MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte's pick for the country's new police chief, Police Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas, told his critics on Wednesday that he was "qualified" for the post after activists warned of possible unchecked human rights abuses ahead and a crackdown on dissent under his watch.
Before becoming chief of the Philippine National Police, Sinas, who had drawn flak for his birthday mañanita despite pandemic restrictions in May, cited his experience serving as secretary to the PNP Directorial Staff, and heading the Central Visayas and Metro Manila regional units and the Crime Laboratory.
"Ako po ay qualified. Kung nagtataasan ng kilay, opinyon po nila iyon. Patotohanan ko na lang sa kanila later on na ako po ay qualified po maging Chief PNP," he said in a Laging Handa briefing.
(I am qualified. If they are raising their eyebrows over my appointment, that is their opinion. I will just prove to them later on that I am qualified to be Chief PNP.)
"As to the kung bakit ako na-appoint, nasa prerogative po iyon ng President. At gumagawa lang po ako ng trabaho at katungkulan," he added.
(As to why I was appointed, that was the prerogative of the President. And I am just doing my job and duties.)
Sinas' appointment had caused a stir on social media, where users recalled how as Metro Manila police chief he had celebrated his birthday in May with dozens of senior officers at a party or mañanita that defied strict coronavirus lockdown rules.
The PNP Chief said criminal charges against him for the mañanita are pending before the Taguig prosecutor's office.
"Bahala na po kung ano pong desisyon ng Taguig prosecutor at kami po'y susunod. Ang issue na po iyon ay matagal na. Ang pagbi-busy-han ay iyong katungkulan ko po as the new Chief PNP," he said.
(That is up to the Taguig prosecutor and we will obey. The issue happened long ago. I will be busy with my duties as the new Chief PNP.)
Sinas 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 urban poor 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 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" by police and incitement to violence by top officials. The government rejected that as baseless.
Carlos Conde, Philippines researcher for Human Rights Watch, said drugs killings were rampant in the capital region under Sinas and that 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.
Sinas said he was not facing any charges in connection with his stint in the Visayas.
"Kung may reklamo sila, puwede naman po nila i-file iyon sa korte natin, sa iba't ibang ahensya na nagsu-supervise po sa PNP. At kung tungkol po doon ito sa alleged human rights violation, wala pong katotohanan iyon," he said.
(If they have a complaint, they can file it in our court, before the various agencies supervising the PNP. And if this is about the alleged human rights violation, there is no truth to that.)
He said he would boost the drug war and curb corruption of police funds.
— With a report from Reuters