President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday said he would not fire or replace Metro Manila police chief Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas, even though he violated quarantine protocols by allowing his subordinates to gather for a surprise birthday celebration.
“You can say that the ‘law is the law.’ That is my responsibility. But I will not order his transfer. He stays there,” Duterte said in a meeting with some Cabinet members Tuesday midnight, May 19.
Sinas had come under fire over a gathering during his birthday even as the rest of Metro Manila remained in lockdown where such social gatherings are banned. Photos shared by the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) Facebook account showed Sinas being greeted by his team and guests gathering at buffet tables. The photos quickly spread on social media and drew harsh criticism, much of which focused on how Sinas had violated the very protocols he was supposed to enforce on others.
“In the case of General Sinas at the National Capital Region Police Office, I don’t want him transferred. He is a good officer. He is an honest man and the mañanita for his birthday was not his fault,” Duterte said.
The President also justified the non-wearing of masks, saying the policemen could not possibly eat had they worn masks.
Duterte said he looked at the merits and demerits of the case and concluded that he needs Sinas to continue serving as NCRPO chief.
“They are many. They are all competent, 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,” the President added.
Sinas has apologized for the incident but maintained that attendees practiced social distancing during the event. He also claimed that photos that circulated online were edited.
Sinas and 18 other police officers face criminal charges before the Taguig prosecutor’s office for violating City Ordinance No. 12 of Taguig City, which requires the wearing of masks in public, and Republic Act 11332, or the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act.
Sinas on Wednesday thanked Duterte for his trust and confidence and said he hoped his critics would “move on” after the President defended him.
"If there was a mistake, it's okay. I will continue working and doing good since that is the guidance of the President," Sinas said.
But Senator Franklin Drilon said the incident has sapped the credibility of the Philippine National Police (PNP).
“That erodes the confidence of our people on the ability of the government to enforce the rules of the IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force)," he said.
"If the PNP itself does not follow the rules enforced by the IATF, you will find difficulty for the ordinary citizens to follow the same rules. It erodes the credibility of the IATF and the PNP to enforce the rules that they promulgated because the implementers themselves do not follow them," Drilon said.
The PNP said Duterte’s remarks on Sinas would not affect the investigation of his administrative liability over the birthday celebration.
"We welcome President Rodrigo R. Duterte's valid and reasonable exercise of command management prerogative over the decision to retain (Sinas) to the post as Regional Director of NCRPO," PNP spokesperson, Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac said in a press statement.
“Nonetheless, we agree with the opinion of the IAS (Internal Affairs Service) Inspector General that this development will have no effect on the criminal and administrative cases that Sinas is facing," he added.
Earlier, PNP chief Gen. Archie Gamboa said Sinas would stay at his post because he was “difficult to replace.” With PNA