CEBU CITY, Philippines – Brigadier General Debold Sinas took the helm of the police force of the country’s biggest metropolitan area on Wednesday, October 16. (READ: Central Visayas top cop Debold Sinas is next Metro Manila police chief)
While even Sinas will admit that heading the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) will be a new challenge for him, it’s not his first time to oversee the police force of a big metropolitan area.
Sinas has been police director of the Central Visayas’ regional office (PRO-7) in Cebu City since July 2018, or a little bit over a year. The PRO-7 is responsible for securing over 7 million people across the provinces of Cebu, Bohol, Negros Oriental, and Siquijor.
When the regional director gave his last press conference to reporters in Cebu City, he said he would not change much with the way outgoing Metro Manila Police Director Guillermo Eleazar – his Philippine Military Academy classmate – is doing things in Metro Manila, but acknowledged he would have to adjust to the challenges of overseeing safety and security in the national capital region. (READ: Metro Manila's next top cop sees diversity, big population as challenges)
The outgoing Central Visayas police chief is a native of Butuan City. He speaks Mindanao variant of Cebuano and often mixes a few Tagalog words and phrases in the middle of sentences.
He said one thing he likes about Cebu is that everyone speaks Cebuano and that moving to the capital would mean adjusting to the diverse languages to be able to engage the communities more effectively.
But this is also not Sinas’ first time being based in Manila.
His family also lives in Manila. They were staying together when he was working in the Philippine National Police Headquarters’ Camp Crame. Before he was regional director of Central Visayas, he was the crime lab director and secretary for directorial staff in Crame.
PMA classmate of Eleazar
Sinas is a batchmate at the Philippine Military Academy of the outgoing NCRPO chief Eleazar. They both graduated from the Hinirang Class of 1987.
He told SunStar Cebu in an interview that he joined the academy due to pressure from his father – he was warned that if he did not get in, he would not be accepted back home.
He said that he would implement all existing policies left by his classmate if they are effective. “I won’t invent anything,” Sinas said in Cebuano during his press conference last week.
He also said he would do his best to solicit the help of the city directors and police staff in Metro Manila to continue the campaign against illegal drugs.
“Hopefully, I could live up to expectations of my classmate Eleazar,” Sinas said. “Hopefully mapantayan nako (I can match it),” he said.
Escalation of violence in the region
During Sinas' tenure, the war on drugs intensified, while violence escalated in the Central Visayas. At least P1.2-billion worth of shabu was confiscated under his supervision over the course of one year of anti-drug operations.
He sees his new job as Metro Manila's top cop as a continuation of his work in the Central Visayas. Sinas noted that nearly all sources of drugs in the region come from Manila. His goal in his new post is to stop the flow of drugs from Metro Manila to the provinces when he becomes chief.
The Commission on Human Rights noted in February that the number of unsolved killings, where hundreds of victims were linked to the drug trade, increased during Sinas' watch. In February, the CHR said the Central Visayas had the 4th highest number of drug-linked killings in the country. (READ: Killings in Cebu rise as mayor, cops feud)
Aside from Cebu, Negros Oriental saw increased violence during the same time period.
In July, 21 people were killed in Negros Oriental alone. This number includes the 4 police officers who were ambushed in Ayungon town. Many of the killings were linked to communist rebels by local police.
It was also during this time that Sinas intensified the province's anti-communist campaign, leading a task force to capture communist rebels in strongholds across Negros Oriental. (READ: TImeline: Killings in Negros)
Last August, Sinas appeared at a Senate hearing to explain why killings were increasing on the island.
The panel demanded a probe into a vigilante group that was circulating a hit list where 5 of the 15 people on the list had already been killed, including lawyer Anthony Trinidad. (READ: Lawyer killed in Negros Oriental ambush)
Individuals on the hit list were targeted for allegedly being members or supporters of the communist insurgency.
Clash with ex-Cebu city mayor Osmeña
While then-mayor Tomas Osmeña was supportive of the drug war at the beginning of his term in 2016, offering rewards to police who helped capture or kill drug suspects, he openly clashed with the police leadership when his choice for city director was not honored.
Mayors usually have prerogative over their police chiefs and only get denied their picks in rare instances. (READ: Cebu City mayor stripped of supervision powers over police)
Known as a tough-talking mayor who used to draw comparisons to President Rodrigo Duterte, this was the first time in Osmeña’s political career that he did not enjoy the cooperation of his own police. (READ: Cebu City: Mayor Osmeña, who 'inspired' vigilante killings, is back)
He spoke out against former Cebu City police director Royina Garma on multiple occasions, accusing her and Sinas of being behind the rise in killings.
Garma served as chief from June 2018 to July 2019 before she was appointed Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) general manager.
During the midterm elections, Osmeña accused Garma and Sinas of using the police to intimidate his allied barangay captains, councilors, and other residents. A checkpoint was also set up outside Osmeña’s house for several days prior to the election. (READ: Osmeña, police clash anew: Why a checkpoint outside Cebu mayor’s house?)
Both Sinas and Garma denied accusations of using the police against political candidates on multiple occasions.
Osmeña again publicly accused the police of being behind the killing of ex-police officer Deflin Bontuyan on May 22. Bontuyan was the father of a Sangguniang Kabataan councilor aligned with Osmeña. (READ: Police officer, two others killed in separate incidents in Cebu in 24 hours)
Sinas warned Osmeña then to refrain from publicly accusing police of wrongdoing.
Local reporters over national media
Sinas would hold press conferences regularly and communicate with the local press through chat groups and would interact with reporters there directly. “I prefer having my own press corps than a PR man,” he said.
While he was accessible to reporters for most of his tenure, he said he preferred to speak to the local press over national media.
“I don’t go to national, I have the local media. We have time for press cons,” he said.
He would sometimes get calls from the national media for requests for individual, sit-down interviews, but said he would rather address all questions during the daily press conferences because it saves him time. – Rappler.com