NPA’s Sparrows stepping up killings, claims AFP
MANILA, Philippines — The communist New People’s Army (NPA)’s infamous hit squads, the so-called Sparrow units, have been active lately in assassinating former rebel comrades, civilians and security personnel.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines reported a resurgence in the Sparrow units as the military turned its counter-insurgency campaign around under the Aquino administration.
Military commanders in the Visayas admitted the NPA’s move to step up assassinations was a cause of concern.
“Their use of landmines, of child warriors, these are desperate moves. And recently they stepped up Sparrow operations. We’re concerned about this,” Maj. Gen. Jose Mabanta Jr., commanding general of the Philippine Army’s 3rd Infantry Division (3ID) operating in Western and Central Visayas, told reporters last Thursday.
“They can’t win against us so they go back to their old tactics of hitting someone from behind. We lost several lives,” Mabanta added.
The military said the Sparrow hitmen’s victims were mostly unarmed civilians — either former rebels who have surrendered, civilians suspected of being military informers or merchants who refused the rebels’ extortion tries.
“We believe there is a directive from the (Communist Party of the Philippines) Central Committee to revive the Sparrow on a national level,” said Lieutenant Colonel Raul Villanueva, chief intelligence officer of the 3ID.
He said the NPA Sparrow units have been operating differently from the way they did in the 1980s, when communist hit squads based in urban areas particularly the Alex Boncayao Brigade (ABB) gained notoriety for summarily killing lawmen and suspected government agents.
The urban concentration of NPA rebels, including the Sparrow units, prompted a major organizational shakeup in the Communist Party of the Philippines in the late 1980s, with party old hands insisting they all return to the Maoist principle of carrying out the rebellion mainly from the countryside.
“In the past the Sparrows were in safe houses in urban areas. (CPP founder) Joma Sison ordered them to go back to the hills, that’s why the RPA (Revolutionary Proletarian Army)-ABB broke away,” Villanueva said, referring to breakaway rebel faction that later entered into a peace agreement with the government.
He said that under the new CPP-NPA doctrine, Sparrow assassins would come from every guerilla front’s fighting unit, the so-called sentro de gravidad (center of gravity), and they would be deployed to a certain locality to carry out an assassination.
Villanueva said Sparrow hit squads would work in three’s (a veteran, a novice and a backup) when having a single target.
In case of two targets, a group of five to seven communist assassins carry out the killings, according to Villanueva.
“Most of their victims are civilians they had mistaken for (military) informants and Cafgus (Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Units or part-time militiamen),” Villanueva said.
Colonel Oscar Lactao, commander of the 303rd Infantry Brigade based in Murcia, Negros Occidental, said the NPA resorted to hit squads against unarmed security personnel and suspected agents “out of desperation” since the rebels could not stage “tactical offensives.”
“The Sparrow is the ultimate violation of human rights,” Lactao said.
He cited an instance when a former NPA rebel who was unarmed was shot dead in front of his wife.
In another case, he said, a Cafgu militiaman who was off duty on a Sunday was killed in front of his wife and two children while on the way to Church.
He said a soldier in plainclothes was killed while in the market.
Lactao said Sparrow hitmen undertake summary killings to make their presence felt in a barangay since the rebels are “on the run.”
“They also want to anger our soldiers, hoping once we’re emotional, we would retaliate and commit human rights violation,” Lactao said.
“But we just have to be steady, no human rights violation, let’s follow the rule of law,” he added, saying they have been coordinating with the police to arrest suspected hitmen.
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