"We need a definitive guide on what is prohibited and what is allowed."
Republic Acts 6713 and 3019 not only discourage but also prohibit government officials, regardless of rank, from receiving gifts as a consideration for performing their official duties. The rationale for these two laws are simple—to avoid corruption.
But in a speech to the police early this month, the President basically told the police gathering that it is all right to receive gifts as a show of appreciation when they perform their official duties. He went further by saying that with regard to video karera, the notorious game which is the scourge of young school children who spend their pocket money playing the game instead of using their money to buy their snacks, “ipaubaya na yan sa pulis.” Loosely translated, it would appear that the proceeds derived from video karera operation can be pocketed by police personnel to augment their income.
After his speech, public reaction was generally negative. Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo in his regular media briefing reacted by saying that the pronouncement of the President did not violate the Code of Conduct of Public Officials if the gifts were not demanded prior to the service rendered and that the gift must be insignificant, which R.A. 6713 actually allows.
A few days after the President’s speech, Senator Bato de la Rosa, a former chief of the Philippine National Police, admitted receiving a Lacoste T-shirt as a gift and lechon while still in the police service. We do not know why he felt it necessary to issue the statement; it just added fuel to the debate.
Since the law does not mention the amount in order for the gift to be considered insignificant, the term could be considered relative and be subject to a lot of interpretation. What exactly is an insignificant gift? Let us take the case of that Lacoste shirt and lechon. The cheapest genuine Lacoste shirt in the market is about P3,700, going up to about P6,500 for the more expensive styles. A whole lechon on the other hand, depending on the size could cost between P7,000 to P10,000—maybe more. Does this mean that for a Chief PNP, a Lacoste shirt and lechon are insignificant, but and significant if given to an ordinary policeman?
The law is clear about the prohibition on public officials receiving gifts in consideration of performing official duties. It is not clear, though, about officials receiving gifts during Christmas or birthdays. Maybe this is what the law allows and we see this happening all the time during Christmas holidays and birthdays. Gift-giving is an old Filipino custom but on many occasions we can no longer distinguish whether the so called gift is already a bribe or just a gift.
I remember when I was working as the senior military aide to former President Fidel V. Ramos when he was the Chief of Constabulary. It was his practice to be out of town during his birthdays to avoid big celebrations. One time, somebody sent him an expensive watch—he sent it back immediately. Another incident was during a trip to Baguio. We were having dinner at the old Pines Hotel when somebody tried to pay for our meal. That person probably did not think anything was wrong, but he received an earful.
Since it was martial law, gift giving during Christmas was not as prevalent as it is now. Still, some old friends would send gifts to the office. All gifts were distributed to units in Camp Crame with the barracks of the Women Auxiliary Corps getting majority of the stuff. Nothing was brought home. During those times, there was no RA 6713 to prohibit anything except the sense of delicadeza of the public official concerned.
Given that corruption and illegal drugs are two of President Duterte’s two major priority concerns, he should probably not have said anything about receiving gifts. But maybe he was only trying to raise the morale of the police. It is no secret that he usually opens up every time he is in the company of the police and military because he feels very comfortable with them.
One would think that there is only one step to take and that is in order to avoid the appearance of public officials benefiting from their positions, there should be stricter rules against receiving any kind of gifts in exchange for performing one’s duties. We have to remember that big things start from small things.
Besides, the President have already doubled the pay of active uniformed personnel and the pension benefits of police and military retirees. This should be more than enough of an incentive for the police. Secretary Eduardo Año of the Department of the Interior and Local Government recently issued a memorandum prohibiting the Police from receiving gifts, but the Palace does not seem to have changed its position which is somewhat similar to the West Philippine Sea situation.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has been issuing strongly worded statements with regard to the intrusion of Chinese ships into our territorial waters, but if the Palace does not back this up and does not issue stronger objections to the intrusion, nothing much will happen. To the Chinese, only the word of the President matters.
I am not altogether sure that the clarification of Palace Spokesman Panelo is enough to put the gift issue to rest. There is a need for a more definitive guide so that there can be no mistaking of what is prohibited and what is allowed. Let us not wait for a test case to happen.