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Mark of the sparrow

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MABUHAY ANG NPA! What has not been heard for decades in Pampanga reverberated anew mid-morning of Jan. 28 in Sta. Rita town, complete with its concomitant lethal volley of shots from twin .45s.

With the CCTV footage catching the scene of the crime – and witnesses attesting to the exultant shouts of the shooters – the NPA angle has become the primary focus in the police investigation of the killing of lawyer Anselmo “Sato” Carlos and his driver Marcial Mendoza. So, I heard from a source in the Pampanga police and verified from ace police reporter Jess Malabanan.

An old video footage of a protest rally by those displaced by the Ayala development in Hacienda Dolores, Porac wherein Carlos was seen arguing with the protesters and even seemingly slapping one of them also played up to the NPA angle in his killing, my source and Jess both opined.

To us veterans – I was correspondent of the Journal Group of People’s Journal/Tonight and Times Journal and stringer for the Associated Press – in the coverage of the insurgency war in Pampanga in the 1980s, Carlos’ killing did indeed bear what we coined as “mark of the sparrow kill,” meaning headshots from a .45, accompanied by the battle cry of the people’s army.

The “sparrow” of course was a euphemism for the liquidation squad of the NPA whose primary targets were police and military officers, paramilitary units, informers, as well as anti-people bureaucrats and “abusive” capitalists and their “lackeys.”

 The urban partisan unit – the “official” nomenclature of the sparrows – operating in Angeles City and Pampanga in those times was the Mariano Garcia Brigade, named after the NPA commander with the nom de guerre “Garapon” who trained the unit in armaments, assimilation, and assassination.

Garapon was killed in an encounter with the Philippine Constabulary and the Philippine Air Force Combat Group in Barangay Camachiles, Mabalacat in 1987.

Before becoming the MGB, the local sparrows called themselves “Group Mazda” in the lead up to the simultaneous assassination of three US servicemen and one Filipino civilian mistaken for an American in Angeles City and Dau, Mabalacat on Oct. 27 1987.

“Mazda” referred to the car brand known to have been preferred by operatives of the Office of Special Investigation of the US Air Force in Clark, and the common denominator that linked the three American victims. Which made them, rather than specifically targeted, no more than targets of opportunity.

The MGB figured most prominently in the war of attrition with the PC, Army, Air Force and the right-wing vigilante group Angelino Simbulan Brigade – named after the San Fernando police chief the sparrows killed in his own house – in the last three years of the 1980s, memorialized in my “journalistic novel” Brigada .45 published in 2004, and capsulized thus: “Hagkis ng kaliwa. Bigwas ng kanan. Low Intensity Conflict. Mula Fields Avenue, ang pamosong kalsada ng kamunduhan, hanggang Nepo Mart, ang sentro ng kalakal; mula Area, ang palengke ng laman, hanggang sa mismong simbahan, walang piniling larangan ang digmaan sa kalunsuran, nanalasa pa’t nandamay sa mga karatig-bayan. Ito ang Lungsod ng Angeles sa huling tatlong taon ng dekada ‘80. Dito inukit ang maiksi nguni’t madugong kasaysayan ng Brigada Mariano Garcia.

The recorded kills – between the MGB and the police-military-vigilante front – topping 40 in May-June 1988 in Angeles City alone! The shooters’ signatures unmistakably impacted in the victims: .45 bullets in the head by the Left, multiple shots of all sort of calibers by the Right. And, in the case of the former, the postmortem statement itemizing the “crimes against the masses” for which the victim had to suffer the penalty of death.

Mabuhay ang NPA! Hearing of it in the Carlos ambush sends chills down my spine anew. Absent any statement of the rebel group owning up to the killing, notwithstanding.

That the NPA – long reduced here by the police and military as a “spent force” along with their declaration of Pampanga as “insurgency-free” – can still stage an ambush in broad daylight, on a busy road, in a crowded place, with the assassins unafraid to show their faces, should give everyone a rethink of the insurgency situation in the province. It could well signal the rebirth of the sparrow. A most terrifying proposition there, God forbid!

This is not to say that the police are not on top of the situation. As indeed, they are.

But then, let it not also be smug in dismissing the Carlos killing as an “isolated incident.”

I remember that was what the PC-INP said of the initial killings leading to the Maytime festival of death in Angeles City in 1988. Pray never again.  

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