Duterte to create 'sparrow units' to target communists

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte wants to lift a page from the communists' combat strategy to target communists.

He said on Tuesday, November 27, that he would create "sparrow units" to crackdown on New People's Army (NPA) rebels.

Speaking in front of soldiers at Camp Rajah Sikatuna in Carmen, Bohol, the President said in Bisaya: "Others will say 30, 40 are the ones they hit using the sparrow (sparrow units). So we'll hit them too. I’m announcing that I’ll also create my own sparrow."

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.

Duterte said he would use NPA rebels who have surrendered to the government for his plan. 

"A lot of have surrendered, they’re in different locations…and I’ll bring them here. An exchange, if you will," he said.

These former rebels could help identify NPA members. He would make sure to arm his sparrow units. 

"They'll look for no one but those people hanging about, suspecting an NPA and they will attack them. Just get one or two, identify them, 'That one, sir, he's one of us,' that's good enough. I will match their talent for assassinating people. They'll have arms, for sure," he said in a mix of English and Filipino.

He later on added, "I’ll be the only one who knows, I’ll switch them up." He did not elaborate on his "exchange" and "switch-up" plan.

In the same speech, he again ranted against communists for attacking military and police personnel when his administration had been willing to hold talks with them.

He repeated his plan to give soldiers sidearms so they can fight back if they are ambushed by NPA rebels.

Less than a week ago, Malacañang released a memorandum order deploying additional troops to the Bicol region and the provinces of Samar, Negros Oriental, and Negros Occidental to "suppress lawless violence and acts of terror," referring to attacks by communists.

Last January, Duterte said the NPA's sparrow units had been revived. He had previously said that the so-called Davao Death Squads were created to fight the sparrow units during the Marcos martial law days.

In December 2017, Duterte proclaimed the Communist Party of the Philippines and NPA as terrorist organizations. – 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.

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