Sinas appointment raises concerns on impunity, suppression of dissent

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
Sinas appointment raises concerns on impunity, suppression of dissent
File photo shows newly-minted Police Gen. Debold Sinas addressing members of the media at a press conference.
The STAR / Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — Aside from jokes online about his mañanita in May, Police Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas's appointment as chief of the Philippine National Police was met with concerns that it will worsen the perception that government officials can do what they please and could bring more instances of police abuse.

This comes after presidential spokesman Harry Roque announced the decision at a press briefing that same day, adding that President Rodrigo Duterte, who previously defended Sinas, does not owe the public an explanation for the appointment.

"It is a prerogative of the president, he need not explain," Roque said then in mixed Filipino and English, adding that Sinas "helped the 'war on drugs' immensely."

Referencing the birthday part held for Sinas while an Enhanced Community Quarantine was in place and speaking before the appointment was announced, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said that government "must make a judgment as to whether or not the pendency of that case will erode the confidence of the people in the PNP."

"I would like to think that there are certain standards and qualifications that should be considered before one is considered before one is appointed to head a very important organization," he also said.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros, who has filed resolutions for hearings on alleged abuse by state security forces, called the appointment a less than meritorious choice.

"While Debold Sinas was my late husband's underclassman and an old friend, unfortunately, the poor manner in which the PNP has acted on the waves of violence as well as minimized the risks of the coronavirus pandemic under his previous commands betrays his level of competence for this new role," she also said.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan, for his part, said that Sinas's appointment did not come as a surprise after other officials facing bigger allegations of corruption were absolved or promoted. "So, if you do not agree with 'mañanita' and a lack of accountability, the people can hold them accountable in the elections.'

READ: Fortune favors Debold: 'Mañanita' general is next PNP chief

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a former PNP chief himself, said that Sinas is a good choice to head the Philippine National Police, saying the incoming top cop is "a performer, always mission-oriented and undoubtedly will lead the police institution the way it should be led."

"That said, the birthday mañanita event was a hard lesson that I hope he has learned from, and which he will surely remember whenever he will be confronted in making decisions affecting the PNP as well as his personal reputation," he also said. 

More than mañanita, more abuse feared

Beyond the police general's birthday party, progressive lawmakers said that Sinas's appointment could lead to more suppression of dissent as was seen in the few protests that were held in Metro Manila during the world's longest quarantine.

"Expect bigger mañanita-style impunity with the appointment...This is also part of the Duterte regime's plan to intensify its red-tagging schemes and brutal war machinery against the Filipino people with the help of one of his most loyal lackeys," Rep. Arlene Brosas (Gabriela) said in a statement. 

"With more power to suppress legitimate dissent, Maj. Gen Debold Sinas will be more capable of not only hosting illegal mass gatherings, but in orchestrating mass arrests and mass murders of ordinary citizens ala-Oplan Sauron," she also said. 

Rep. Ferdinand Gaite (Bayan Muna) also lambasted the appointment, saying "competence and integrity really has nothing to do in President Duterte's appointments, but is all about notoriety and absolute loyalty to the president."

"As things stand, young police and army officers would cozy it up with politicians so that they can also get juicy positions after some time. This glaring example of patronage politics imposes upon them that merit and competence has little or nothing to do with securing positions, what matters is who you know and not what you know," he added.

READ: 'Advance mag-isip': Cops arrest PISTON members headed to protest at UP Diliman | WATCH: Police confiscate placards during Quiapo Mass

Central Visayas stint 

Over the six months of the coronavirus-induced quarantine, Sinas made headlines twice: first for violating quarantine protocols at a birthday party during the enhanced community quarantine, and later, for an eviction attempt on a family in Taguig. 

Not as widely reported were killings in Region 7 while Sinas was regional director there.

In January, the the Senate committees on public order and dangerous drugs and human rights called for a probe into a wave of killings in Negros in 2018 and in 2019. The report noted that most of the killings occurred when the police and military launched Oplan Sauron or the Simultaneous Enhanced Managing of Police Operations in Negros.

“To say that the period between October 2018 and July 2019 was bloody is a gross understatement. In that eight-month period, a series of killings and attempted killings occurred... No one was spared. Men, women and children suffered in the hands of lawless armed men,” the report stated.

According to CHR Central Visayas in August 2018, there were 22 killings in Negros Oriental alone between June 27 and July 28.

Critics said the killings and political persecution of peasants and activists in the area could be attributed to "Oplan Sauron," the implementing program in Negros of Duterte’s Memorandum Order 32.  

MO 32 ordered the deployment of additional police and military forces to Samar, Negros provinces and the Bicol region to “suppress lawless violence and acts of terror.”

READ: Sinas should be also held accountable for rights violations in Negros — group

Raids in Metro Manila

Upon his promotion to the NCRPO, Sinas was also behind raids on the headquarters of legal activist groups in Metro Manila, which led to what groups assert are the illegal arrest and trumped-up charges against human rights defenders Reina Mae Nasino and Cora Agovida during his term as Metro Manila's top cop. 

Human rights monitor Karapan, in a separate statement, said: "What lies ahead for the Filipino people with Sinas’s appointment is a bloody party of human rights violations where Duterte’s most rabid and murderous lapdogs are given freer rein to merrily kill, kill, and kill with wanton impunity."

"This is explicit on the marching orders for Sinas’ appointment: to continue the sham and bloody drug war and the repression of critics and activists," the group said. 

"Karapatan has nothing but indignation and disgust for Sinas’ appointment. The messages being sent are clear as day: follow the president’s orders and you will be protected and promoted, and that this fascist regime is gearing up for an intensified crackdown on dissent and assault on human rights by appointing one of its most loyal butchers as the country’s top cop," the rights group said.

READ: 20 arrested at Pride march against anti-terror bill in Manila | Police cut short, speed up funeral procession for Baby River

'Shaken public trust' 

Rep. Alfredo Garbin (Ako Bicol Party-list), for his part, congratulated Sinas but called on incoming police leadership to win back the public's trust, which he said was "shaken" in the wake of the agency's lapses.

"The PNP should disclose and frequently update on its social media accounts the complete list and details of all pending and decided administrative and criminal cases against police officers. There should also be disclosure of a complete list of all AWOL (Absent Without Leave) police officers," he said in a statement. 

"PNP personnel who have betrayed the public trust and those dismissed from the service would likely resort to criminal activities on their own or as part of syndicates. It is but right that the media and the general public are made continually aware of the threat these AWOL and dismissed officers pose to the safety and security."

SPECIAL REPORT: 'By the book': A look at quarantine incidents and police operational procedures

In a separate statement, Rep. Ruffy Biazon (Muntinlupa) referenced Sinas's birthday party but said that he knows the police general to be a good worker.

"I've had the chance to work with General Sinas at the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) Regional Advisory Council and he showed commitment in pursuing the Performance Governance System (PGS) in the NCRPO," Biazon said.

"He was proactive in ensuring that the NCRPO was not only compliant, but proficient. He had good rapport with the stakeholders as shown by the cooperation of the business community in the reform initiatives undertaken under the PGS," he also said.

"But with the mañanita issue, he would just have to show that he has learned a lesson from the lapse by giving an excellent performance as [chief, PNP]." — with reports from Xave Gregorio and James Relativo 






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