"It always boils down to propriety versus greed."
Quite a hornet’s nest was stirred by off-the-cuff remarks from the President about the acceptance of “gifts” by policemen as a sign of gratitude.
Our civil service laws and even a Marcos presidential decree forbids “any” kind of gift or solicitation by and for government employees.
Quickly, neophyte senator Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa seconded the President, admitting to accepting lechon, among others such as Lacoste polos from recipients of police service.
His fellow senator and former PNP director-general as well, Panfilo “Ping” Lacson reminded him and everyone else that “big” graft starts from “small” graft, such as the acceptance of gifts, even if these are not bribes.
I recall to mind an incident at a domestic airport where a Cory-appointed department secretary berated a regional director for the effrontery of sending him pasalubong of delicacies native to the region on his return trip to Manila.
It was not so much the refusal of simple gifts, as the manner in which he publicly scolded the mid-level manager who thought giving pasalubong was not an act of “sipsip” but a manifestation of plain, old Filipino cultural tradition.
Deeply humiliated, the regional director never forgot, nor forgave, the Cabinet member for his “arrogance.” Two years later, the Cabinet secretary was sacked for failing to solve the many problems of his department. And the regional director, who retired as such until after Erap, kept mumbling “beh…buti nga” whenever the topic of the over-bearing and arrogant secretary was mentioned.
A wealthy southern lady once told me a narrative about Ping Lacson when he was yet a police officer in Cebu, as head of the then Metropolitan Cebu District. This was the height of the kidnapping scare that bedeviled a lot of wealthy families and their children.
Her grade-school son was kidnapped, and eventually rescued by the intrepid Lacson and his intelligence operator, Michael Rey Aquino. The rescue was made in dramatic fashion, and no ransom was paid.
In gratitude, the husband went to the police director’s office with a bag of cash.
Lacson politely refused. But her husband insisted, saying that it was part of Chinese culture to repay kindness done, or good deeds upon a family, with some kind of recompense. Gratitude, or utang na loob.
But Lacson told him that if he accepted the “gift,” his men would know about it, and he was worried that soon they would only rescue scions of the rich families who would give gifts of gratitude and neglect their duties to ordinary folks who could say nothing but thank you, if at all.
Still, the father persisted, telling Lacson he could give the cash to his men, or buy office equipment with the money. To cut the argument short, Lacson told him to leave a one-peso coin in his table. A token is gift enough.
When we volunteered to help the then city mayor of Davao to become president of the land, “payment” was an ubiquitous carton of pomelos sent to our hotel room by the very solicitous Bong Go. It was not payment, and could never be treated as such; it was a simple and nice gesture of appreciation.
And it reminded me that the brand of the pomelos was one I personally chose for the produce of our own farm in Tugbok during the martial law years. I marketed this in Metro Manila. Later, when the family decided to give the land away to the agrarian reform program, retaining some 30 hectares of land planted to “Golden” pomelos, our “mamamakyaw” or produce buyer used the same label, and eventually grew to becoming Davao’s largest purveyor and planter of pomelos.
Years after the demise of our old man, we sold the 30 hectares to a huge agricultural firm along with the promise that he would take care of employing the farmer-beneficiaries of the 110 hectares divided among our former workers in a well-managed plantation.
But I digress too much with reminiscences.
When is accepting a gift a “bribe” and when is it a mere “utang kabubut-on” ingrained in our Oriental culture?
Why, even the Spanish friars accepted gifts from the natives, donations for “indulgencias” and “forgiveness” of sins!
I guess there will always be a very thin line which would separate gifts from bribes, depending on the situation, the circumstances, the value, and the ethics of the recipient, as much as the giver.
At the end of the day, it would always boil down to propriety versus greed. What is “enough” and what is “excessive.”
Just a postscript: A friend called me about my previous article last week, on water resources, entitled “Harvesting rain.”
He championed the plight of the Dumagats, whose ancestral lands, dearly sacred to them and their preserved way of life, would be inundated by the proposed Kaliwa Dam near the forests of Infanta leading to Rizal which is beside the metropolitan capital.
In response, I told him about the observation intimated to me by the highly respected former Finance Secretary, also Prime Minister of Ferdinand Marcos, the erudite Cesar E.A. Virata, about the Chico River Dam which was resisted until the very end of Marcos, by the Bugkalots and other indigenous tribes in Kalinga and the rest of the Montanosa. Their leader was the celebrated Macli-ing Dulag.
I distinctly recall what PM Virata told me in a dinner conversation during Cory Aquino’s time: “Why should a group of a thousand Filipinos’ “rights” prevail over the needs of millions of Filipinos who need water for irrigation and other basic needs?”
The debate will always rage, but the ticking time bomb of water scarcity will inexorably move on.