Manila’s Top Cop Faces Probe for Birthday Party amid COVID-19 Lockdown

Basilio Sepe
200513-PH-police-1000.jpg Police officers check motorists’ quarantine passes at a checkpoint in Cagayan de Oro, southern Philippines, April 29, 2020.
Froilan Gallardo/BenarNews

The Philippine National Police ordered an investigation Wednesday into the chief of police in Metro Manila over a large birthday party thrown in his honor, an apparent breach of the government’s COVID-19 restrictions on mass gatherings.

Photographs of Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas’ party, who turned 55 last Friday, were widely shared on social media, sparking angry comments and calls for his resignation from Filipino citizens restricted to their homes during the past two months due to a coronavirus lockdown.

“The PNP is not exempt from strict rules on mass gatherings and I am directing all unit commanders to prohibit any and all social gatherings,” national police chief Archie Gamboa said in a statement.

Gamboa also strongly reiterated the “strict observance” of public health protocols and biosafety standards by police officers at all times.

He directed the internal affairs department to investigate Sinas for the party that took place at a police camp. “I will look into possible violations,” Gamboa later told reporters.

This was the second controversy that the police has found itself in weeks. Last month, policemen shot and killed a mentally ill former soldier when he tried to cross a checkpoint in northern Manila.

That incident occurred after President Rodrigo Duterte said police could “shoot to kill” anyone who fought back or insisted on crossing checkpoints. His statement was touched off by an impromptu rally staged by residents of an urban poor community that had not received aid promised by the government during the coronavirus pandemic.

In one of the photos during his birthday bash, Sinas, clad in an orange shirt, was seen with his staff and colleagues at a table with empty beer bottles underneath.

Sinas apologized on Wednesday, saying he never intended to violate any health protocols and alleged that some photos of the occasion that circulated on social media were “edited” and “old.” He did not elaborate.

However, he did not deny that the gathering took place, claiming that it was a surprise party hosted by his men and officers.

“I apologize for what transpired during my birthday that caused anxiety to the public,” he said.

Health authorities reported 21 more coronavirus deaths on Wednesday, bringing the nation’s toll to 772. Infections also surged to 11,618 after officials confirmed 268 new cases during the past 24 hours.

‘A big no-no’

Meanwhile, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he would order the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to look into possible violations of quarantine protocols committed during Sinas’ party.

“I will ask the NBI to look into this too. There is already an existing order to the NBI to investigate violations of quarantine protocols,” he said.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año slammed the birthday party, saying cops as the enforcers of strict quarantine measures should know better.

“That is a big no-no,” Año told reporters. “While under enhanced community quarantine, there shouldn’t be celebrations like that, like organized dinners.”

Human rights lawyer Chel Diokno, head of the Free Legal Assistance Group, a nationwide organization of rights attorneys, said the controversy over the general’s birthday party was “a reflection of the kind of uneven implementation of the law that we have been seeing during this time of public health emergency.”

“When you have officials allied or identified with the administration who are exposed to have been violating quarantine rules ... it would seem that the government is dragging its feet as far as going after them,” Diokno told the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines in Manila on Wednesday.

In comparison, he said, law enforcement officers would immediately visit the homes of ordinary citizens perceived to have violated government-imposed restrictions on mass gatherings and would sometimes make arrests without warrants.

Richel V. Umel in Iligan City, Philippines contributed to this report.

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