MANILA (UPDATE) - Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Archie Gamboa on Tuesday defended National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) director Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas over a birthday celebration during the COVID-19 crisis, which drew backlash for supposedly flouting physical distancing and mass gathering guidelines.
“Una, walang party’ng nangyari ang sabi ni Gen. Sinas. Probably nagkaroon ng mañanita pero doon sa mañanita ang sabi ni Gen. Sinas is that inobserve pa rin nila ‘yong mga social distancing. Now, I don't think na meron namang violation ito,” he said in his virtual press briefing.
The NCRPO threw Sinas a mañanita or early birthday serenade on Friday, May 8, for the police official's 55th birthday.
Photos posted by the NCRPO Public Information Office on its Facebook page showed police officers giving Sinas roses and cakes.
Sinas was also seen mingling at a table while others lined up at buffet meals.
The post has been deleted, but ABS-CBN News were able to save the photos of Sinas’ birthday celebration.
Based on what he was told, Gamboa said physical distancing was observed during the celebration.
“He assured me that physical distancing was observed that time. So kung meron man then I will look into it but as of yet I still trust naman Gen. Sinas,” he said.
The PNP chief, however, stressed no one is above the law.
“Alam naman natin napakahirap no’ng trabaho niya sa NCRPO but nevertheless it is not an excuse for him not to follow simple health protocols,” he said.
“So hindi pa talaga natin alam kung allowed ‘yong parties kasi alam naman natin kapag may party ang pinaka -vulnerable na puwedeng violation dito would be mass gathering. So we really don't know as of yet, but as of ngayon, bawal kasi wala pa naman nilalabas na detailed policy about this,” he added.
Responding to criticism, Sinas apologized for the incident, saying he did not intend to disobey existing protocols related to the enhanced community quarantine.
"I apologize for what transpired during my birthday that caused anxiety to the public," he said in a statement.
Sinas claimed some of the photos that had been circulating online were "edited and grabbed from old posts."
"The pictures may depict itself, however it does not define the totality of what really had happened," he said.
On Wednesday, Gamboa ordered an inquiry into the incident, saying the PNP is not exempt from lockdown rules.
"The PNP is not exempt from strict rules on mass gathering and I am directing all unit commanders to prohibit any and all social gatherings," the statement quoted Gamboa as saying.
"The Chief PNP strongly reiterates strict observance of all public health protocols and biosafety standards by all personnel at all times," it added.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, whose agency governs over the police force, disapproved of the party.
"That's a big no-no," he told ABS-CBN's Teleradyo.
“I remind government officials, especially those under DILG, of the so-called delicadeza or sense of propriety. There are instances in which you should set an example,” he said in Filipino.
The Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) defined mass gathering as a planned or spontaneous event where the number of people attending the event could strain the planning and response resources of the city or municipality where the event will be held.
It includes movie screenings, concerts, sporting events and other entertainment activities, community assemblies and non-essential work-related gatherings.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) also urged the public to follow physical distancing rules by maintaining at least 1 meter or 3 feet distance as a precautionary measure against the virus.
In March, Sinas warned that violators of community quarantine rules would face arrest.
“Arestuhin ‘yong hindi sumunod sa guidelines. If the guidelines have already been passed and it’s been disseminated, those who will violate will be arrested," he had said.
To date, the PNP has recorded 164 COVID-19 cases, including 4 deaths and 52 recoveries. The police force is also monitoring 595 "probable" and 389 "suspect" COVID-19 cases. - With a report from Anjo Bagaoisan, ABS-CBN News