Sinas, 18 Metro Manila cops charged for birthday feast

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 15) – Metro Manila police chief Major General Debold Sinas and 18 subordinates were charged Friday for staging a birthday blowout on May 8 despite strict quarantine rules, the Philippine National Police said.

The PNP's Internal Affairs Service filed criminal charges before the Taguig City Prosecutor's Office against Sinas and his colleagues, who surprised him with a "mañanita" feast on May 8 to honor the National Capital Region Police Office chief on his special day.

​Ranking NCRPO officials have also been tagged in the complaint, including Deputy Regional Director for Administration Nicolas Bathan, Deputy Regional Director for Operations Florendo Quibuyen, Chief Regional Staff Florencio Ortilla, Regional Internal Affairs Service NCR director Gerry Galvan, PNP Human Rights Affairs Office chief Ildelbrandy Usana, Regional Investigation and Detective Management Division chief Eliseo Tanding, and Regional Intelligence Division chief Remus Medina.

They are charged for not following quarantine rules under Republic Act 11332 or the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act.

​In a report, PNP Inspector General Alfegar Triambulo said Sinas and the attendees also violated Taguig City Ordinance No. 12, s. 2020 which requires the wearing of face masks and strict physical distancing.

The early morning serenade said to be a tradition in the command qualified as a mass gathering, the PNP-IAS said, which is banned as Metro Manila remains under lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. ​Investigation confirmed that the gathering took place outside Sinas' quarters in Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan.

​As police officials, Sinas and the other officers' actions also constituted administrative charges of less grave neglect of duty for their "refusal or neglect to observe ECQ protocols prohibiting mass gatherings," and less grave misconduct, the IAS said. 

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, Jr. said Thursday that the PNP had sought Malacañang's clearance to file charges against the NCRPO chief.

Sinas is a third-level officer and is considered a Presidential appointee. The PNP has been tasked to man checkpoints and do regular rounds to apprehend people outside their homes without quarantine passes, as well as those said to be violating physical distancing protocols.

Sinas has apologized for the incident but claimed he found "nothing wrong" with the gathering, saying proper social distancing and health measures were followed by the guests. Photos that went viral on social media showed a group of police officers in casual attire huddled around tables, giving roses to the PNP official, and having him blow candles on birthday cakes for the occasion.

Sinas denied that the gathering was a "party," saying it was a ​traditional surprise which would be "ungentlemanly" for him to reject.

PNP Spokesperson Bernard Banac said the PNP is "sensitive to the public opinion" and criticisms against the gathering, which pushed the police force to press charges.

If found guilty, these violations may merit a possible suspension and even dismissal from service. However, PNP Chief General Archie Gamboa may choose not to relieve Sinas from duty as it would be difficult to implement a change in command in the middle of the coronavirus crisis, Banac added.

Gamboa said Thursday that NCRPO officers will be made accountable for their actions. He added that the PNP will refuse to issue additional statements to give way to court proceedings.

Senator Panfilo "Ping" Lacson, a retired police general, earlier said that while Sinas must get the "punishment he deserves" for breaking quarantine rules, the public should also take into account "his long law-enforcement service to the country."

He discouraged netizens from reposting old photos of the embattled police officer on social media meant to "sow more hatred" following the NVRPO chief's mistake.

There are 214 confirmed COVID-19 cases within the PNP, with 66 recoveries and four deaths as of Friday evening.