PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte has come up with an interesting story about the creation of the Davao Death Squad, this time not based on the testimony of self-confessed DDS member Arturo Lascañas but on the column of Serafin “Jun” Ledesma Jr. of SunStar Davao. Ledesma had written in his column that the DDS was a “ghost squad conceptualized by then INP regional commander Dionisio Tan-Gatue Jr. to counter the offensive of the dreaded NPA sparrows.”

But first a backgrounder. “INP” refers to the Martial Law-era Integrated National Police, which was eventually merged with the Philippine Constabulary (PC) to constitute the PC-INP. “Sparrows” refer to the urban units of the rebel New People’s Army (NPA) officially referred to as armed city partisans. The “sparrow” term describes the partisans’ mode of operation. They attack in small groups and do this swiftly.

“If you really ask, I’m not into excuses. No apologies but you should learn more about DDS. It was organized to combat the sparrow in Davao. You can ask the people, the old guys here. It was then known the DDS Martial law,” said the President who, according to Ledesma, had just passed the bar at that time and was a Tanodbayan (anti-graft office) investigator.

I have always thought that the DDS, if ever it really existed, was influenced by the operation of the armed city partisans or sparrows whose creation, if I remember it right, was experimented in Davao. “Sparrow units” soon surfaced in Cebu and in Metro Manila (popularly known there as the Alex Boncayao Brigade (ABB).

It was not only the mode of operation that is similar but also the seemingly centralized listing of targets. Cadres of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) determined the targets obviously because the NPA is the CPP’s military arm. Generally they are either “counter-revolutionaries” (like government spies) and “bad elements.” The operative phrase is: those with blood debts to the people.”

The DDS, if it was this group that operated in Davao when Duterte was the mayor, had a focused target, those linked to the illegal drug trade and, generally, “bad elements.” The group was obviously an appendage of the police’s anti-crime drive, although if Lascañas’s story is to be believed, there were those killed for personal reasons, which I reckon were exceptions to the rule.

I don’t know if the “sparrow” units still exist but it has been a while since an operation was attributed to them. In Cebu, the partisans were active in the mid-’80s and were successful for I think a couple of years until a determined effort by government forces to flush them out and “neutralize” them decimated their ranks. The excesses some of them committed also prompted the units’ disbandment.

The problem with groups like the “sparrows” and the DDS is that they breed people who eventually become society’s bad elements. There were claims that former “sparrows” were among the key elements of such crime syndicates as the Red Scorpion Group and the Kuratong Baleleng of old. I don’t know about the DDS, but I believe that if it really existed, some of its operatives may have eventually gone astray also.