Filipinos have been staying home for two months as the country continues to fight the coronavirus pandemic. Without mass testing initiatives, the government is depending on its police and military to enforce lockdown measures by setting up checkpoints that bar people from leaving cities. Some uniformed personnel in the Philippines have even taken this new power to the extremes, acting aggressively against some violators.
Still others have a party.
On May 8, dozens of cops celebrated the 55th birthday of Metro Manila chief Major Gen. Debold Sinas in their police headquarters, despite a ban on gatherings. They threw their boss a surprise party, and even posted photos of the event on Facebook – which clearly show that there was no social distancing whatsoever.
And yes, Sinas let the party in his honor continue.
The photos have since been taken down, but not before netizens reposted and reacted to them. A quick look at the pictures shows that guests were obviously less than two meters apart as they sat beside each other in round tables and queued up for food by a buffet. Sinas even blew out a candle on his cake without a face mask.
Despite the uproar from Filipinos though, Philippine National Police (PNP) chief General Archie Gamboa managed to defend his men and said that there was no party, just a “mañanita,” or a small gathering for morning snacks.
“I don't think there was a violation,” Gamboa said during a press briefing on Tuesday, May 12. Despite the photos showing that guests were clearly near each other, the police chief said that he plans to look into whether or not social distancing was implemented.
The irony of cops arresting coronavirus violators one day and throwing a birthday bash on another is not lost on many Filipinos.
Finally, following continued backlash, the PNP said in a statement on Wednesday, May 13, that Gamboa has directed the police force's Internal Affairs Service to investigate the birthday party. Even Sinas himself apologised five days after his surprise rendez-vous, saying he was “overjoyed as a birthday celebrant” and was “caught up.” He said he didn’t mean to cause “anxiety to the public.”
This is far from the first time public officials in the Philippines were caught violating quarantine rules. In late March, Senator Koko Pimentel visited his pregnant wife in a busy private hospital during the height of the outbreak, despite having coronavirus symptoms. He ended up testing positive for COVID-19.
Metro Manila, along with the rest of Luzon island and other major cities in the Philippines, has been under lockdown since mid-March. On Tuesday, May 12, the government announced that quarantine measures will be extended for a third time in the capital region, and will continue until the end of May. As of writing, there are 11,350 confirmed cases and 751 deaths in the Philippines.
Correction 05/13/20: This article previously stated that there were 75 COVID-19 deaths in the Philippines. There are actually 751 deaths.