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Distinguishing a gift from a bribe



IT 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 significant 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.