MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte's appointment of Police Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas as the new police chief will not affect criminal charges he is facing for a birthday celebration that allegedly flouted protocols to curb the coronavirus pandemic, Malacañang said Tuesday.
Criminal charges against Sinas, which stemmed from his birthday party at the height of the COVID-19 lockdown in May, are still pending before the city prosecutor of Taguig, said Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque.
“Ibig sabihin nito, wala pa pong kasong kriminal si Chief Sinas,” he told reporters. “The appointment, of course, will have no bearing on the decision on the Taguig Prosecutor's Office.”
(This means that there is no criminal case against Chief Sinas.)
The administrative case against Sinas has yet to be resolved, he added.
Sinas' appointment had caused a stir on social media, where users recalled how as Manila police chief, he had celebrated his birthday in May with dozens of senior officers at a party or mañanita that defied a 10-person limit on gatherings during the coronavirus lockdown.
He is the latest commander to rise to the top post under Duterte having led operations in bloody hotspots of his war on drugs, during which thousands of poor suspects have been killed, many in mysterious circumstances.
Rights groups accuse police of executing suspected dealers. Police say those killed in their operations were legitimate targets who had resisted arrest.
"What lies ahead for the Filipino people with Sinas' appointment is a bloody party of human rights violations," said Cristina Palabay of rights group Karapatan.
"This fascist regime is gearing up for an intensified crackdown on dissent and assault on human rights."
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Duterte valued Sinas’ track record and "big" contribution to the drug war.
Asked about his suitability, Roque said Duterte need not explain his appointments.
A United Nations report in June said tens of thousands of people may have been killed in the drug war with "near impunity" for police and incitement to violence by top officials. The government rejected that as baseless.
Sinas apologized after photographs online showed him with dozens of police at his party in May, flouting a ban on gatherings.
Carlos Conde, Philippines researcher for Human Rights Watch, said drugs killings were rampant in the capital region under Sinas and his appointment did not bode well for human rights.
"He seems very loyal to Duterte and it looks like he's going to do what Duterte would ask him to do," he said.
— With a report from Reuters