CEBU, Philippines – Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia on Wednesday, June 15, slammed the Philippine National Police (PNP) over the relief of Cebu police chief Colonel Engelbert Soriano days after he recognized her controversial optional mask-wearing policy.
In a livestreamed press conference, Garcia expressed shock at Soriano’s removal as provincial police chief as well as the “public-shaming” he experienced from his superiors.
“This, coming from the supposed top men in the PNP hierarchy in talking about a fellow officer…. I have been trying to find out what violation did Colonel Soriano commit, except that he took a stand recognizing my executive order,” said Garcia.
Garcia added that Soriano was unfairly accused of “politicking.”
“I assure you, Colonel Soriano cannot be told what to do, especially if he feels that this would have him involved in politicking,” the governor said.
When it announced that Soriano had been relieved of his duties as Cebu police chief effective June 12, the PNP did not mention Soriano’s remarks on the controversial new mask policy detailed in Garcia’s Executive Order No. 16, which she signed on June 9.
“His (Soriano’s) relief is pursuant to the provisions of PNP Memorandum Circular 2022-002, which states that Provincial Director, City Director, or COP of NCRPO shall be held by a PCOL for a continuous period of one year, extendible to a maximum of three months upon approval by the CPNP,” said PNP spokesperson Colonel Jean Fajardo.
Fajardo notes that Soriano had served as provincial director for more than one year. Police Colonel Elmer Lim was designated as Cebu Provincial Police office officer-in-charge.
The Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior and Local Government had earlier said they did not recognize Garcia’s optional mask-wearing policy. Despite this, the provincial board on Tuesday, June 14, unanimously approved an ordinance backing Garcia’s new policy
What did Soriano say?
In a Facebook post dated June 10, Soriano said his office would support whatever is legal and supported by existing laws.
But then, he added, “EO 16 of Cebu signed by Hon Governor Gwendolyn F Garcia remains the law as far as Cebu province is concerned and we recognize that, unless it is later on invalidated by proper authority.”
On the same day that Soriano posted his views, PNP OIC Lieutenant General Vicente Danao Jr. said in a press conference, “We are members of the national government so whatever the mandate o kung ano man ang pinaguutos po lalo na ng SILG (Secretary of Interior and Local Government) ay sundin natin (whatever the order, especially by the SILG, we should follow it).”
The PNP is under the supervision of the DILG.
Danao reminded all police officers that they are bound by the policies of the national Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Disease, which has maintained its resolution on the mandatory use of face masks.
UP law professor Ligutan also told Rappler on June 12 that local government executives should not forget that the country remains under a state of calamity due to the COVID-19 pandemic until September 12, 2022.