On gifts, bribery and rent-seeking Philstar.com

On gifts, bribery and rent-seeking Featured

RECENTLY, the Deegong created a media storm by proclaiming that it is all right for bureaucrats to accept gifts from the public as a measure of gratitude.“Basta kung bigyan kayo, eh tanggapin ninyo. (If they give you a gift, accept it.) It cannot be bribery because it is allowed by law,” he said. This was immediately echoed by a naïve neophyte Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa with a non sequitur: “The President is a very pragmatic individual. Anything that is given in the spirit of goodwill is not a problem.” Huh! What! With that he admitted that he received gifts “…not only lechon, but expensive Lacoste shirts from [his] friends.”

RA 6713 and RA 3019
It was pointed out by Sen. Franklin Drilon that there are laws that cover “gratitude and bribery,” Republic Acts (RAs) 6713 and 3019. Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra then requested the Civil Service Commission (CSC) to issue guidelines on policies allowing public servants to accept nominal or token gifts, addressing gray areas to conform to ethical standards.

Civil Service Commissioner Aileen Lizada has a different take “…solicitation or acceptance of gifts by government workers is prohibited…what are allowed under the law are gifts, scholarships, grants and other offers from foreign governments. Lizada said RA 3019, or the “Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act,” states that asking gifts in exchange for favors is not allowed.” But she was profoundly silent on the Deegong’s pronouncement that “…it is okay for police officers to accept gifts if it is given out of gratitude or generosity.”

An idiot at PACC
And now comes one of the President’s men at the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC), the agency tasked to assist DU30 in his anti-corruption drive, but one perceived to be clueless as to the systemic causes of corruption and therefore its solutions. Commissioner Greco Belgica declared that a gift of P100,000 in value can be accepted by bureaucrats as the amount is insignificant. This statement coming from a sycophant is simply fatuous and morally repugnant. PACC also high-handedly announced lifestyle investigations on two unnamed cabinet members with more yet to come. We are presented with a scenario therefore of ethically questionable people mandated to investigate and watch over the morals of people in government.

Malacañang kindergarten
All this cacophony of statements of the President’s bootlickers and bureaucrats blurting out whatever comes to mind in his defense or translating what they think the President is thinking and proclaiming, are signs of dysfunction in the bureaucracy. And this happens all the time in the palace when PRRD ejaculates out statements, which could be construed as policy — without undergoing the process of analysis for their impact on the body politic. We need some adults in the palace not intimidated by the alpha male prone to bungling pronouncements on what comes to his head, not a coterie of toadies scrambling over themselves spouting legal gibberish to explain what in the first place is presidential gibberish. We need some kind of a chief of staff riding herd over a professional presidential team overlooking the pre-processing of government policies who can tell the President to his face, most diplomatically as one is allowed to, to just shut up!

Moral implications
But the deeper impacts of such bungling are the implications on the President’s proclamations and pursuit of corruption in government. As pointed out, corruption classically starts with such small things as innocuous gift-giving and receiving.

Perhaps the laws on gift-giving/receiving can best be interpreted ethically in an illustration of a real incident a few years ago. In 1981, Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson, then a Philippine Constabulary officer, rescued the daughter of a billionaire from her kidnappers. The grateful patriarch offered Lacson and his team “a hefty reward which he declined as he did not want his men to develop the mentality of not helping complainants who could not afford to give rewards.” This act was not only a measure of the man’s sense of propriety, but also of a bureaucrat who understands the letter and the spirit of the law. This is what separates Lacson from the rest. But should we hold him as an epitome of the bureaucracy? Why not?

“Our laws should consider Filipino values such as utang na loob, as there are Filipinos who may be offended if their gesture of gratitude is declined…to be clear, revisiting the law is not about providing excuses for accepting gifts. This is about making our laws implementable and more attuned to our Filipino values,” Lacson said. Furthermore, he added, “RA 6713 allows a public official or employee to accept gifts of nominal value as a souvenir or mark of courtesy.” Well and good, but who defines “nominal value”? Certainly not Senator Bato or Belgica, or Lacson or even the Deegong himself. It has to be agreed by Congress and set in a clear, unambiguous set of laws and instructions. One simply cannot legislate a “decent sense of propriety,” especially from a body already perceived to be a temple of impropriety. Just consider the massive leakage of people’s money under a self-instigated legal mechanism of pork barrel allocations and whatever sobriquet “theft” falls under.

Foreign protocols on gift receiving are strictly followed. In US jurisprudence, gifts beyond certain minimal amounts are sent to appropriate government bodies and are not brought home and owned by the recipients. And the US Congress I presume sets the minimum amounts. But here’s our President admitting that he himself has been receiving, as mayor of Davao, large gifts. Will this be the new precedent?

Investing in friends in high places
Prior to sitting down as president, the Deegong has admitted that over their 30-year friendship, Pastor Apollo Quiboloy has been giving gifts to the Davao mayor, from real estate (lots) to expensive SUVs; some he rejected, some he accepted. DU30 gets brownie points for such candor. But aren’t these against the law? Unless of course the gifts by the “appointed son of God” are the proverbial manna from heaven; in which case, refusal could be deemed sacrilegious. Or at least could this not raise the same brouhaha as when President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo distributed SUVs to her favorite Catholic bishops?

Gifts are given as signs of gratitude and friendship, true! And this is perfectly accepted in society, especially in our culture. But we have to draw the line between those given to and from the powerful, especially those in the government bureaucracy. These could be construed as bribery or investments in anticipation of future arrangements at “rent-seeking” activities.

Our laws are opaque on these and subject to misinterpretation, particularly when common sense is disregarded. Prudence dictates that when in government, from president down to clerks, gifts giving/receiving should be viewed with a jaundiced eye and frowned upon.

And the President should set the tone. If he is to be trusted and believed by the citizenry that his war on corruption in government is a sincere initiative, then he should be perceived like Caesar’s wife Calpurnia — one who must be above reproach.000
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