Metro Manila police director Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas on Wednesday apologized for a birthday party in which he and other police officers were seen violating a ban on mass and social gatherings and other quarantine restrictions imposed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
"I apologize for what transpired during my birthday that caused anxiety to the public," said Sinas, after photos of a party to mark his 55th birthday—first posted on the Facebook page of the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) and later deleted—became widely circulated on social media.
The photos showed Sinas and his guests violating a ban on mass and social gatherings, guidelines on physical distancing and a liquor ban in a celebration in Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City held at 5 a.m.
In one photo, Sinas was not wearing a mask after blowing out a candle of one of three birthday cakes.
Others showed Sinas mingling at a table while others lined up at a buffet table.
READ: PNP: No more warning, just arrest ECQ violators
Sinas claimed some of the photos that had been circulating online were "edited and grabbed from old posts."
The photos, he added, did not “define the totality of what really had happened.”
But Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said the party was "a big no-no" under the rules of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) and even a general community quarantine (GCQ).
The National Capital Region is now under a modified ECQ, where social and mass gatherings are still prohibited.
Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Archie Gamboa on Tuesday defended Sinas, saying he did not think there were any violations involved.
“First of all, there was no party, according to General Sinas,” Gamboa said in Filipino during an online press conference. “Probably there was a mañanita (a breakfast serenade) but General Sinas said they observed social distancing. Now, I don't think there was any violation.”
But Gamboa later ordered the Inspector General of the Internal Affairs Service to conduct an investigation.
"The Inspector General of the Internal Affairs Service was instructed to send an investigation team to NCRPO to initiate a formal inquiry into the incident. The PNP is not exempt from strict rules on mass gathering and I am directing all unit commanders to prohibit any and all social gatherings," said PNP spokesman Bernard Banac.
The Department of Justice has also ordered the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to probe Sinas for the violation of quarantine protocols.
READ: Cops to arrest motorists violating lockdown rules
Critics who saw the photos accused the government of double standards, since protocols were not observed during the birthday party of a high-ranking police official.
But Guevarra assured the public that they would maintain fairness in carrying out the law.
Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen denounced the insensitivity of those violating quarantine protocols.
Leonen compared the police celebration to how the Court held a retirement ceremony for SC Associate Justice Andres Reyes Jr. on May 8 in order to comply with the regulations on physical distancing.
“Parties are mass gatherings. It is insensitive to hold one. The Supreme Court held a retirement ceremony of a Justice with 40 years of service via private video conference ceremony. He deserves more but we had to do what was ethical while our people suffer.” Leonen posted on his Twitter account.
Leonen added the hashtag #NoBirthdayParties to his post to protest the callousness of those who held the party.
In a radio interview, Año reminded local government officials and police officers to set a good example in following quarantine protocols.
“What we are telling government officials, especially those under the DILG, is to have delicadeza. There are opportunities when we should set a good example,” he said in Filipino.
“While we are under ECQ, there must be no celebrations like that, even those organized dinners. That is not right. We are talking of delicadeza here. Right then and there, you should have it stopped," he said, apparently referring to Sinas.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said government officials are not exempted from being penalized for quarantine violations.
“If ordinary citizens are being punished for violating the quarantine protocols, then officials who do the same should be punished too,” he said in Filipino.
Senator Panfilo Lacson, a former PNP chief, said the party not only violated quarantine protocols, it also set a bad example, coming from those tasked to enforce the ECQ.
Senator Francis Pangilinan, meanwhile, said a simple apology won't do.
“If it's okay for the chief of the PNP to say sorry, then everyone else they've arrested should simply say sorry. If there were violations, they should file a case,” he said in Filipino.
“While millions of our countrymen are suffering and following the quarantine, and thousands are being arrested and charged, here are Sinas and other high officials who are getting a free pass from the government for quarantine violations. This is so wrong,” he added.
Another former PNP chief, Senator Ronald Dela Rosa, welcomed the decision of the PNP to investigate the incident.
READ: Government threatens mass arrests
A former lawmaker for the Anakpawis party-list group Ariel Casilao slammed the police, saying “law enforcers are actually lawless elements” violating the very rule they are trying to impose on the broad population in Metro Manila and various parts of the country.
“So P in PNP now stands for ‘pasaway,’ and they had the gall to insult the people who are subjected to the lockdown,” Casilao said.
“PNP Chief Archie Gamboa is at a loss if he thinks he can cover up for Sinas, when he is actually liable for command responsibility. He certainly failed to make sure his subordinates follow the rule against mass gatherings and on physical distancing. This case is also against him,” Casilao added.
The Gabriela Women's Party on Wednesday denounced Sinas for hosting a mass gathering to mark his 55th birthday celebration and called for his immediate leave of absence pending an investigation.
Gabriela said the party mocked those who have been arrested for quarantine violators, who suffered harsh treatment at the hands of the police.
“Ironically, it was Maj. Gen. Sinas who insisted that the ten community kitchen volunteers in Marikina City should be jailed and punished for organizing a mass gathering. Now, he is defending his birthday celebration attended by dozens of police officers for supposedly not violating any law. How come a police general can conveniently interpret rules in favor of his birthday celebration while ordinary citizens are hauled to jail for merely feeding the poor?” Gabriela said in a statement.
“This is not just about delicadeza. This is about holding those who are supposedly enforcing the law accountable to the same set of rules being forced down the throats of poor Filipinos,” the group said.
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