Before Poblacion Girl Fiasco, There Was the Mañanita

Alleged protocol breaches that got netizens all riled up.
Photo/s: Photo courtesy of Make it Makati Facebook Page

(Editor's Note: This article, first published on Jan. 3, 2022, was updated with corrections to the paragraphs 3, 5 and 11).

Filipinos on social media were enraged this New Year's weekend when a woman broke hotel quarantine to party in Makati's hip Poblacion district before testing positive for COVID-19, adding to worries over a looming spike in cases due to the Omicron variant.

The Department of Tourism identified the woman as Gwyneth Anne Chua in its letter to Berjaya Hotel asking its management to explain the incident. "Poblacion" and "Gwyneth Chua" trended on Twitter Philippines last Thursday as reports of the quarantine breach reached social media.

Before this incident, netizens were equally enraged when two public officials were accused of breaking quarantine protocols as the pandemic was in its early stages back in 2020. Sen. Koko Pimentel III and former PNP chief Gen. Debold Sinas went viral after they were accused of evading rules and threatening the safety of the people they came in contact with.

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What went before?

In the early days of the lockdown back in March 2020, Pimentel went to Makati Medical Center to accompany his wife who has about to give birth to their baby. The senator later found out that he tested positive for COVID-19 and left the hospital immediately.

Protocols at that time dictate that when a person took a COVID-19 test, he or she must isolate at home until the result of the test comes out. Makati Medical Center denounced Pimentel for violating the Home Quarantine Protocol and for exposing the hospital staff to possible infection.

Pimentel apologized to Makati Medical Center for breaching the quarantine protocols, saying he was only at the hospital to be with his wife for the birth of their child.

Two months later, then National Capital Regional Police Office chief Sinas joined in his men in a so-called "mañanita" to celebrate his 55th birthday on May 8. At that time, Metro Manila was under ECQ or the strictest lockdown, during which mass gatherings were prohibited.

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Photos taken during the event show around 50 attendees lining up at a buffet and sitting together at round tables. Only a few people were seen wearing masks.

After media outlets published the photos, Sinas and his team were accused of having double standards. Police have been arresting thousands of people for breaking quarantine.

Sinas apologized for the incident but insisted that no violations were committed in the celebration of his birthday. He also maintained that he would not step down from his post.

Were the two officials punished?

The Department of Health endorsed a complaint filed by a private lawyer against Pimentel for breaching quarantine protocols in violation of RA 11332 or the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act.

The law penalizes non-cooperating persons or entities identified as having notifiable diseases or are affected by a public health concern with a fine of P20,000 to P50,000 or imprisonment of one to six months, or both.

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The Department of Justice, however, dismissed the complaint against Pimentel for lack of probable cause. The senator earlier said the complaint was “fatally defective” since it was allegedly based on news reports, and should be considered hearsay.

The PNP also filed criminal and administrative complaints against Sinas over his surprise birthday celebration. According to its investigation, the police chief and the other police officers committed neglect of duty and misconduct for the gathering.

The gathering was also in violation of RA 11332 and the Taguig City Ordinance No. 12, which requires wearing of face masks and stringent physical distancing, the PNP said.

Sinas was eventually named PNP chief and, after his retirement from the police service on May 8, 2021, was appointed as an undersecretary at the Office of the President. There are no updates yet on the resolution of his cases.

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