Selective justice under Duterte
By Solita Collas-Monsod
Philippine Daily Inquirer
May 23, 2020 at 5:07 am

The Philippine National Police (PNP) did the right thing when it filed criminal charges against National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) chief Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas and 18 other police officers in the Taguig Prosecutor’s Office last May 15. It also asked its Internal Affairs Service (IAS) to look into the case, for administrative charges.

This encouraged other offices to do the same: For example, the police chief of Santo Tomas, Pangasinan was relieved of his duties (by the provincial police chief) for attending the mayor’s birthday celebration on May 6; and the Supreme Court ordered a judge in Compostela Valley to “show cause” for a birthday celebration in her chambers.

The good news: The PNP’s move seemed to have a salutary effect on officialdom.

The bad news: The “18 other police officers” is a roster of five brigadier generals, eight colonels, one lieutenant colonel, two majors, and two very junior (corporals) officers. It wasn’t a party given by Sinas’ staff, it was PNP-wide. I mention this because it tends to indicate the general sense of entitlement (the law is for everybody but us) in the PNP. Unless these people plead ignorance of the laws on social distancing, wearing face masks, and prohibiting mass gatherings. But if this were the case, we should be worried about the quality of PNP officialdom. Because the PNP is mandated to implement those laws.

The other bad news is that the PNP didn’t move until the birthday bash came out in the news and in social media, which means that the PNP was willing to turn a blind eye to the event. They were forced to act because of the outrage generated among the citizens/netizens. This may be considered good news, though, Reader, because it shows the power of public opinion.

But the next bad news cannot be considered anything but bad: The Rappler police beat reporter, Rambo Talabong, was deleted from the Viber group of the NCRPO. The fact is that he was among the first, if not the first, to report the quarantine violations of the birthday bash. Sinas disclaimed any responsibility for this. But apparently, he hasn’t done anything to tell his PR man to reinstate Rambo. Which delivers the message that reporters who disclose unpleasant truths cannot cover this government. Remember Pia Ranada, also of Rappler (Mr. Duterte himself banned her from Malacañang)?

The worst is reserved for the last. President Duterte decided to join the fun. Not that he doesn’t have the right to. But the timing of his intervention, and his logic, are, respectively, questionable and deplorable.

First the timing. He decided to step in the day after the criminal cases were filed against Sinas and his 18 cocelebrants. Hmm. What is the impact of this? Well, I haven’t read of any other cases brought against officials for breaking quarantine rules. He was a party-pooper. I may be guilty of post-hoc-ergo-propter-hoc (after this, therefore because of this) reasoning, but you be the judge.

What seems to be sure is that the President very effectively put a spanner in PNP Chief Archie Gamboa’s works, thus undermining his PNP chief. How do you think Gamboa, or the IAS chief, or the Taguig prosecutor, are now going to prosecute Sinas, who has gotten Mr. Duterte’s imprimatur (Sinas is a “good officer” and an “honest one”)?

As to the logic, the President said that he wasn’t going to fire Sinas just because he was serenaded (kinantahan) with a “Happy Birthday,” that he (Sinas) was surprised, that the people around the table had no masks because they were eating (“alangan naman kainin nila pati yung mask?”), and that there was seniority to be considered.

Mr. President, this has nothing to do with singing “Happy Birthday.” It was clear from the pictures taken that (1) there was a social gathering—not allowed under ECQ, (2) no social distancing was observed (crowding around the buffet table), (3) the men around Sinas without masks were no longer eating—they were socializing. With regard to the “surprise,” my columnist colleague Gen. Ramon Farolan has disposed of that. With regard to seniority—is General Sinas that indispensable?

And to top it all, aside from breaking the above rules, you are also violating the rule that an officer under investigation has to be relieved, or suspended.

Sinas has arrested ordinary citizens for doing less than what he did (the Marikina 10). And yet he gets away. Unbelievable. There truly is selective justice under Mr. Duterte.

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