Sun, 23 Feb 2020

President Rodrigo Duterte during the Philippine National Police's (PNP) 118th Police Service Anniversary Celebration on August 9. Screengrab from

SHOULD PUBLIC servants accept gifts?

When President Rodrigo Duterte said that accepting gifts is not a form of bribery and is allowed by law, media responded to correct his interpretation.

The president was speaking during the 118th service anniversary of the Philippine National Police (PNP). "What I mean [is] if there is generosity in them, the anti-graft law says you cannot accept gifts. Kalokohan 'yan (That's nonsense)," he added.

News accounts cited critical reactions to Duterte's statements - including those of Vice President Leni Robredo and Senators Panfilo Lacson, Francis Pangilinan.

Media reports made clear what the law says. Editorials and opinion columns went further, pointing to the implications of Duterte's statements.

CMFR monitored the reports on the issue by some Manila broadsheets (Manila Bulletin, Philippine Daily Inquirer and The Philippine Star) and of the primetime newscasts (ABS-CBN 2's TV Patrol, CNN Philippines' News Night, GMA-7's 24 Oras and TV5's Aksyon) from August 8 to 20.

What the law says

News accounts included all the pertinent points, directly citing the laws, or quoting sources. Reports noted the prohibitions and the exceptions.

The media cited Republic Act (RA) 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees which was enacted 1989. Section 7 (d) of the law prohibits public officials and employees from soliciting or accepting gifts directly or indirectly.

Media also referred to Civil Service Commissioner Eileen Lizada who cited the Department of Interior and Local Government's (DILG) Memorandum Circular 2016-002. It declared that receiving gifts can be a form of grave misconduct. DILG is the executive department to which PNP is attached.

Lizada also mentioned RA 6713 and RA 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act. Enacted in 1960, RA 3019 prohibits public officers from "directly or indirectly requesting or receiving 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."

Speaking to reporters, Palace Spokesperson Salvador Panelo defended the president and said that Mr. Duterte was referring to Section 14 of RA 3019 which makes an exception: "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."

On Monday, August 19, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra urged the CSC to come up with specific rules to determine when it is wrong to give cash gifts. Responding to this, Lizada was quoted as saying: "We, as a constitutional commission, are bound to implement and enforce laws that are still operational and that are crafted by Congress."

Op-Ed sections point out implications

Some columnists pointed out the problem in Duterte's statements. Two editorials also took a clear position on the implications and how public officials should observe the law on gifts.

The Star's August 12 editorial said that perhaps the president was referring to the exception in RA 3019, but in any case, he is sworn to uphold the law, not define it. It noted that there is a thin line between gift-giving and bribery and that there is an "inherent difficulty" in telling whether a gift is given genuinely or with "subtle pressure." "This is what laws against graft and corruption intend to prevent."

The Inquirer's August 14 editorial recalled that the president once chastised the PNP as an organization for being "corrupt to the core." It argued that "The prohibition against government personnel accepting gifts is precisely there to curb corruption, but it becomes even more salient in the case of the police, who carry something ordinary public workers and most other citizens are not allowed to have: a gun..."

The editorial noted that the police enjoy "tremendous coercive power lent to them by the law - the same law that correspondingly seeks to prevent them from using that special power for ill ends such as extortion or bribery..."

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