GIFT-GIVING is a popular Filipino tradition especially during birthdays and Christmas.
But for those in government, receiving or accepting gifts even during Christmas have corresponding penalties under at least four laws.
The laws treat the acts of receiving, or accepting gifts as criminal offenses constituting corruption or bribery.
Curbing corruption is one of the top three problems in the priority list of President Rodrigo Duterte. The two others are illegal drugs and criminality.
If the administration is serious about its anti-corruption campaign, it simply has to take a look at Republic Act Nos. 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act) and 6713 (Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees); Articles 210 to 2012 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC); and Presidential Decree No. 46.
These four laws regulate the practice of gift-giving to public officials and employees.
Everyone in government service, as well as those dealing with government offices, should be well aware of the specific provisions of these laws that specifically prohibit giving, soliciting, receiving, or accepting gifts.
When the country’s top cop, the chief law enforcer, was not aware that accepting an all-expense paid trip for him and his family to Las Vegas violates the laws on corruption, then we must be in serious trouble.
This was the same predicament that former Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Alan Purisima was in when he allowed contractors to build for free his official residence called the “White House” inside Camp Crame in Quezon City. Purisima saw nothing wrong with the estimated P12-million donation for the construction.
Purisima identified the “donors” as Carlos Gonzales of ULTICON Builders, Alexander Lopez of Pacific Concrete Corp., and Christopher Pastrana of CAPP Industries.
This time, Director General Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa even bragged that his trip with his family to Las Vegas was paid for by Senator Manny Pacquiao, who fought for and won the World Boxing Organization welterweight title from American boxer Jessie Vargas on November 5.
But the Office of the Ombudsman should not single out only De la Rosa in its investigation of the issue to determine possible violations of existing laws. Each time Pacquiao fights abroad, he gives all-expense paid trips to several people in government, including his colleagues in Congress and members of the Cabinet.
The laws should not be selectively enforced. It must be applied equally to all, regardless of rank or status in the bureaucracy. In fact, the laws must be harsher against those who are supposed to enforce the laws. They should know better!
Laws should not excuse anyone. Violations cannot be excused only because many are doing it. Wrong does not cease to be wrong because the majority share in it, as Leo Tolstoy said.
In September 2014, the Supreme Court dismissed Sandiganbayan Associate Justice Gregory Ong over his supposed links with alleged pork barrel fund scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles.
Ong’s dismissal came with the forfeiture of all retirement benefits, except accrued leave benefits, and he was permanently barred from occupying any position in government, including government-owned and -controlled corporations.
Prior to his dismissal, Ong was the chairman of the Sandiganbayan’s 4th Division, which acquitted Napoles in a malversation through falsification of public documents case. The case involved the sale of 500 Kevlar helmets to the Philippine Marines in 1998.
The investigation showed that Ong had acted as the contact of Napoles in connection with the Kevlar case while it was pending in his division. Ong was also found to have received an “undetermined amount of money” from Napoles prior to the promulgation of the decision on the Kevlar case.
Ong was found to have gone to Napoles’ office where she handed him 11 checks, each one amounting to P282,000, or a total of P3.1 million, “as advanced interest for his P25.5 million BDO check she deposited in her personal account.” Ong’s visits on two occasions came after participating in the decision in the Kevlar case.
The justice was also found to have attended Napoles’ parties and was photographed with Napoles and Senator Jinggoy Estrada, an accused in the pork barrel scam case.
The decision in the case of Justice Ong may be harsh, but that’s how justice should be applied.
But then, it brings back to mind the admission of President Duterte during the campaign that he received pieces of real estate and expensive cars from Apollo Quiboloy, founding leader and executive pastor of a Davao-based religious group called Kingdom of Jesus Christ, The Name Above Every Name.
Graft and corruption does not only involve stealing government money. The laws are clear: receiving, accepting and soliciting gifts are also criminal offenses that are penalized with fines and jail terms.
The laws also do not excuse anyone. Therefore, everyone in government should know what is right and wrong, and choose to do what is right.
Section 4 of RA 6713 says: “Public officials and employees and their families shall lead modest lives appropriate to their positions and income. They shall not indulge in extravagant or ostentatious display of wealth in any form.”
PD 46 punishes government officials and employees from receiving of gifts, and private persons for giving gifts on any occasion, including Christmas. Ironically, this law was signed by Ferdinand Marcos in November 1972, shortly after the declaration of martial law.
In signing the law, Marcos said: “It is believed necessary to put more teeth to existing laws and regulations to wipe out all conceivable forms of graft and corruption in the public service, the members of which should not only be honest but above suspicion and reproach.
Marcos, after 20 years in the presidency, was considered one on the world’s 10 most corrupt leaders. But a recent Supreme Court decision allowed his burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.
Wait, what then is right and wrong? Isn’t that confusing?