President Rodrigo R. Duterte started the cauldron bubbling when on Aug. 9, during the celebration of the 118th police service anniversary at Camp Crame, he said that he believes police officers should accept gifts if these are given out of gratitude or generosity. “Well, if you’re given a gift, accept it. It cannot be bribery because it is allowed by law. What I mean if there is generosity in them, the anti-graft law says you cannot accept gifts. (Kalokohan ’yan) That’s nonsense,” he was quoted by The Philippine Star as saying in its Aug. 11 issue.
Is it allowed, or not allowed by law for civil servants to accept “gifts”? Republic Act 6713, or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, Section 7 (d) expressly says, “Public officials and employees shall not solicit or accept, directly or indirectly, any gift, gratuity, favor, entertainment, loan or anything of monetary value from any person in the course of their official duties or in connection with any operation being regulated by, or any transaction which may be affected by the functions of their office.”
“If you are able to solve a crime and the family would like to be generous to you or would nurture a feeling of gratitude for what you accomplish, then by all means, accept it,” Mr. Duterte insisted. But he seemingly made even the policemen themselves uneasy and embarrassed. Philippine National Police (PNP) spokesman Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac immediately stepped forward to say they are still bound by RA 6713 that expressly prohibits the solicitation or acceptance of gifts in any form despite the pronouncement of the President. Mr. Banac stressed there is no need for groups or individuals to gift policemen for tasks accomplished (since) taxpayers are already paying the policemen their salaries, the Star article noted.
Senator Panfilo Lacson, a “career policeman” who immediately opted for commissioning into the Philippine Constabulary (PC) upon graduation from the Philippine Military Academy in 1971, and who retired in 2001 as Chief of the PNP — a 1991 merger of the military PC and the civilian Integrated National Police (INP) — also did not agree with Mr. Duterte’s revision of the police rules of conduct. “Mr. President, insatiable greed starts with simple, petty graft. It could be more addicting than drugs. There is no detox, nor is there rehab facility available for addiction to money,” Mr. Lacson said in his Twitter account.
In his website pinglacson.net, Mr. Lacson recalled that he was a Lieutenant Colonel with the PC-Metrocom in 1981 when he led a team that rescued the young Robina Gokongwei, daughter of taipan John Gokongwei, Jr. (JG Summit Group), from a kidnap-for-ransom gang. According to a post on his website called “Lacson: Time to Revisit, Make Anti-Graft Laws More Implementable” (Aug. 19), “Robina’s grateful family offered him and his team a hefty reward, but he had a strict ‘no-take’ policy and he declined it, pointing out he does not want his men to have the mentality of not helping ‘poor’ complainants who may not afford to give them a reward. To show their gratitude, the Gokongwei family decided to donate mobile patrol vehicles to the PC for Robina’s successful rescue. The donation was coursed through then PC chief Maj. Gen. Fidel V. Ramos via a deed of donation in favor of the PC Metrocom.”
Yet for Senator Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa (PMA 1986), also a former PNP chief (from July 1, 2016 to April 19, 2018), receiving gifts is no big deal as long as they are given out of gratitude. “The President is a very pragmatic individual. Anything that is given in the spirit of goodwill is not a problem,” Mr. De la Rosa told GMA News. Hard to imagine how two PMA “cavaliers,” both graduates of the Philippine Military Academy, can think so differently — black-and-white for one, and shades of grey for another. And a little-known phrase in RA 6713 has been called forth by defenders of the President’s shocking dispensation to police officers to accept “gifts” in appreciation of good service:
RA 6713 (d) of Definitions: “‘Receiving any gift’ includes the act of accepting directly or indirectly, a gift from a person other than a member of his family or relative as defined in this Act, even on the occasion of a family celebration or national festivity like Christmas, if the value of the gift is neither nominal nor insignificant, or the gift is given in anticipation of, or in exchange for, a favor.”
The phrase “nominal or insignificant” is what Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) Commissioner Greco Belgica (who was appointed by Mr. Duterte in January 2018) drummed upon to justify the “gifts” go-ahead by the President. (Remember that the PACC was Panfilo Lacson’s organization with the absolute “no-take” policy on gifts and bribes.) Mr. Belgica stressed the qualified quantitative “way-out” for a civil servant to accept “rewards” or tokens of appreciation for a job well done — in one TV interview he gave the example of an airport employee receiving P100,000 for returning P1 million he found to the office and to the appreciative owner.
In an interview on The Chiefs on Cignal TV last Friday, Mr. Belgica said, “Kunwari ako, sir, commissioner po ako, ako po na nakakuha (For example, I as commissioner was the one to receive) — That’s my salary sir. For me, the P100,000 is just to get me by, so it’s really not a significant amount to me because that’s how much I get paid a month.”
Was it insignificant to the airport employee in his example?
According to a write-up in The Philippine Star (March 27, 2013) — written at a time when Mr. Belgica was running for Senator — as an elder and pastor at The Lord’s Vineyard Covenant Community (founded by his father, Butch Belgica), he “capitalizes on the support and votes of his fellow Christians — 63,000 evangelical churches all over the Philippines, spread over 42,000 barangays,” Mr. Belgica said then. With that “influence,” could the preacher not have preached a detachment to mundane “gifts,” and quoted Matthew the evangelist (Ch. 5, v. 12): “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.”
The keyword in the controversy is “influence.” Outright bribes are definitely quid pro quo for the power to influence an outcome expected by the giver. But would the government employee, at whatever level, have received the “gift” or token of appreciation if she/he were not in the position and place to influence the outcome of a situation or predicament of the taxpayer/gift-giver? Even a “reward,” by Mr. Lacson’s “no-take” policy at the PACC in his time, would be a “bribe” for the continuance of the built-in position of influence and power of a civil servant over the common good. Perhaps gifts and rewards can be called an “investment” of the giver for future favors.
What’s in a name? “Bribes,” “gifts,” “rewards” are all dangerous substances to a civil servant. Once a bounty beyond salary is experienced, expectations are subliminally raised. An “addiction to money” in a government employee is indeed more pernicious than drug addiction, as Mr. Lacson reminds givers and takers alike.
But as the controversy rages about “gifts” and the thin line between these and bribes, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra took up from Mr. Belgica’s offered allowable “take” of P100,000, and urged a review of RA 3019 the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and RA 6713 or the Code of Ethical Standards. “It is difficult to give specific guidelines because according to the law, it would depend on the local customs and traditions of the place where the gift-giving happens. So it is really a relative term, unless of course the Civil Service Commission would give an exact or precise definition, let’s say no gift exceeding P1,000 in any occasion. Right now there is no such rule, so the concept is flexible, very relative,” Mr. Guevarra said (The Philippine Star Aug. 20, 2019).
You might have missed the point, Sir.
Rep. Carlos Zarate of Bayan Muna got the point: “Under the Code of Conduct for Public Officials and Employees, acceptance of anything of value is prohibited,” he said (Philippine Star Aug. 23, 2019).
Amelia H. C. Ylagan is a Doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines.