MANILA, Philippines – Some senators opposed President Rodrigo Duterte’s plan to create a death squad against communist rebels, while his allies downplayed the supposed move.
“Nakakabahala ‘yun. Minsan kasi ang President ay nagsasabi pero me batas na sinusunod at 'yun ang mananaig. May proseso (It is unsettling. Sometimes the President is saying things but there are laws that should be followed and they would prevail. There is a process),” Senator Grace Poe told reporters in an interview.
Opposition Senator Antonio Trillanes IV claimed Duterte has 3 objectives in baring his plan to the public: to strike fear among Filipinos, to “deceive” the International Criminal Court (ICC), and to divert the media and the public’s attention from issues involving deals with China and shabu smuggling.
“He is doing this because he feels that he is losing his grip on power and that fear is his only way to keep people in check,” Trillanes said.
“Second, Duterte wants to deceive the ICC into believing that since it is only now that he is planning to create a death squad therefore, he is not responsible for the death squads going around killing thousands of Filipinos all over the country the past two and a half years,” he added.
Trillanes said he believed the third reason was that "Duterte wants to divert the attention of the media and the public from the mysterious MOUs entered into with China; the questionable awarding of the telco to a Duterte crony; and the P11 billion shabu shipment issue."
The senator said, however, that the strategy would not work because “the public is already impatient and won't be intimidated anymore.”
Minority Senator Francis Pangilinan, for his part, said killings would not solve the country’s problems.
“It will not create more jobs for the ordinary citizen. It will not lower the prices of basic goods. It will not increase incomes and wages of the worker. It will only turn our country into a howling, lawless wilderness. Creating death squads, sowing violence and daily killings is not a solution to our nations ills, it is part of the problem,” he said.
Duterte's allies in the chamber have a different view. Senator Gregorio Honasan II, who was appointed Department of Information and Communications Technology secretary, said it is within Duterte’s prerogative to form a death squad.
"Extreme measures for extreme situations. Presidential prerogative and judgment call,” Honasan said.
Senators Aquilino Pimentel III and Panfilo Lacson believed that Duterte would not push through with the plan.
“That cannot be done. I'm sure the President will not create one such squad,” Pimentel told reporters in a text message.
Lacson, for his part, said: “Again, it’s up to us to interpret if he was serious or not when he made that statement. Being a lawyer and former prosecutor, I don’t think he was serious because he knows it’s illegal and criminal to do...such an act.”
Senate President Vicente Sotto III refused to comment on the issue: "I don't know his reason for that. I'd rather not comment."
Speaking in front of soldiers in Bohol on Tuesday, November 27, 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.
Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email email@example.com