The Metro Manila police chief and 18 other officers were charged Friday for allegedly violating the Philippines’ quarantine measures against COVID-19 by throwing a birthday bash for him last week, officials said.
Prosecuting Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas, who heads police forces in the greater Manila region, would be a test case in the Philippines’ implementation of quarantine rules, Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said. Manila and nearby communities that make up the metropolitan region have been at the heart of a weeks-long coronavirus lockdown on Luzon island – home to 60 million people.
“No one is above the law under the administration of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque told BenarNews.
“We are enforcing the rules – rich or poor – and I think Sinas is the test case for this because he is a high-ranking, middle enforcer and we’re taking steps to hold him liable for non-compliance to quarantine rules,” he said.
Sinas was charged for violating an ordinance on wearing face masks as well as for violating quarantine protocols. Alfegar Triambulo, inspector general of the Philippine National Police’s Internal Affairs Service, said seven of those charged were police generals who were identified as having joined the party for Sinas on May 8, when he turned 55.
However, it was not clear what the penalties are that Sinas and the 18 others potentially face. But it would likely mean stripping him of his office, a suspension or the filing of additional administrative case against him, government officials said.
On Friday, the state-run Philippine News Agency reported that Sinas would remain in his post pending results of an investigation into the birthday party, which was held at a police camp in the Philippine capital region.
Sinas has defended his alleged actions, which have been widely criticized on social media, and denied that the gathering was a party. He said that police who attended the party had followed social distancing guidelines, but photos of the party subsequently circulated on the internet. In one picture, he was shown on a table surrounded by his men in what appeared to be a drinking session.
“Nevertheless, I apologize for what transpired during my birthday that caused anxiety to the public,” the Metro Manila police chief said.
Photographs of Sinas’ party were widely shared on social media, sparking angry comments and calls for his resignation from Filipino citizens who have been restricted to their homes during the past two months due to the COVID-19 lockdown.
On Thursday, the New York based Human Rights Watch said Sinas should be disciplined for his “flagrant violation” of the country’s strict quarantine and lockdown regulations.
“His superiors should not allow Sinas to play this double standard game, where he celebrates his birthday with friends all around like there’s no pandemic, but the ordinary people of Manila face tight restrictions enforced by his officers, whose disproportionate strictness has resulted in rights abuses,” Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy director for Asia, said in a statement.
As of Friday afternoon, the health department reported 16 new COVID-19 deaths, bringing the total to 806. It also reported 215 new cases, with the total now standing at 12,091.
Globally, more than 4.4 million people have been infected by COVID-19 and more than 302,000 have died as of Friday, according to data compiled by disease experts at U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.
Jeoffrey Maitem contributed to this report from Cotabato City, Philippines.