MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Army's division commanders will be in charge of running the military’s “sparrow unit” against communist guerrillas which President Rodrigo Duterte announced he would create, said Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Wednesday, November 28.
“It will be the division commander of the Army who will implement this and he will be accountable and responsible. We will call the unit Anti-Sparrow Unit,” he told Rappler in a message.
A two-star position in the Army, a division has anywhere from 5,000 to 8,000 troops.
After studying the President’s proposal, the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Department of National Defense will implement the order “as soon as possible,” Lorenzana added.
“We will not just watch while the SPARU kill our men with impunity,” he said, referring to the official name of the New People’s Army (NPA) “sparrow units.” SPARU or Special Partisan Unit were the NPA’s hit squads.
Lorenzana had earlier admitted to reporters that it was important to establish who will be held accountable for the Anti-Sparrow Unit since such a group could easily be abused.
“There is great danger of abuse or mistakes in these undercover operations. Mistakes in identifying targets. Maybe the person just looks like someone else,” he had said.
To prevent such abuses or mistakes, no operative in the unit must act until “someone higher up” gives the green light “after careful and thorough vetting.”
In a statement Wednesday, Negros Island army commander Colonel Benedict Arevalo of the 303 Infantry Brigade said they have yet to receive formal guidelines or orders.
“Let me assure the people of Negros Occidental that there's nothing to worry about. We will continue our mission to attack and hit the NPAs to end their violence and extortion activities guided by the Rules of Engagement,” he said.
Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Oscar Albayalde said the PNP is also yet to receive formal orders but that once it does, it will plan how to follow the directive "guided of course by what the law provides."
Duterte, on Tuesday, expressed outrage at how military and police personnel were being killed by NPA rebels.
“I will match their talent for assassinating people,” he had said in front of soldiers in Camp Rajah Sikatuna in Carmen, Bohol.
A week ago, Duterte ordered more soldiers and police to Bicol, Samar, Negros Occidental, and Negros Oriental to suppress “lawless violence and acts of terror,” later on identified by Malacañang as NPA attacks.
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.