Debold Sinas, Duterte, and my father-in-law

TO THE QUICK - Jerry S. Tundag - The Freeman

Debold Sinas had a birthday party last May 8. It has since become the most-talked-about birthday party in the Philippines, not because Sinas is Brad Pitt or that the Queen of England was there. It is because Sinas is Major General Debold Sinas, the police chief of the entire National Capital Region, and his guests were some of the most senior officers of his command. In short it was a gathering of the longest and strongest arms of the law.

At some other time, it would have been just an innocuous get-together of the big boys. But this is no ordinary time. There is a coronavirus pandemic going on. More than 200 countries have already been affected, most of them having gone into lockdown. In the Philippines, where nearly a thousand have already died, stringent protocols have been put in place that turned the lives of millions upside down just to contain the virus.

A huge uproar erupted over the Sinas caper. People cannot accept that the very frontline enforcers of social distancing, the wearing of face masks, and the ban on parties and other mass gatherings would instead be among those who would blatantly violate those protocols. Everybody expected heads to roll. But curiously not one did. Worse, President Duterte not only did not fire Sinas, he actually praised him.

Exactly 12 days earlier, on April 26, my father-in-law died here in his hometown of Carigara at the age of 90, after a lingering bout with numerous health issues. Two days later, we buried him. With the world on lockdown, there was no one to wait for. My wife's only sibling, a nurse, was battling the pandemic with her doctor husband in the frontlines of New York. My three kids, one in Germany two in Cebu, also could not come.

Except for the very core of immediate family and a few friends who would not be denied, almost nobody came, not because they did not want or cared to but because Filipinos are generally law-abiding. When protocols on stay at home, no mass gatherings, observe social distancing, etc. were laid down, even centuries-old, deeply-held family, cultural, social, historical and religious rites, customs and traditions had to be set aside, painfully.

Even the priest politely declined to celebrate Mass at home in compliance with archdiocesan and civil authority orders. So we buried my father-in-law with the barest display of affection and respect, just so we do not step out of line with COVID-19 protocols, the same protocols that Sinas and his men are supposed to enforce in Metro Manila but which they in fact blatantly violated. Knowingly, if I may add, since no birthday is ever a surprise.

I have always supported Duterte, defending him in even the most unpopular issues, because I believe in most of his policies, such as on the drug war, on the South China Sea, and on the United States. It is a position I freely took but which has cost me a lot personally. I am being called names and accused of the most ridiculous things by those who cannot answer the issues I raise and who hide behind the cloak of anonymity.

But I have never received a cent from Duterte, never knew him personally, never shook his hand, never been within 10 kilometers of the man. I just happen to share many of the things he is pushing as president and leader of my country. I may not change just on account of Sinas. But his softness toward him was stupid, bad, and an insult to every Filipino suffering under COVID-19 protocols. To the Cebuano Duterte, binuang kaayo to, sir.

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