troops operating in Luzon particularly Metro Manila and Central Luzon.
On November 2000, in consideration of the state of terrorist activities prevalent during the period, the AFP Counter-Terrorist Force was formed pursuant to G.O. # 1055, GHQ, AFP dated 12 October 2000, with the Light Reaction Company being one of the four companies being place OPCON to said unit. Likewise, an agreement between Admiral Blair, Commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific and then the Chief Of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Gen. Angelo Reyes was forged. On said agreement, the United States Armed Forces will assist the AFP in addressing the worsening problem of terrorism in the country by providing funds and personnel to train a selected AFP unit similar to that of the U.S. Delta Force.
Early this year, while waiting for the training, the country and the Filipino people was once again put to the test. Unhappy and dissatisfied over the Estrada administration and seeing the miscarriage of the impeachment trial against the then President, the people went back to the streets and EDSA II was reborn. Amidst this peaceful revolution and scattering rumor of a coup d’etat, the LRC was once again called to duty together with other CT Forces by ensuring the security of AFP Headquarters at Camp Aguinaldo and maintain peace and order at the rally. The mere presence of such force at GHQ was enough to cast doubts on the movers of the rumored coup d’etat on their ability to capture GHQ.
On March 2, 2001, as part of the Visiting Forces Agreement and as the result of the agreement between Gen Reyes and Admiral Blair, the Company underwent another training, this time, under our American Counterparts from the U.S. Special Forces. The four-month course was formally opened last 19 March 2001 after a month of selection process supervised by SOCOM. On said course, the company was trained on Combat Life Saving, Combat Marksmanship, Small Unit Tactics, and finally Special Operations Target Interdiction Course and Close Quarter Combat. Included in the training package was the special equipment making them worthy of being called the Delta Force of the Philippines, with the following capabilities:
- Close Quarter Combat - Hostage rescue and personnel recovery in all types of environment. - Long Range Sniping operations to eliminate personalities/priority targets in an independent mission, conduct defensive operation by delaying enemy attack and provide support by long range coverage fire to assault elements. - Special Reconnaissance patrols for timely critical battlefield information, authenticate intelligence report, conduct recon and surveillance, target acquisition, and damage assessment missions. - Area and target assessment of possible terrorist targets. - Limited intelligence collection capabilities. - Direct Action against identified enemy personnel and installation.
On July 5, 2001, the company completed its training. With five (5) Officers and Sixty-two (62) enlisted personnel successfully hurdling the rigorous training, it had developed its potentials and capability and ready to be deployed anytime, anywhere, and in whatever type of environment. This proved to be true when three days after the completion of its training, it was deployed in the island province of Basilan to help solve the worsening problem of terrorism perpetrated by the Abu Sayyaf Group who are holding hostages including two American Missionaries, Martin and Gracia Burnham.
Three days after completing training, the LRC deployed to the island of Basilan in the southern Philippine province of Mindanao in response to the ASG hostage crisis. However, the LRC deployed as a conventional unit, not as a national-level Counter-Terrorist force. Before the LRC deployed, American SF advisers had requested that they accompany the unit, but SOCPAC approved only a follow-on assessment mission and took no action until the tragedy of 11 September 2001.
The long awaited and much anticipated arrival of the LRC came to an end when the company landed in Basilan on 081730H July 2001. For quite sometime no significant event had taken place in the island since the incident in Lamitan, with high hopes and expectations, Military commanders in the area as well as from Higher Headquarters were relying on the company to make headway. Immediately upon arrival, they received breifng on a mission: to rescue the hostages.
On 090200H July 2001, the company moved towards the objective, after two days of patiently searching every square inch of the area, the unit finally found the enemy and engaged them in an encounter that lasted for an hour and resulted to the killing of thirteen (13) enemy personnel. This encounter also triggered three firefights when the withdrawing enemy encountered cordon forces in the area. This was also the beginning of the company’s numerous successful operations in the island. It was followed by a series of missions such as enemy personnel recovery, special reconnaissance, direct actions and other special operations.
On 070615H December 2001, the company once again proved its worth and further enhanced their identity as an effective force that terrorists have to reckon with when they encountered more or less thirty (30) ASG members. The encounter lasted for twenty (20) minutes and resulted to the recovery of one (1) 90mm RR with three (3) live ammo, one (1) M16 Rifle, one (1) twelve gauge street sweeper shotgun, a palm IR thermal Imager, the killing of eleven (11) Abu Sayyaf terrorists; two (2) BC identified as YUNOS and PAARAD, and the capture of one (1) identified as KAISER (with 1M bounty on his head).
On May 2002, the leadership of the Light Reaction Company was handed over by Captain Luntok to 1st Lt Lawrence R San Juan. Under the leadership of 1st Lt San Juan, the addition of two Light Reaction Companies was implemented. The former 33rd Special Forces (COTU) Company under 1st Lt Achilles Dela Cruz became the 2nd LRC and the 20th Scout Ranger Company under 1st Lt Herbert Dilag became the 3rd LRC. The former lone LRC then became the 1st LRC which was reorganized into sections that handled the initial Selection and Training of the additional LRCs.