President Rodrigo Duterte strikes his signature pose with military officers and personnel during his visit at Camp Rajah Sikatuna in the province of Bohol on Nov. 27. (Photo courtesy of the Presidential Communications Office)
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's is planning to form "death squads" to go after communist rebels, raising concerns it will only worsen the country's human rights situation.
Human rights groups warned as such following the president's statement on Nov. 27 that he would create "sparrow units" to hunt the guerrillas.
The term "sparrow units" evolved from the acronym Special Partisan Unit or SPARU, the hit squad of the rebel New People's Army.
Duterte said there were reports that the rebel hit squads were successful. "So, we'll hit them too. I'm announcing that I'll also create my own sparrow," said the president.
Duterte said he would use rebels who have surrendered to the government as his own hitmen.
"A lot of have surrendered, they're in different locations ... and I'll bring them here. An exchange, if you will," said Duterte.
Last week, the president ordered the deployment of additional troops in several southern Philippine regions to "suppress lawless violence and acts of terror."
The military deployment fueled fears of a martial law declaration across the country.
Human Rights Watch said the Philippine president's "murderous policies" continue to make the people the losers.
"His statement is a declaration of open season against rebels, leftists, civilians, and critics of the government," said Carlos Conde of the New York-based group.
He said the policy will only worsen the government's deadly war against drugs that have already killed thousands of suspected drug users and peddlers.
"Duterte once again affirmed extrajudicial killing as his administration's official policy against government critics," said Conde.
He said that given how easy it is for authorities to accuse anybody of being a rebel, "Duterte's announcement is abominable and should be rejected."
The Alliance of Concerned Teachers said the president's is "inciting civilians to commit murder."
The teachers' group noted that the existence of death squads responsible for drug-related killings in the past two years has always been denied by the government.
"It now appears that President Duterte is ready to make his death squads go public as part of his administration's counterinsurgency campaign," read the group's statement.
Opposition Senator Antonio Trillanes, a staunch critic of the president, said the Duterte administration wants to strike fear among Filipinos "by forewarning that there would be another round of killings."
"He is losing his grip on power and fear is his only way to keep people in check," said the senator.
Jose Maria Sison, Communist Party of the Philippines founding chairman, said Duterte "is just inventing what he imagines and multiplying them as if sparrow units are already under his own bed."
The exiled rebel leader said the so-called Sparrow Unit was dissolved in the late 1980s.