Duterte on keeping Sinas: ‘It’s on me’
MANILA, Philippines — Metro Manila’s police chief could not have found a more powerful backer than President Rodrigo Duterte.
The President said he would be keeping Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas at his post and was accepting responsibility for the alleged violations of quarantine regulations by the national capital’s top police official when he celebrated his 55th birthday.
Duterte said it was not Sinas’ fault that people wanted to greet him on his birthday.
He said there were “many” other “competent” officers who could replace Sinas.
“But you know seniority. It is his time to be there and I do not believe in just firing him because people sang ‘happy birthday’ to him,” Duterte said late on Tuesday during his report to the nation on the COVID-19 crisis.
During the controversial celebration, Sinas was serenaded with the traditional “mañanita” by senior officers and his staff early in the morning of his birthday on May 8 at the headquarters of the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) in Taguig City.
The Philippine National Police Internal Affairs Service (PNP-IAS) said Sinas and 18 officers violated the government’s quarantine rules on mass gathering, social distancing and wearing of face masks meant to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
The PNP-IAS, which examined the pictures that were taken then, last Friday charged Sinas and the other officers, including five other police generals, with violating City Ordinance No. 12, or the mandatory wearing of face masks in public and stringent physical distancing, and the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act, or Republic Act No. 11332.
Several pictures showed many officers gathered at a buffet spread and around several tables. Sinas and other police officials, who were not wearing face masks and in civilian attire, were sitting around one table.
One showed Sinas doing a fist bump with a policeman and another of him blowing the candle on a birthday cake.
“A picture speaks for itself,” PNP-IAS Inspector General Alfegar Triambulo told the Inquirer last week.
At least 20 photographs of the event at Camp Bagong Diwa had been taken down from the NCRPO Facebook page after the celebration drew rebuke and charges of double standard against Sinas and the PNP itself.
“You say, ‘the law is the law.’ Well, that is on me. It’s my responsibility,” Mr. Duterte said. “But I will not order his transfer. He stays there until further orders.”
“It’s not his fault that people serenaded him on his birthday,” he said.
Duterte also excused the people at the gathering for not wearing masks because food was served and they would be unable to eat if they had put them on.
The President’s decision, however, will not affect the criminal charges and possible administrative cases against Sinas and the other officers, according to PNP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac.
In a statement on Wednesday, Banac said the PNP welcomed “President Duterte’s valid and reasonable exercise of command management prerogative.”
“We bow to the better judgment of the Chief Executive on matters of relief and designation of police commanders to key posts,” he said.
Among those who criticized Sinas was Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen. “Parties are mass gatherings. It is insensitive to hold one,” he tweeted.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a former PNP chief, said Sinas had set a “bad example.”
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año ordered the PNP investigation, saying the mañanita was “a big no-no” during the enhanced community quarantine. Officials should show “some delicadeza (sense of propriety)” at this time, he said.
Sinas had apologized for the fiasco but insisted that he and his staff observed the health protocols for COVID-19.
A black face mask could not hide his happiness on Wednesday after he received the “unexpected” affirmation and “trust and confidence” from Mr. Duterte.
“I am very happy that the President recognized our efforts,” Sinas told reporters. “Whatever the President says, I will not question it.”
Of his “detractors and bashers” he said: “Hopefully, they have moved on, because I have moved on already.”
The President’s defense of Sinas would only encourage people to violate the government’s quarantine protocols, according to Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon.
“(If) the PNP itself does not follow the rules enforced by the IATF, you will find difficulty for ordinary citizens to follow the same rules,” Drilon said on Wednesday, referring to the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases.
At the House of Representatives, Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas was outraged by the President’s pronouncement.
“President Duterte said, ‘the law is the law’ but the law enforcer and his party buddies who violated quarantine protocol gets to keep their jobs,” she said.
She and five other members of the militant Makabayan bloc in the House filed a resolution seeking Sinas’ dismissal from service.
The “kid-gloves treatment” of Sinas is in stark contrast to the “harsh and punitive actions” by the police against ordinary citizens who allegedly violate community quarantine guidelines, the group said.
The President said he could not afford to lose the NCRPO chief. “I need him more to be at his job,” he said, adding that Sinas was a “good officer” and and “an honest one.”
Drug war enforcer
Sinas led the administration’s war on drugs in Central Visayas where he served from July 2018 to October 2019 before he took over as NCRPO chief.
The antidrug campaign in the region was marked by many unsolved killings, said lawyer Alvin Odron, director of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in Central Visayas.
Lawyer Leo Villarino, chief investigator of the CHR regional office, said Sinas would be remembered for his firm refusal to give human rights investigators copies of police reports on the various killings in the region.
Jaime Paglinawan of Bayan Muna Central Visayas described Sinas as a “severe human rights violator,” saying a number of farmers who were suspected to be members of the New People’s Army in Negros Oriental were killed.
—WITH REPORTS FROM MARLON RAMOS, MELVIN GASCON, DEXTER CABALZA, ADOR VINCENT MAYOL AND NESTLE SEMILLA
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