Get to know PNP chief Debold Sinas

President Rodrigo Duterte announced the appointment of controversial Major General Debold Sinas as chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP) on Monday, November 9.

He takes over from Lieutenant General Camilo Cascolan, who reached the retirement age of 56 on Tuesday, November 9.

Prior to his appointment, Sinas was director of the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) for a year, known for holding a party – or a mañanita – in the middle of a strict lockdown in Metro Manila, while police had been arresting thousands for minor quarantine violations.

Aside from the mañanita incident, the term of Sinas, a favorite cop of Duterte, had been mired in other controversies.

Sinas wasa the police director of the Central Visayas’ regional office (PRO-7) in Cebu City from July 2018 until October 2019, when he took over the NCRPO.

Metro Manila controversies

On April 21, police officers shot and killed former Philippine Army soldier Winston Ragos for an alleged quarantine violation near a checkpoint in Quezon City.

Cops claimed that Ragos was armed, which is why they had to fire back.

Sinas defended the cops in the incident, even as a probe by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) found that Ragos was unarmed and cops planted evidence, based on CCTV footage.

On July 19, Sinas himself was seen on CCTV harassing a family the NCRPO wanted to evict from an old police compound. 

He also led a harsh crackdown on activists in Metro Manila, a continuation of an aggressive anti-insurgent crackdown he led in the Central Visayas when he was police director here. 

Among those arrested in the crackdown his cops led in November 2019 was Reina Mae Nasino, whose baby “River” was born in prison and died after being separated from her.

Violence escalated in Central Visayas under Sinas

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. (READ: Sinas’ sins in Central Visayas: Killings rampant, investigations incomplete)

The Commission on Human Rights said in February 2019 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 2019, 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)

In August 2019, 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. 

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.

From Mindanao

The new PNP 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.

Sinas is a batchmate at the Philippine Military Academy of ex-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.

Media averse

The new PNP chief does not like being scrutinized by the media.

According to a report in the Inquirer, the National Press Club criticized Sinas for allegedly disrespecting an unnamed female reporter by putting his hand on her face while she was trying to get an interview with him in 2019 during preparations for the traslacion of the Nazareno.

After reporting on the mañanita incident, Rappler reporter Rambo Talabong was removed from the PNP’s official Viber group.

When Sinas was based in Cebu, he 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. –

Ryan Macasero

Ryan covers Cebu and the Visayas for Rappler. He covers all news in the region, but is particularly interested in people stories, development issues and local policy making.