Palace to those in government: Donât accept expensive gifts
Malacañang yesterday clarified that government personnel should not accept gifts that are of “excessive” value, but could not give a definition of the term.
Palace to those in government: Don’t accept expensive gifts
Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - August 13, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — How much is too much?

Malacañang yesterday clarified that government personnel should not accept gifts that are of “excessive” value, but could not give a definition of the term.

President Duterte stirred controversy on Friday when he said it was OK for policemen to accept gifts given out of generosity or gratitude.

Critics disputed his statement, saying the law bars government personnel from accepting gifts or anything of monetary value from anyone in the course of their official duties, in connection with any operation being regulated by or any transaction which may be affected by the functions of their office.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo defended Duterte’s remarks, saying unsolicited gifts or presents of small or insignificant value offered or given as an ordinary token of gratitude or friendship according to local customs or usage are exempted from anti-graft provisions. Panelo added that such gifts are different from bribes, which are given to convince a government worker to do something that would benefit the giver.

Republic Act 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, Panelo argued, exempts unsolicited gifts of “nominal or insignificant value” not given in anticipation of or in exchange for a favor from a public official or employee.

Other laws that expressly prohibit receiving of gifts among public officials are Presidential Decree 46, which makes it “punishable for public officials and employees to receive, and fora private persons to give, gifts on any occasion, including Christmas;” RA 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act; and the Revised Penal Code’s Articles 210, 211 and 212, which deal with direct and indirect bribery.

Asked in an interview yesterday if public servants should return gifts of significant value, Panelo replied, “Dapat hindi nila tatanggapin kung masyado namang malaki (They should not accept if its value is too high).”

The spokesman, however, could not provide specifics on the threshold amount of a gift considered unacceptable.

“Perhaps, you have to use your discretion there. If a billionaire gives you a gift, it may be expensive for others, but not for him. But what is important is the giving is not in consideration or anticipation of a favor or in exchange of a favor. That’s the test,” he added.

Pressed if a gift of significant value should be returned if the giver is not seeking something in return, Panelo replied, “Kung masyadong malaki, nakakahiya namang tumanggap din ’di ba, hindi mo dapat tatanggapin (If it’s too expensive, it may be embarassing to accept it. You should not accept it).”

Palace: Law silent

Panelo noted that the law is silent on the definition of nominal value. He said it would be up to Congress to decide on whether to come up with a law that would define the term.

The term may also be defined if a case is filed before the court, the Palace spokesman added.

“The law does not specify. So you use your discretion on what is right. We have standards on what is excessive or not,” he said.

When reminded that the use of discretion could lead to arbitrary standards on accepting gifts, he said, “The fact alone that the recipient did not ask for it from the very beginning, we know he is upright.”

Panelo was tight-lipped on the items not acceptable but claimed a house and lot may be too much for a birthday present. He also claimed that accepting food or simple wedding and birthday gifts is not objectionable.

“What is important is these are not given in anticipation of a favor or coming from the recipient, or in exchange of a favor from that recipient who is a police officer,” he said.

PNP: No gifts for favors

Meanwhile, police officers cannot accept gifts in exchange for favors, Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Gen. Oscar Albayalde said yesterday.

Albayalde made the reminder after Duterte told police personnel may accept gifts if these are given out of generosity or gratitude.

He said Duterte’s statement does not contradict provisions of RA 6713.

Under the law, public officials and employees “shall not solicit or accept, directly or indirectly, any gift, gratuity, favor, entertainment, loan or anything of monetary value from any person in the course of their official duties or in connection with any operation being regulated by, or any transaction which may be affected by the functions of their office.”

For Albayalde, there is no problem accepting gifts provided it is of “insignificant” value such as food during birthday parties.

“Pero ’yun pong malalaking bagay lalo na kapag may kapalit na pabor, bawal na bawal po ‘yan (But big items especially given in exchange for favors, they’re really prohibited),” he said in an interview over radio station dzMM.

Albayalde said gifts could not be avoided especially from people who want to show gratitude to the police. What is not allowed is accepting gifts with strings attached which he said is a form of bribery.

“Kung ito ay makaaapekto lalo na sa mga bidding na ganyan ay hindi po puwede ’yan (If this could affect transactions like bidding, then it is not allowed),” he said.

On Duterte’s statement that he can tolerate police officers dipping their hands in video-karera operations, Albayalde said the President could be referring to legitimate businesses.

Albayalde warned police officers not to get involved in illegal gambling, bribery and other forms of illegal activities or they will be kicked out of the service, as he noted that the police Integrity Monitoring and Enforcement Group (IMEG) is constantly monitoring the activities of rogue police officers. – With Emmanuel Tupas, Cecille Suerte Felipe

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