Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte slammed the ongoing decades-long guerilla war waged by the Maoist New People's Army (NPA), an armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), and vowed to eradicate the group's hit-squads in his speech on 27 November. In order to do that, Duterte suggested creating his own 'death squads' akin 'sparrow units', used by the NPA in the 1970s and 80s to attack police forces.
'What I lack is my own sparrow. That is where [NPA] has an edge… So I will create my own sparrow, Duterte Death Squad against the sparrow […] I will match their talent also for assassinating people', Duterte said.
Duterte didn't elaborate on his idea of creating the special unit, including on how it will end the long-lasting guerilla war, which has already claimed the lives of 30,000, according to official records.
His initiative has found little support among his left-wing opponents, who claim the president is planning to use the 'death squad to eliminate his critics'. Jose Maria Sison, the founder of the CPP, claimed in an interview with the country's ANC TV channel that the 'sparrow units', Duterte mentioned, no longer exist, and said that the Philippine president merely wants to justify creation of his own death squads.
The 3,200-strong (according to official data from 2015) NPA has been acting in Philippines since 1969, assaulting both government police and military and collecting so-called 'revolutionary taxes' from the territories where it operates. Two ceasefires between the government and the group have been reached throughout the history of the conflict, one of them was negotiated by Duterte's government.
Duterte resumed peace talks with the NPA in August 2016 after taking his presidential post and announced an unilateral ceasefire, which was scrapped along with negotiations after Maoists attacked an army convoy in February 2017. The talks were resumed later in April of the same year, resulting in a bilateral ceasefire.
The NPA is considered a terrorist organisation by Philippine government, as well as by the US and the EU.