"The Scout Rangers will not be downgraded, not now or in the near future," Esperon told reporters here Friday at the headquarters of the anti-terrorist unit, Task Force Davao, in his tour of military camps across the country.
He said this assurance should dispel further talks that there was restiveness among junior military officers and that there was any plan to emasculate the two elite units, the Scout Rangers and the Marines, whose top-ranking officers have been either detained or uprooted from their leadership of these units.
"I have been sitting with junior officers and there was no problem with them," he said.
"Even the talk that the Marines and the Special Forces units would be disbanded is not true," he said.
He said talks of downsizing or disbandment were "only made up by certain sectors out to divide the military".
If ever there would be plans to downsize the regiment of Scout Rangers and the Special Forces, including the Marines, "it would be the product of the many studies that are being continually done in the military to make the AFP more responsive and effective".
"But any downsizing of these units would not be done in the near future," he said.
Rather than being downsized, he said the AFP headquarters is studying several options on "optimizing" the skills and special capabilities of the Scout Rangers and the Special Forces which Esperon said would be likely tapped in the counterinsurgency campaign, the AFP's main assignment to comply with in the next two years.
Talks of downsizing the military elite units was aired by an Army officer based in Camp Aguinaldo who told reporters on condition of anonymity that there was a plan to downsize the Army's Special Operations Command (Socom). The Socom controls the elite Scout Rangers and Special Forces and the unnamed officer has claimed that the alleged plan has "lowered the morale" of officers and soldiers assigned to these units.
"Officers and men of Socom are greatly affected and demoralized by the ongoing study at Army headquarters [as directed by the Army commander, Lt. Gen. Romeo Tolentino to downsize the Special Forces Regiment and the First Scout Ranger Regiment," newspaper reports have quoted the unnamed officer as saying.
The Army officer said that under the plan, Tolentino wants to reduce to just one battalion, or roughly 500 troops, the strength of each of the two units under the Special Operations Command (Socom)—the First Scout Ranger Regiment (FSRR) and Special Forces—that currently have three battalions and one headquarters company each.
During the same news briefing, Esperon introduced Major General Ernesto Boac as "your new division commander here" to members of the elite Task Force Davao, who are also selected personnel from the Scout Rangers and Special Forces.
Boac's appointment formally established the military's newest infantry division, the 10th ID, whose base Esperon is still scouting for. The division would cover the Davao and General Santos City area, and would augment the anti-New People's Army
campaign in Eastern Mindanao.
The division would form part of the new forces to compose the Eastern Mindanao Command, one of two unified commands of a split Southern Command. (see separate story) (MindaNews)