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Editorial

The last word

/ 05:30 AM May 31, 2020

By May 20, barely two weeks after the national firestorm he had caused with his birthday celebration that blatantly violated quarantine protocols on mass gatherings, National Capital Region Police Office chief Debold Sinas had sufficiently recovered his gumption to declare that he had moved on from the issue, and so was hoping his “detractors and bashers” would do likewise.

“Ayaw ko na po manisi (I don’t want to blame anyone),” he said, sounding very much like the magnanimous victim, as if the public had been terribly unfair to him and the police for the rebuke they reaped with their actions.

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Then again, why not? The incident seemed to have only strengthened Sinas’ position. To a man, his colleagues in the Philippine National Police lined up to defend, justify, or play down his misconduct. None of them acknowledged the double standards underscored by the general’s birthday “mañanita,” with PNP personnel helping themselves to a buffet and disregarding physical distancing even as cops routinely thrashed any remotely similar action by ordinary citizens.

Like Sinas, the PNP also tried to play victim, deploying hilarious TV soap language in a Facebook post about how “niyurakan ang aming pagkatao… inapak-apakan (our humanity was violated, stomped upon),” but vowing nevertheless to continue to serve the people wholeheartedly (“babangon at maglilingkod sa inyo nang tapat at buong puso!”).

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True, the police eventually brought charges against Sinas and 18 others. But how would that prosper plausibly with no less than President Duterte exonerating Sinas, praising him as a “good officer” and “an honest one”? As for the principle that “the law is the law” which, in the same address, he had threatened to wield against local executives allegedly involved in aid anomalies, the President said it didn’t apply to Sinas, per his diktat: “Sabihin mo ‘The law is the law.’ Eh, akin na ’yun (‘The law is the law.’ That’s up to me). It’s my responsibility.”

And so, emboldened by the Big Boss’ thumbs-up, there was Sinas before the Eid al-Fitr holiday last Monday, baldly warning Muslim Filipinos that mass gatherings of any kind were still prohibited. The nerve, one would say, but since the final word on the matter — the only word that matters, in fact, under the present order — has come down firmly and solicitously on his side, then indeed, it’s moving-on time.

Or is it? Perhaps the last word on this incident, the lasting takeaway, should be derived from somewhere else. It cannot end with accepting the PNP’s narrative and the President’s verdict, because that means resigning oneself to a gross perversion of the order of things — wrong made right, lawbreaking (by a law enforcer!) excused if not rewarded, exceptionalism normalized.

Thankfully, and in defiance of the reflex wagon-circling displayed by their brethren in uniform, some professional elders of Sinas have forcefully called him out  —and it is these voices championing the seemingly vanished values of honor, integrity, and dignity in officers and gentlemen of the country’s law-enforcement ranks that merit an exalted place in both public memory and the historical record.

Retired major general and Inquirer columnist Ramon Farolan, a fellow Philippine Military Academy (PMA) alumnus, was unequivocal: Sinas must step down.

“Accept that you made a poor judgment call, showing insensitivity to the plight of our less fortunate,” Farolan wrote. “It takes courage and an inner strength to do the right thing. People will respect you and the institution you represent will be the better for the example you set.”

Former police director general Arturo Lomibao echoed that call for accountability.

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“What happened, Cavalier Debold?” he asked in a Facebook post. “Have delicadeza… Man up to your fault.”

And to PNP chief Archie Gamboa: “What happened to the PNP mantra ‘To enforce the law without fear or favor’. Has it been downgraded as a footnote?”

Finally, in a letter to this paper, another PMA elder, retired colonel Leonardo O. Odoño, pointed out what had been clear from Day 1 of this affair except to the administration: “With due respect to our Commander in Chief, I must say that General Sinas is not above the law—no one is.” Odoño also appealed to Sinas: “Please, as an elder PMAyer, let me say to you: The honorable thing to do is to offer to resign your position as NCRPO head, go on terminal leave, and save the President from agonizing over what to do with you.”

It is not farfetched to think that many men and women in the PNP would speak the same way, given the chance. A ringing defense of the need for old-fashioned honor and integrity in public service, and one’s uniform, deserves to come down as the ultimate lesson of this clarifying moment — especially at a time when we are gaslighted to think such values no longer matter. Worse, when their inverse is made the ethic of the day.

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