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Tread carefully on the issue of accepting gifts

August 13, 2019

LAST week, in a speech before Philippine National Police officials and police officers, President Rodrigo Duterte took flight again with his own self-styled interpretation of the law and regulations governing conduct in public office.

He told his audience: “Kung bigyan kayo tanggapin n’yo. (If you are given a gift, accept it). It is not bribery…What I mean is if there is generosity in them. Sabi ng anti-graft, you cannot accept gifts. Kalokohan! (Nonsense.)

In fact, it is not nonsense. It is an integral provision of Republic Act 6713, or the Code of “Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.”

In one sweep, the President managed to instruct our police officers to accept gifts if given them, and in the same breath dismiss as foolish the rules for ethical conduct of public employees.

It is understandable why his remark has triggered a serious debate within government ranks and the public at large concerning the propriety of the President’s opinion, and its potential harm to our police service.

No less than the Civil Service Commission (CSC) has reacted with alarm to the President’s words. Civil Service Commissioner Aileen Lizada said in an official comment that there are laws that should be followed.

“The laws are Republic Act 6713 which is the ‘Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees,’ as well as Republic Act 3019, the ‘Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.’”

RA 6713 prohibits public officials from soliciting or accepting gifts directly or indirectly.

Commissioner Lizada said, however, that Congress has made some exemptions, such as in the case of a gift received as a souvenir or as a mark of courtesy, scholarship, fellowship grants or medical treatment from foreign governments.

Lizada also cited Memorandum Circular (MC) 2016-002 of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) that prohibits cops from receiving gifts.

Under Section 1 Item 3 of the MC, it is considered a grave misconduct for cops to receive a fee, gift, or other valuable things in the course of official duties or in connection therewith when such fee, gift or thing is given with the hope or expectation of receiving a favor or better treatment.

Violators may face reprimand, withholding of privileges, restriction to specified limits, restrictive custody, forfeiture of salary, suspension, one-rank demotion or dismissal.

Some lawmakers and one anti-graft official have also reacted to the President’s statement.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a former national police chief, said that the action by law enforcers of accepting gifts could trigger “insatiable greed” among cops.

Former PNP chief, now Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, however, said cops receiving gifts was no big deal as long as the gifts were given out of goodwill.

Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) Commissioner Greco Belgica says gifts given in gratitude are okay, but not if these are given in exchange for a favor.

The problem with all these proffered views is that they reduce the issues to simply a matter of opinion.

That is not how the rules for official conduct are designed to be observed. The rules are strict and obligatory

In the United States, where the bribery and corruption of public officials have been studied at length, the government came out with the rule that bribery is permissible only to “the extent of something that can be eaten or smoked in a single day.” (Source: William Safire’s Political Dictionary.)

The big problem with President Duterte’s statement is that as president he is our chief implementer or executor of the law. Congress makes the law. And the judiciary, led by the Supreme Court, interprets the law.

In our system of separation of powers, President Duterte has no authority to serve all three functions at once. He should defer to the constitutional order.

Credit belongs to : www.manilatimes.net

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