What is the NPA Sparrow Unit?
President Rodrigo Duterte has announced that he wanted to create a death squad to match the New People’s Army (NPA) Sparrow Unit during the Marcos regime.
Duterte named his unit the “Duterte Death Squad,” which he wanted to counter the communist rebels’ capability to assassinate people.
What is this so-called Sparrow Unit?
The NPA’s Sparrow Unit was active in the 1980s during the dictatorship of former president Ferdinand Marcos.
The communist rebel group then created an urban guerrilla unit called the Alex Boncayao Brigade (ABB), which consists of hit squads that kill government officials and suspected government agents.
A profile at the armed group at the Encyclopedia Britannica stated that “the ABB, which operated independently of its parent organization, launched its first attack in May 1984.”
The ABB hitmen were then called “sparrow units” for their swift assassinations, and they often elude arrest.
The Washington Post said these “sparrow units” were named after the sparrow bird because of their “smallness and quick moves.”
Sparrow assassinations had a pattern: a group of three men will approach the target on the street, open fire at close range using handguns, and flee aboard jeepneys or blend in with the crowd.
When the Communist Party split into the Reaffirm and Reallign groups in the 1990s, the ABB split with the NPA and allied itself with the Revolutionary Proletarian Army (RPA).
Sparrow units in DDS
A 2009 Human Rights Watch (HRW) report stated that the notorious Davao Death Squad (DDS) were composed of former members of the NPA’s sparrow units who surrendered to Duterte when he was the Davao City Mayor.
“One insider said that a high-ranking DDS member in his area had been a member of a “sparrow unit” who surrendered directly to Davao City Mayor Duterte,” HRW said in its report entitled, “You Can Die Any Time” Death Squad Killings in Mindanao.
The DDS was initially a small team called “Lambada Boys ” tasked to assassinate petty criminals.
HRW claimed that older members of the DDS recruited in the early 2000s were former members of the “sparrow units” of the NPA.
The report noted that in mid-1997, about 60 unsolved murders conducted by the DDS used similar warfare tactics to the NPA’s sparrow squad.
‘No longer deployed’
Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder Jose Maria “Joma” Sison denied that the Sparrow Units are still deployed as widely as in the 1970s and 1980s.
Sison, however, acknowledged that there were incidents of NPA teams attacking elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. But he said the teams are “not necessarily sparrow units.” /ee