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Distinguishing a gift from a bribe



E CARTOON AUG 14, 2019It is such a difficult problem – how to distinguish a well-meaning  gift from a bribe.

Republic Act  3019, the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, prohibits public officials  from “directly or indirectly  requesting  any gift, present, share, percentage, or benefit, for himself or for any other person, in connection with any contract or transaction between  the government and any other party, wherein  the public  officer in his official capacity has  to intervene under the law.”

In one of its sections, however, the law also states: “Unsolicited gifts or presents of small or insignificant value offered or given as a mere ordinary token of gratitude or friendship, according  to local customs  or usage, shall  be excepted from the provisions of this act.”

Last  Friday,  President Duterte, speaking  at  the celebration of the 118th anniversary of the  Police Service at Camp Crame, said  he does not consider giving gifts to police and other public servants as bribery. “Well, if  given as a gift, accept it,” he said.  “It cannot be bribery because  it is allowed by law.” He  added: “I call upon you to keep your integrity intact as you uphold  the highest ethical and professional standards in public service.”

In all of human affairs,  there is truly nothing 100 percent, nothing total, nothing absolute – which is why we  condemn   totalitarianism  and absolutism in governments. Filipinos, in particular,  are known to get along with other people, because they make allowances for differences of opinion,  of customs, political beliefs, of cultural orientation.

This is why the nation  frowns at laws and regulations and practices with the element of totality – like the death penalty. Public street should not  be used  for private gain, but at Christmas time, mayors allow  vendors to do a little business in street stalls. There are definite rules for the release of goods at customs, but the process can be speeded up if certain officials can be persuaded  to work overtime or cut  corners. Legislators are not supposed to benefit  from  the laws they pass, but surely  they should be   able to have a farm road in their district included in the overall program  of  public works.

These are occasional  exceptions from the normal  course  of government planning and action.  It is perhaps  when  exceptions become the rule, when  they become  systematized  because, somewhere along  the way,  there was  private gain, that the original act of generosity and gratitude becomes an act of corruption.

It  is truly  difficult to determine when one  metamorphoses into  another. So much depends on human goodwill,  on the innate goodness of individual  officials.  We must hope that we have more of such good officials than the ones who are quick to take advantage of any situation for personal  gain.




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