The Philippine Marine Corps Force Reconnaissance Battalion (Marine Force Recon) is the Philippine Naval Fleet’s/ Philippine Marine Corps’ elite ground forces unit for unconventional warfare and special operations. It specializes in sea, air and land operations, like its counterpart in the Special Warfare Group of the Philippine Navy, ranging from reconnaissance, close combat, demolition, intelligence and underwater operations in support to the overall naval operations.
As the spearhead of the Philippine Armed Forces, Marines of the Marine Corps are “the first to fight” and elements of the Marine Corps Force Reconnaissance Battalion lead the way.
What makes it different from the Special Warfare Group is that it utilizes strategies and tactics mastered by the Philippine Army’s 1st Scout Ranger Regiment and Special Forces units.
They also make use of mechanized operations in support of other AFP combat operations as specially inclined with the conduct of special and classified military actions.
All Force Recon Marines are usually airborne and Scout Ranger qualified and most importantly; must finish the Force Reconnaissance Course to qualify.
Like most of the AFP special operations units, the best members of Force Recon Battalion are handpicked to undergo VIP security training and is further assigned with the Presidential Security Group.
The Recon unit saw intense combat actions alongside with the MBLTs during the Secessionist Movement of the MNLF in Southern Mindanao in the early 1970s. Thus the four (4) – man team earned its fame.
From 1975 to 1985 the unit experienced a series of combined combat and administrative operations ranging from recon missions to augmentation of the first activated Inshore Boat Company in the early 1980s.
On 15 Sept 1985, the 1st Recon Company was re-designated as the 61st Marine (Recon) Company. The 61st Recon Company had most of its field assignments in Mindanao, particularly in the Zamboanga peninsula where they were pitted against several dissident terrorists (DTs) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) lost command.
In 1986, the 61st Marine (Recon) Company was stationed at Marine Barracks Fort Bonifacio (MBFB). In June 1987, the unit together with a large contingent of Combat Service Support Brigade (CSSBde) units and other MBLTs, were sent to Jolo relieving the 1st Infantry Division of the Philippine Army. From there, the unit was sent to various combat missions against several lawless elements in Basilan, Tawi-Tawi, and Palawan. In 1988, the company returned to MBFB.
While at the MBFB, Recon Company was eventually deployed and utilised against the renegade soldiers in Metro Manila and successfully apprehended several of these during different raids in their hideouts.
In 1989, the unit practically covered the entire archipelago. A Recon platoon was deployed in Central Mindanao, specifically in Davao and Cotabato under operational control of the 3rd Mbde. Another platoon was deployed in Palawan under 2nd MBde, while another platoon operated in Bulacan under the 1st Mbde. The company’s operating headquarters was under the GHQ Task Force Vulcan.
On 15 May 1989 the 62nd and 63rd Marine (Recon) Companies were both activated although their actual fill up came up later in 1994 when there were three (3) independent Recon Companies.
In 1992 the 61st Marine (Recon) Company together with a weapons section from the 8th Marine Company, MBLT-8, led the assault against the main Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army (CPP/NPA) Headquarters in Sagada, Mt Province. The success of the operation was a strategic victory for the AFP against the CPP/NPA not only in Luzon but all over the country.
In Sept 1992, the units maintained the same profile of deployment. It was intensely engaged against several kidnap-for-ransom (KFRC) gangs in Central Mindanao. One of the most celebrated accomplishments of the unit during this period was the rescue of Father BLANCO and Anthony BIEL from the Abu Sayyaf. The encounters by the unit which preceded this rescue, together with other Marine units operating in Basilan were the first ever series of encounters by the AFP against the ASG. The successful operation and rescue in Camp Almadina, Basilan earned for the unit not only national prestige but the second Medal of Valor for the Marine Corps in the person of 1LT CUSTODIO PARCON PN(M), who led the assault. This operation soon led to several intense but nonetheless successful combat operations against the ASG and the MNLF Lost Command in Basilan and Jolo, which unfortunately escalated to alarming heights with the arrival of the Philippine Army in the area.
From 1993 to 1994, the Company was designated under the Marine Rapid Deployment Force and was sent to Cotabato to face more combat operations.
On 18 April 1995, the Headquarters Service and Training Company were activated to form the Force Recon Battalion (FRBn) with the three (3) Recon Companies, with its two (2) Companies deployed in Cotabato and Zamboanga City, and one (1) company aboard MBFB.
In October 1998 the entire battalion, the Headquarters and the three (3) Companies were all deployed in Southern Mindanao under the defunct Philippine Anti-Organized Crime Task Force (PAOCTF) – Mindanao. Here, the FRBn took on various special operations ranging from direct actions against the ASG and KFRG’s, to ship assault and raids on built-up areas against big time smugglers.
In March 1999 the battalion was confronted with the war in Central Mindanao against the MILF. Again, the headquarters went into action together with its three (3) Companies where three (3) of its men earning for the Battalion their three (3) Medals of Valor.
On August 2001, the FRBn was once again deployed in Basilan to rescue the Dos Palmas hostages and to neutralise the ASG, while one (1) Force Recon Company was committed for the Force Recon Course Class 07-01 which was operating under Southern Luzon Command (SOLCOM) AOR. In the same year, and in accordance to Marine Corps Table of Organization (TOE) 01-00 the 61st, 62nd, and 63rd Marine (Recon) Companies were re-designated as the 61st, 62nd, and 63rd Force Recon Companies, respectively. With the growing strength of the battalion, the 64th Force Recon Company was activated on January 2003. The battalion is now under the Combat Support Service Brigade of the Philippine Marine Corps.
The Scout Raider, The Forerunner
The forerunner of the Recon was the Scout Raider Platoon which was part of then the Weapons Company of the Philippine Marine Battalion in the 1950s.
It was in 1954 that due to the formation of the Scout Raider Platoon the Philippine Marine Battalion then first received formal instruction and training in combat parachuting. Thus, it officially became the first airborne unit of the Philippine Navy in general.
On training, its first personnel received formal training at the PA Special Forces while conducting cross training with the USMC Recon and other Special Operations units. Nonetheless, the Scout Raider Platoon was specialised in amphibious raids and not on ground reconnaissance.
Officially, while the platoon was peculiar in itself but its activation was controversial, since it was the Weapons Company of the then Philippine Marine Battalion which was activated and the Scout Raider was only one of its platoons. In addition, the former Scout Raider had entirely different missions from that of the first Recon unit and its bigger successors, particularly, the Force Recon Battalion.
Nonetheless, it was crucial though that when the first Recon Company was activated the Scout Raider personnel were the first to fill up the unit. Thus, there was indeed a feeling of consanguinity and relationship between two different units.
Likewise, the same feeling and confusion experienced among those recon personnel who filled-up the first Inshore Boat Company, and various unsupported claims arose that the Recon at one time was deactivated which officially did not occur, however, accidentally unfilled. Thus, the activation of the first Recon Company in 1972 was entirely unique and unrelated to other claims of ascendancy or roots.
So far, since its inception the Recon unit garnered three (3) Medals of Valor and in two (2) counts it won for itself the AFP Outstanding Personnel of the Year in 1985 and 2001 respectively.
Not only in combat did the Force Recon proved its prowess, equally the unit has answered the call in countless disaster rescue and relief operations.