‘And I was also hoping (praying even) that Gen. Sinas himself would take this opportunity to send the right message to everyone about what his long years of dedicated public service meant and how the PNP as an institution mattered to him.’
PRESIDENT Duterte is rarely wrong, but the other day he made one mistake. When his apparently taped meeting with the IATF was broadcast Monday evening the President cited (in English) a Latin maxim that is oft-quoted these days: “the law is the law,” which actually is “the law is harsh but it is the law,” or, in Latin, “Dura Lex Sed Lex.”
And then, even before he could exhale, the President referred to the case of NCRPO chief Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas and said that in the case of Sinas, “the law is the law” is not going to be the law, citing various reasons why Sinas has to remain in place (for now) despite the highly publicized party-that-wasn’t, complete with a public gathering (there were ten people, yes, but per table and there seems to have been at least five such tables), the absence of social distancing (especially when it was time to partake of the feast, which wasn’t plated, by the way) and the lack of face masks in some of the participants as seen in some of the photos.
In effect, the President was exercising some form of “Presidential prerogative” in keeping Gen. Sinas in place, despite the clear violations of the rules issued by the IATF and the National Task Force against COVID-19, rules which are strictly enforced by the PNP itself. Strictly, mind you, because, as the NCRPO chief has been quoted as saying, the PNP is not there to dialogue with people who clearly violate the law.
I was greatly disheartened and felt that the President dropped the ball in this case, for a few reasons.
First, I do not think that the President has any form of “Presidential prerogative” when it comes to people violating the law, except in the form of a pardon, which has to come after a conviction. In the case of Gen. Sinas, not only is there no conviction yet, an investigation is still to be conducted by the PNP as instructed by its Director-General and in response to the public outcry over the incident. This investigation is now moot and academic, it seems.
To accept the idea if not the practice of an “ibalato niyo na lang sa akin ito” is to weaken further our system of law and order, and its reputation as one that is “blind” to the person or status of any offender. And it runs very counter to the slogan “change is coming” that was the hallmark of the Duterte campaign for the presidency that took the country by storm some four years ago.
Second, the President’s action has weakened the PNP in ways that may not be evident today. It sends a message down the ranks that for as long as the President has got your back, you are not to worry no matter what you do. It sends a message that whatever principles and values were taught in the Academy such as “service, honor, justice” and about the PNP being a “credible police service” is secondary to the personal preferences, if not caprices or whims, of the civilian authority. It also sends a message to the others who are qualified and capable to be NCRPO chief that none of them is good enough, and that the incumbent is indispensable.
But no one is.
I am told by a number of good friends who have dealt with Gen. Sinas that the man has a big and soft heart for the common people. I don’t know him, but it does look like this is true because his men very eagerly threw a surprise party for him on his birthday, not because they were sucking up to him but because they loved him. But that he has a big heart for the people – a very important character trait for a leader of the PNP – is irrelevant (even if unfortunately so) in this case. To use a basketball analogy: it doesn’t matter if the player who earned his sixth and last foul were a James Yap or a Kobe Bryant or a Michael Jordan: the sixth foul is the sixth foul and off to the bench he must go.
And from that same bench someone else must now step forward and step up.
I was really hoping (praying even) that the President would take this opportunity to send the right message to everyone about what “public service” and “credibility” and “no man being above the law” meant in a Duterte administration. I was also hoping (praying even) that the PNP itself would take this opportunity to send the right message to everyone about what it meant to be an officer (and a gentleman) in this time and day amid COVID-19 related restrictions. And I was also hoping (praying even) that Gen. Sinas himself would take this opportunity to send the right message to everyone about what his long years of dedicated public service meant and how the PNP as an institution mattered to him.
But my prayers weren’t answered – not in the way I had hoped. And, as I said in the beginning, while the President is very rarely wrong, I think he was wrong this time.
But there’s always a silver lining even in the worst storm cloud. I suspect that whatever soft and big heart Gen. Sinas has for the people will be even softer and bigger. Which means the NCRPO will now deal more “gently” with violators of the quarantine rules because it will take into account intentions and situations and specific conditions of each and every violator. I am sure that most violators, like Gen. Sinas, have no intention of violating the law but were simply thrust into such a situation out of, say, necessity: no one else to go out to buy food or medicine; lack of a means of transport to get from place to place; or even lack of means to buy a face mask. Surely to them the NCRPO can be a little more understanding and a little more helpful?
Not everyone has the good fortune of having none other than the President watching his back. As I posted on Facebook a few days ago, “fortune favors Debold.”
May he favor us in return.
Pay it forward, Gen. Sinas!