Published on Page A13 of the July 6, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer
MIXED emotions swept Benarlyn Inocencio when she arrived at the naval base in Sangley Point, Cavite City, to attend the graduation ceremonies of the Philippine Navy SEALs (Sea, Air and Land) on June 21.
Seaman Second Class (SN2) Reynaldo Panis Jr., her boyfriend of two years, was one of the 21 graduates of the special course for the SEALs, touted as the most special elite unit in the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Although happy that Panis had fulfilled his dream of becoming a soldier, she was worried about what might happen to him after the government declared a full-scale war to end the communist insurgency.
?He said he wanted to prove something to himself. So I will just support him,? the 18-year-old lass from Cavite City said.
Panis? father, Reynaldo Sr., also had the same thoughts.
?Although we take pride in what he has done, the anxiety is there. But he has to do his tasks to serve the country,? said the proud father, himself a former soldier.
Panis, at 28 the youngest in the class, said their nine months of extraordinary training had prepared him and the others to overcome their fear.
?Fear is always there, but you need to overcome it,? he said in Filipino.
In less than a month, their group will be sent to different combat areas in Mindanao.
Lt. Victor Ramos, the group?s team leader, said all of them were ready to respond to the call of President Macapagal-Arroyo to crush the communist insurgency within two years.
He said their morale was high after the President announced an additional P1 billion for the government?s campaign against the New People?s Army (NPA).
?This is what we wanted, to be warriors [for the people]. We?re conditioned to undertake the tasks ahead of us. We?re very excited,? Ramos said.
Lt. Senior Grade Cris Sergio, commanding officer of Unit 6 of the SEALs, said the group?s ability to conduct operations in different terrains using unconventional warfare makes the unit a force to reckon with.
?Our spirits are high. My men and I are very excited. With the support that the government has given us, we?re ready to go. It?s fight, fight, fight,? Sergio said.
The SEALs, also known as the Naval Special Operations Group (Navsog), are trained to conduct operations on sea, air and land.
?Unlike the Marines and the Scout Rangers, the SEALs operate in small units, usually made up of eight persons. We can even operate with only two men,? he explained.
Of the AFP?s over 100,000 personnel, less than a thousand are SEALs. Sergio said the rigors of the training make it impossible for others to make it to the elite team.
The SEALs usually use commando-style raids and attack at night when they are at their best, Sergio said.
They are also known for their ability to stay sleepless for days during special operations in an area.
Most of their missions are classified; only the top military officials know about their operations.
It is said that members of the Navy Seals were actually the ones who killed notorious Abu Sayyaf leader and spokesperson Abu Sabaya during one of their operations in Mindanao two years ago.
Sergio said their delicate missions also allowed them to use the most advanced firearms and war gadgets that the military has.
For one, the SEALs have radios which can be used under water. These communications gadgets were given to the military by their US counterparts and were presented to the media before the graduation rites on June 19.
The group also employs some of the most prolific and accurate snipers of the military.
It has experts in handling and planting high-impact explosives within enemy lines without being detected.
With these, Sergio said the members were confident that they can respond and contribute immensely in crushing the NPA.
The training principles of the SEALs were taken from the training book of the US Seals. Some of the instructors were likewise trained by American SEALs.
Training includes airborne exercises, reconnaissance work, ordnance handling and scuba diving.
For nine months, the soldiers must wake up at 4 a.m. and stay awake up to the wee hours to carry out the tasks given them. They swim for two miles every day and run 10 km.
The soldiers are made to do a 27-km swim from Roxas Boulevard in Manila to the naval base in Sangley Point without any rest.
They also undergo ?Hell Week,? a week-long training where they are not allowed to sleep even for a minute, and ?Hell Blast,? in which they are given alcoholic beverages and given tasks while drunk.
?It is at their worst condition and state of mind where good soldiers stand out from the rest. It is at their worst condition when we can get the best from them,? Sergio said.
Only 21 of the 79 applicants were able to finish the course, he said.