MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte’s proposal to form a death squad that would target suspected communists remains an “idea” for now, but the public should be “happy” if it becomes a reality, Malacañang said Thursday.
Duterte earlier this week said he would form a hit squad to hunt down communist “assassins” from the New People's Army's (NPA) Special Partisan Unit or the “sparrows.” This sparked outrage among critics who fear this could result in a killing spree similar to the war on drugs.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the government was still studying the plan, even as Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the anti-insurgency group might be formed by members of the Philippine Army.
Despite Duterte’s controversial pronouncements on the matter, Panelo said the government would act within the bounds of the law and Constitution.
He also allayed fears that forming such a group would result in people taking the law into their own hands, a concern Lorenzana earlier raised.
“I don’t think it will encourage [violence]. In fact, people will be relieved that there is such, if this idea becomes a reality na may mga nagbabantay pala sa amin [laban sa] mga gustong pumatay sa amin. Eh kung ako ang civilian, matutuwa ako,” Panelo said in a Palace press briefing.
(I don’t think it will encourage violence. In fact, people will be relieved that there is such, if this idea becomes a reality where there will be someone who will protect us from those who want to kill us. If it were me, I would be happy.)
“We should, in fact, be relieved that we have a President doing everything in his power to stop all acts of violence, all acts of criminality, all acts of terrorism against the civilians.”
Commission on Human Rights Chairperson Chito Gascon has said the formation of a death squad would be in violation of the International Humanitarian Law (IHL).
“The State always has a duty to protect its citizens from all forms of harm including lawless violence and terrorist acts. This duty must at all times be undertaken in accordance with established rules of engagement; due process and rule of law guarantees; and International Humanitarian Law principles,” Gascon said in a statement issued Wednesday.
“IHL requires States to use only regular armed forces under strict military discipline, thus, this strictly prohibits death squads under all circumstances,” he said.
But Panelo clarified that the intention of the “death squad” was not to merely kill an individual but to go after people who might endanger the public.
“His view is too narrow,” Panelo said of Gascon’s statement.
Duterte had described his planned hit squad as an assassination group that would “match the talent” of the NPA in assassinating government troops.
“We have a situation here where there is a group of men who will kill with impunity. What do you want the state to do? Just sit [idly by] and watch? We cannot do that. It’s the duty of the state to protect its citizens,” Panelo said.
Panelo also floated the idea of rebel returnees being called to join the hit squad “so they can easily point” to communist rebels.
Peace talks between the government and the communist National Democratic Front of the Philippines broke down last year due to alleged continuing rebel attacks on state troops.
Duterte’s latest statement against communist rebels came in the wake of his assurance to exiled communist rebels that they would not be arrested if they go to the Philippines to revive the peace talks.