The Philippine government ordered an investigation into a birthday party held for Manila’s police chief amid a ban on large gatherings in the capital meant to curb the spread of the Chinese coronavirus, Reuters reported on Wednesday.
On May 8, the Manila police department posted photos of the birthday celebration to its official Facebook page. The photos soon went viral across Philippine social media, drawing criticism from the public for the blatant defiance of government quarantine mandates currently in place in Metro Manila during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
On Wednesday, the Philippines National Police Chief and Justice Minister ordered separate investigations into the incident, according to the report.
Under the Sinas-Gamboa Law, birthday parties are again allowed, if you are chief of Metro Manila police. pic.twitter.com/XgZhyOoMCM
— Tonyo Cruz (@tonyocruz) May 13, 2020
Photos of the celebration show Debold Sinas, chief of the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO), gathered with dozens of fellow officers. Some people in the photos are not wearing masks, and nearly all are shown sitting and standing close to one another, with no attempt at physical distancing seemingly made. Beer cans are pictured on tables at the party, defying a current ban on liquor during the coronavirus lockdown. A live music band was also shown performing. The Philippine Star reported the party was held at the NCRPO headquarters in Metro Manila.
“It was never my intention to disobey existing protocols relative to the implementation of the enhanced community quarantine,” Sinas said in a statement, according to Reuters.
On May 1, a Metro Manila police officer beat a man with a stick for allegedly violating coronavirus quarantine mandates by not wearing a sanitary face mask outdoors. The man was forcibly arrested in an incident caught on video by witnesses, who shared the footage with local news outlets. The use of excessive force was widely condemned by the Philippine public.
On Tuesday, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte extended a lockdown of the greater Manila area until May 31. Manila’s lockdown began on March 16, making it among the longest coronavirus quarantines in the world. The quarantine measures were enacted in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus. The strict mandates have restricted people’s movement to an extreme degree and shut down most businesses in Metro Manila, the world’s most densely populated urban center.
On April 1, President Duterte told law enforcement they should “shoot to kill” if they encounter coronavirus quarantine violators. The order revived concerns that police could enforce martial law during the lockdown, which many Filipinos have feared since the strict “enhanced community quarantine” was first announced in March.
On Wednesday, the NCRPO restricted Philippine news outlet Rappler’s coverage after the website published a story about Sinas’s birthday party, including several photos of the gathering.
According to the news site, the NCRPO’s public information officer, Britz Estadilla, removed Rambo Talabong, Rappler’s reporter covering the Philippine National Police (PNP), from the official NCRPO Viber (messaging app) group channel on Wednesday. Rappler accused the national police of restricting its coverage and condemned the move as “an attack on press freedom and the right to free speech.”
The news site has been the target of government scorn for its coverage of Duterte’s administration in the past, with the president ordering the arrest of Rappler founder Maria Ressa multiple times. Ressa was charged for allegedly violating Philippine laws prohibiting the management of a domestic media company by a foreign entity, which she denies.
At press time on Wednesday, the Philippines had recorded 11,618 infections and 772 deaths from the Chinese coronavirus.