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Poster boy

/ 05:30 AM November 13, 2020

Barely weeks after reiterating his firm avowals of going against law violators and erring government personnel, President Duterte appointed National Capital Region Police Office director Police Major Gen. Debold Sinas as the new chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP).

The bitter irony was not lost on the public: Sinas’ moments in the public consciousness had been occasioned not by any sterling feats as a police officer, but by his blatant disregard for the law. To cite the most notorious example, his tone-deaf birthday “mañanita” in May defied quarantine restrictions and health protocols—while he led police teams in imposing the draconian restrictions on everyone else. He is also reportedly facing a complaint for violation of domicile when he led an attempt to evict a retired police officer from a PNP housing unit in Taguig in July.

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Rights groups also point to Sinas’ one-year tour of duty in Central Visayas starting 2018 as having been marred by unsolved killings, mostly of peasants and activists, as part of a local anti-insurgency campaign and anti-illegal drug operations. In January, the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs and human rights called for a probe of the wave of killings in Negros in 2018 and 2019 under Sinas’ watch.

According to reports, that campaign led to the arrest of 14,223 drug suspects, 313 of them supposedly high-value targets, and the death of 136 persons during police operations. But the targets were not only drug suspects; a rash of assassinations also cut down peasants and activists. Critics attributed the killings to “Oplan Sauron,” the implementing program in Negros of the President’s Memorandum Order No. 32, which ordered the deployment of additional police and military forces to Samar, the Negros provinces, and the Bicol region to “suppress lawless violence and acts of terror.”

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Sinas’ inaugural speech as PNP chief was an exhortation to his troops to “walk the talk” as “tagapagpatupad ng batas” (enforcers of the law), which only got the nation chuckling. He remains unpunished for his violations of quarantine regulations, and his pending administrative case is now likely to end in limbo. Would low-level bureaucrats, after all, have the gumption to pursue a favored official whom the President had not only publicly defended and exonerated, but has even rewarded with the highest, most powerful law-enforcement job?

Starving jeepney drivers who protested in the streets, on the other hand, were hauled off to jail for alleged quarantine violations and were not released until bail money was posted. Hundreds of thousands of other ordinary Filipinos were arrested by the police during the months-long lockdown, many of them subjected to cruel, humiliating treatment such as being put in cages, forced to sit under the summer sun for hours, beaten, and, in the case of a discharged Army man suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, gunned down in broad daylight.

On Tuesday, Mr. Duterte named two other officials with problematic records to other government posts. Despite facing a Senate investigation for allegedly accepting grease money to facilitate a drug shipment from China, former Customs deputy commissioner Gerardo Gambala was appointed Director IV at the Office for Transportation Security, while former Customs Import Assessment Service Director Milo Maestrecampo is now Assistant Director General II at the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines. Both men have denied the allegations.

This is not the first time the President has fulminated against corrupt officials who flout the law and vowed to punish them, only to turn around and promote them instead. Among the most prominent examples of Duterte officials who were embroiled in controversy but were still given plum government posts are former Bureau of Customs chief Nicanor Faeldon—moved by Mr. Duterte to the Bureau of Corrections, only for Faeldon to become entangled in yet another scandal that forced him to resign—and former BOC commissioner Isidro Lapeña, now the head of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority. Under their respective stints at the BOC, Faeldon and Lapeña saw the agency embroiled in sensational multibillion drug smuggling cases, which should have been outright deal-breakers necessitating the most rigorous investigations and punishment under the Duterte administration’s professed iron hand against illegal drugs.

Sinas’ mission as PNP chief runs along well-worn lines: “To continue the war on drugs, to continue the gains in the area of peace and order.”

If those are the perimeters of the post, no wonder Sinas is, as Malacañang put it, “for the moment, the most trusted by the President.” But that he remains the outsize poster boy for law enforcers who get away with breaking the law, and are then rewarded big-time for it, inspires no similar confidence in a much-chagrined public.

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TAGS: Major Gen. Debold Sinas, Mañanita, Philippine National Police, PNP
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