How not to do it: NCRPO’s birthday gathering showed the risks of social interaction amid COVID-19 pandemic

May 13, 2020 - 4:40 PM
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Debold Sinas
NCRPO chief Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas faces reporters in an undated photo. (Photo from The Freeman)

The birthday celebration of the head of the National Capital Region Police Office is an example of a scenario that experts have previously warned when they demonstrated how fast the novel coronavirus can spread without physical distancing.

NCRPO chief Major General Debold Sinas celebrated his 55th birthday at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City last week, where his subordinates supposedly arranged a mañanita or an early birthday morning serenade despite guidelines imposed against mass gatherings.

Pictures of the event were posted by the NCRPO’s Public Information Office on Facebook last May 8 but it was eventually deleted after earning heavy backlash from Filipinos who decried the violations on quarantine protocols, especially in a region placed under an enhanced community quarantine.

NCRPO PIO titled the album: “Mañanita for General Sinas.”

(Screenshot by Interaksyon)

Saved pictures and screengrabs of the Facebook page made rounds online this week, where it showed police officers standing close to each other despite wearing the requisite face mask.

There were also pictures where the law enforcers were seen crowding at a buffet table, as well as eating meals without being distant from each other.

Screenwriter Anj Pesssumal claimed to have counted the number of police officers present in one of the pictures that showed them dining together.

She claimed to have counted a total of 50 people, adding that she has the “time” to do so.

Reacting to the photos that surfaced online, Associate Justice Marvic Leonen said that it is insensitive to hold parties during the COVID-19 pandemic, when strict social distancing rules are enforced.

“Parties are mass gatherings. It is insensitive to hold one. The Supreme Court held a retirement ceremony of a justice with 40 years of service via a private videoconferenced ceremony. He deserves more but we had to do what was ethical while our people suffer,” he said.

What officials said

Meanwhile, PNP chief General Archie Gamboa defended Sinas, saying that there was no “party” since it was just a “mañanita” and that physical distancing measures were “observed.”

“Una, walang party’ng nangyari ang sabi ni Gen. (Debold)Sinas. Probably nagkaroon ng mañanita pero doon sa mañanita, ang sabi ni Gen. Sinas is that inobserve pa rin nila ‘yong mga social distancing. Now, I don’t think na meron namang violation to,” the top cop said.

“He assured me that physical distancing was observed that time. So kung meron man, then I will look into it but as of yet, I still trust naman Gen. Sinas,” Gamboa added.

Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año, who is the head of the agency that has administrative control over PNP, merely reminded government officials to observe “delicadeza” or propriety following the incident.

He also urged the PNP to conduct an investigation over what really happened in the event.

“Nakarating sa’kin ‘yan, papaubaya ko sa Philippine National Police ‘yung pag-conduct ng investigation na ito kung ano talaga nangyari. Kaya ang sinasabi ko sa aking mga government officials, lalo na sa nasasakupan ng DILG, ito ‘yung tinatawag nating delicadeza. May pagkakataon na kailangan maging example ka,” Año said.

He added that while “mañanitas” is a tradition among top police officials, it is “uncalled for during this time.”

Gamboa on Wednesday morning eventually asked the PNP Internal Affairs Service to investigate Sinas’ birthday celebration.

The unit, although part of PNP, claims to be an autonomous and independent body that conducts investigation of police officers and its units.

Sinas on Tuesday denied holding a party.

“Actually, walang nag-party. Mga well-wishers ko iyon. ‘Yung mga tauhan ko na dumalaw… siyempre tatanggapin ko ‘yun. Naka-mask naman sila, naka-gloves, tsaka nag-social distancing,” Sinas said in a virtual interview with One News.

Following the backlash, though, he issued an apology, saying that some of the pictures “were edited and grabbed from old pics,” even though it was initially uploaded by his office.

“Nevertheless, I apologize for what transpired during my birthday that caused anxiety to the public. It was never my intention to disobey any existing protocols relative to the implementation of enhanced community quarantine,” he said.

What the guidelines say 

The Department of Health has imposed guidelines to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus which has an extremely high transmission rate.

Part of these guidelines is the stringent observance of physical distancing measures in which people are supposed to stay away at least one meter from each other to prevent the risk of infection.

The DOH said that the length is nearly equivalent to a length of a motorcycle.

Posted by Department of Health (Philippines) on Thursday, April 23, 2020

 

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III earlier released an advisory against public events and gatherings, saying that it should be avoided “to further minimize the risk of contracting 2019-nCoV ARD.”

To further prevent cases of possible transmission, Malacañang also released guidelines that were enforced as soon as President Rodrigo Duterte had placed Luzon under an enhanced community quarantine.

One of the guidelines includes a ban on mass gatherings, which include “movie screenings, concerts, sporting events and other entertainment activities, community assemblies, and non-essential work-related gatherings.”

Reenactment of how a virus spreads 

Sinas’ birthday celebration also prompted Twitter users to share a video that featured an experiment done to demonstrate how fast the novel coronavirus can spread in a cruise ship or buffet-style restaurants.

The experiment was filmed by NHK, Japan’s public broadcasting organization, and done in collaboration with infectious disease experts.

The video recreated a scenario of ten people eating in a buffet setting, where one person was assumed to be “patient zero.” His hand was applied with fluorescent paint that was only visible under ultraviolet light.

The experiment assumed that he suppressed a cough with his hand. Other participants, meanwhile, were allowed to enjoy the buffet.

After 30 minutes, the “virus” was present almost everywhere. It could be seen in the participants’ clothes, utensils and mobile phones, apart from “patient zero’s” face.

The video eventually made waves on local online community and some Filipinos likened the “experiment” to what might have “happened” during Sinas’ birthday celebration, which included a buffet.

“Tapos ‘yung isang NCRPO Chief nagpa-birthday party?????? Oh t*ngina niyo, kung kayo hindi niyo rin lang masunod batas na kayo rin ang nagpapatupad, aba t*ngina mamatay na lang kayo sa virus na ‘yan,” a Twitter user said.

Experts previously said that observing physical distance is a preventive measure crucial in “flattening the curve” or significantly reducing the number of infections in a community so that the health care system wouldn’t be burdened.