Duterte: Davao Death Squad formed to fight NPA 'sparrow units'

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte has his own claims about the origins of the so-called Davao Death Squad (DDS).

While retired Davao City policeman Arturo "Arthur" Lascañas claims Duterte created the DDS as his own personal hit squad, the President says the shadowy group was created to fight the "sparrow units" of the New People's Army (NPA) back in the days of Martial Law.

"I am not into excuses, no apologies, pero (but) you should learn more about DDS. It was organized to combat the – 'yung sparrow [units] noon sa Davao (the sparrow units in Davao)," said Duterte on Tuesday, March 7.

He was speaking at an agriculture event in Malacañang.

"You can ask the old guys there. It was then known as the DDS during Martial Law. The sparrow units and the DDS were fighting it out," said Duterte in a mix of English and Filipino.

The term "sparrow units" evolved from the acronym SPARU or Special Partisan Unit of the NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines. SPARUs were the NPA's hit squads.

Groups like Human Rights Watch (HRW) have a different claim about the origin of the DDS.

HRW, in its 2009 report titled "You Can Die Anytime", said the DDS' first members were sparrow unit members who surrendered to the local government, headed by then Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.

"One insider said that a high-ranking death squad member in his area had been a member of a 'sparrow unit' who surrendered directly to Davao City Mayor Duterte," reads the 103-page report.

Other DDS members were "young men who themselves were death squad targets and joined the group to avoid being killed," said HRW.

Lascañas, in his affidavit, claimed Duterte formed the DDS under the guise of Davao City's Anti-Crime Task Force to target criminals. The squad's "function" eventually changed.

'No need to create DDS'

Later on during a chance interview with media, Duterte responded to Lascañas' claims that he is behind the DDS.

"I need not do that...I need not create a DDS, I already have a police department," he said.

Asked if he thought Lascañas is telling the truth and if the former cop is a credible source of information, Duterte said, "I don't know."

The President previously admitted knowing Lascañas personally, saying he saw him "once, twice a year."

Duterte again denied involvement in extrajudicial killings, saying he should only be held accountable for killings that occur during legitimate police operations, whether collateral damage or deaths from "excessive force" by police or military.

"Those who were killed in legitimate police operations or are victims of excessive force, I will answer for it. And they can file a case against me anytime," he said.

"I will answer for my deeds and I can rot in prison for the right accusations, huwag naman 'yang basta itapon mo lang (not the baseless allegations being hurled at me)," he added. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

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 pia.ranada@rappler.com.