During the attacks in Mumbai last November, we saw in action how SEAL operative-counterparts in India, the MarCos, rose to the occasion. I will now let you take a glimpse of SEAL action in a different Asian country – the Philippines.
The Philippines is an archipelago in South East Asia composed of more than 7,100 islands. As a government, it has been a long-time supporter of the United States. After more than 300 years of Spanish occupation, the Philippines won its independence through US support in 1898. Since then, they have fought alongside the US in World War II and the Korean War. American citizens of Filipino descent are spread all over the United States, and some of them are now serving their adopted country as part of the US Armed Forces.
Despite its relatively small land area, being an archipelago poses a challenge when it comes to coastal security. Its land area is certainly not proportionate to its coastline. For the Southern Philippines alone, the Philippine Navy and Coast Guard has its hands full defending the Philippines’ “back door”, where a flurry of illegal activities abound — reputedly a haven for scores of terrorists, pirates, poachers, human traffickers and smugglers.
This is a pity because this part of the Philippines is teeming with possibilities. Tawi-Tawi is ranked 11th among the world’s biggest fish exporters. The US and Australia have also launched explorations to tap into its rich oil, gas and mineral reserves. The Sulu Sea is a diver’s dream, where scores of new marine species are still being discovered. If peace is restored and maintained, ecotourism alone is expected to contribute about PhP 4 billion (about US$80 million) to the local economy.
Currently, this area is being protected by Naval Task Force 62, assigned to implement Coast Watch South. Composed of marines and Philippine SEALs who are, as in the US Navy, part of an elite special operations unit, they protect the waters of the Sulu and Celebes seas bordering Malaysia and Indonesia.