PNP to investigate protocol breach in NCRPO chief's birthday feast

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Policemen of the National Capital Region Police Office hold a surprise birthday celebration for Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas at Camp Bagong Diwa.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 13) — The Philippine National Police will look into possible violations of social distancing measures during the birthday celebration of National Capital Region Police Office chief Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas last May 8.

PNP chief PGen. Archie Gamboa already ordered an immediate investigation on the matter, PNP spokesperson Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac told CNN Philippines on Wednesday.

"Ipinag- utos na ni PNP chief PGen Archie Francisco Gamboa sa Internal Affairs Service ang agarang imbestigasyon upang alamin ang buong pangyayari at maging babala 'that no one is above the law' at hindi na maulit muli ang pangyayari sa ating hanay," Banac said.

[Translation: PNP chief PGen. Archie Francisco Gamboa already ordered the Internal Affairs Service to conduct an immediate investigation on what fully transpired in the gathering so that this may serve as warning that 'no one is above the law' and that no one else within their ranks will do the same thing.]

However, Gamboa himself said in a virtual presser on Tuesday that the celebration was just a simple mañanita for the NCRPO chief and that policemen still observed social distancing when they held the party.

Even former PNP chief and Senator Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa did not agree with what seemed to be an untimely merriment of his former colleagues.

"It could have been better if they just delivered the food packs at the doorsteps of every household to avoid mass gathering and violating the social distancing protocol," he said in a statement.

Opposition lawmakers earlier slammed the "insensitivity" and "double standard" of the NCRPO for holding the celebration amid the strict enforcement of social distancing measures under the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bayan Muna Partylist called out the "audacity" of authorities to display their "apparent exemption" from the rules by holding a mass gathering for Sinas at Camp Bagong Diwa.

"Aren't they ashamed of themselves? First, they were insensitive enough to have a huge birthday party amidst the lockdown," Bayan Muna Rep. Ferdinand Gaite said in a statement. "Second, they had the audacity to flaunt it in official social media pages of the PNP (Philippine National Police), putting in full display their apparent exemption from several lockdown measures including social distancing and prohibition of mass gatherings."

Photos of policemen holding a surprise celebration for Sinas made the rounds on social media this week. The NCRPO's public information office even uploaded an album of the gathering on Facebook, but deleted the photos early Wednesday following backlash.

As seen in the photos, police officers were giving Sinas roses and cakes, while Metro Manila’s top cop mingles with people seated at different tables who took turns to greet him. Other photos showed him and his men closely seated on a round table full of cans of beer, despite a liquor ban in Metro Manila.

Sinas issued an apology following the controversy, but stressed that some of the photos were "edited" and outdated.

"Some of the pictures circulating in the social media were edited and grabbed from old posts. The pictures may depict itself however it does not define the totality of what really had happened," he said.

"Nevertheless, I apologize for what transpired during my birthday that caused anxiety to the public. It was never my intention to disobey any existing protocols relative to the implementation of Enhanced Community Quarantine," Sinas added.

No 'delicadeza'

The Department of Interior and Local Government said the celebration may just be part of the usual tradition, but the police could have at least shown "delicadeza" while the country continues to grapple with the COVID-19 crisis.

"During this time, it is uncalled for. We should be aware of what they call 'delicadeza,' let's refrain from conducting such activities," Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said in Filipino during the briefing in Malacañang.

'Double standard'

For Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate, the incident shows how authorities appear to be above the law they are supposed to implement.

"Under this administration, that has been the norm - double standard. That is the continuing normal as far as treating those ordinary, marginalized mortals who, just recently, have gathered to seek for much needed relief, but, they instead landed in jail!" Zarate told CNN Philippines.

Associate Justice Marvic Leonen also took a swipe at the incident.

"The Supreme Court held a retirement ceremony of a justice with 40 years of service via a private videoconferenced ceremony," he tweeted. "He deserves more but we had to do what was ethical while our people suffer. #NoBirthdayParties"


Although he is not in favor of the traditional party thrown for Sinas, Dela Rosa said the Metro Manila police chief may have been surprised himself.

Siguro hindi niya alam na magkakaroon ng ganun na mañanita,” he told CNN Philippines’ News Night.

[Translation: He maybe unaware that a mañanita will happen.]

Nakausap ko siya about this incident, meron siyang instructions na mag-social distancing. Pero kahit na ganun pa man, somehow, magkakaroon talaga ng proximity ng tao lalo na kung maliit yung lugar,” he added.

[Translation: I talked with him about this incident, he gave instructions to observe social distancing. But still, people would still be close with each other especially if the place is small.]

Sinas himself said in the past that they will arrest those who violate lockdown regulations in Metro Manila. 

The Department of Health has repeatedly advised the public to avoid crowded places and refrain from holding mass gatherings among other measures to prevent the spread of the virus.

The PNP has recorded 164 confirmed COVID-19 cases to date, along with four deaths and 52 recoveries among police personnel.

The Philippines now has 11,350 infections, with 2,106 recoveries and 751 deaths, the DOH said.

CNN Philippines Correspondent Gerg Cahiles contributed to this report.