'Too serious to ignore': Rights watchdogs cite lack of accountability in Sinas' cases
File photo shows newly-minted Police Gen. Debold Sinas addressing members of the media at a press conference.
The STAR/Michael Varcas

'Too serious to ignore': Rights watchdogs cite lack of accountability in Sinas' cases

Franco Luna (Philstar.com) - November 11, 2020 - 3:43pm

MANILA, Philippines — Newly-minted PNP chief Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas is in prime position to investigate and address the allegations of murders and human rights violations that occurred in his localities in the past, issues that could just as likely only worsen under his leadership, an international rights watchdog said. 

"Sinas’ appointment is a cause of concern for the human rights movement. His record of flouting the law and, even worse, the drug war killings in the central Philippines where he was assigned can only mean a worsening of the rights situation in the Philippines," Carlos Conde, senior Philippine researcher at the New York-based Human Rights Watch told Philstar.com in an online exchange. 

"His appointment, while not surprising under a president that couldn’t care less about human rights, will not only mean more police violence but also continuing impunity and absence of accountability," he also said. 

Speaking in a separate interview aired over ANC's "Matters of Fact", Conde urged the recently-appointed chief to launch proper investigations into the cases that went unsolved under his watch. 

More than just the infamous mañanita celebration that Sinas has been known for, his track record as regional director in Region 7 stood out for the spate of killings whose investigations eventually languished. 

“We support the statement that he should be given a chance but again that should not prevent us from looking at his own records...The response of the state has always been to respond with brute force and violence,” Conde said on ANC. 

“There has been no accountability for these killings in Central Visayas. This is the reason why we're very concerned...Keep in mind, Sinas is not cooperative in institutions in Central Visayas when it comes to investigating not just the EJKs there but also the drug war,” he added.

READ: Amid coronavirus pandemic, newly-minted police chiefs bare focus on illegal drugs

During his first day as chief of the PNP, Sinas vowed that the organization would "face" the allegations held against him, but this came only after he vowed to strengthen the national police's campaigns against insurgency and illegal narcotics. 

"When I was in Cebu, we had operations and we had the implementation of search warrants on illegal drugs and illegal possession of firearms. During our operations, we declare if there were casualties. And there were some operations where there weren't even any cases filed. I don't know what the charges are, but we will face that," he said earlier in mixed Filipino and English. 

In a statement, the Commission on Human Rights also called on the PNP's new leadership to "affirm the government’s commitments to uphold justice and human rights by pursuing every case of human rights violation," highlighting "the role of our law enforcers in making perpetrators accountable."

"To this end, we also look forward to concrete actions from the PNP in realizing openness and genuine cooperation in investigating said human rights violations—even in cases when State officers and agents are allegedly implicated in their commission," CHR also said. 

Whether the new chief, who will have his post until May 2020, will follow through on this promise remains to be seen. 

According to Conde, the police general's forthcoming term could "either go both ways": either he continues the administration's so-called drug war, or "he can take this mandate and make sure these cases are investigated properly by his office." 

Rights groups have long rallied against the administration's drug war, which they say has yielded a death toll as high as 30,000. The police's own data only claims some 8,000 of these, which they attribute to "drug personalities" who fought back and were killed in official police operations. 

"Sinas has shown his capacity and willingness to follow the orders of Duterte in terms of the drug war and counter-insurgency. In a way, he's a perfect soldier for Duterte, and that raises a huge concern," Conde said. 

“He's now in the position to actually do something about these cases, about these allegations of human rights abuses, about these killings that although they may not have been perpetrated directly by the police, it is within the mandate and duty and responsibility by the police to investigate these killings,” he added.  

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