‘Moderate the greed’
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - September 16, 2019 - 12:00am

For several days last month, President Rodrigo Duterte was bombarded anew with severe criticisms from arch anti-administration leaders over his latest controversial public pronouncements. President Duterte was taken to task for publicly telling policemen it is not corruption to accept certain amount of money as “gifts” from people who want to show their appreciation of the services rendered to them.

Administration officials taking up the cudgels for President Duterte did not help any. Obviously, they made things worse for him, even citing amounts of money or worth of gifts they claim to be tolerable – something that should not be more than the salary they receive from the government.

 Critics of President Duterte accused him of abetting bribery as a normal way of life for policemen and the rest of those working in government service. This controversy all started from the President’s speech during the 118th Police Service anniversary held at Camp Crame, Quezon City last Aug. 9. 

Digressing again from his prepared speech, the President talked about the virtue of “delicadeza” as a guide to all government officials and employees to avoid getting into trouble with the Anti-Graft and Corruption Law. A long time prosecutor and then becoming Mayor of Davao City for almost two decades, the President told them he could relate to the plight of police and military men along with other lowly paid public servants.

“Well, basta kung bigyan kayo, eh tanggapin ninyo. It is not bribery because – it cannot be bribery because it is allowed by law. What I mean if there is generosity in them, sabi ng Anti-Graft you cannot accept gifts. Kalokohan ‘yan,” President Duterte told his audience of police officers and men and other guests.

“We are not rich and that is why I said I’ll give you a leeway…But there are things in this world connected with your performance of duty. You just strike a happy balance there and you will not have a problem,” the President assuaged them.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who belongs to the administration allies at the Senate, for one, expressed a different view on this “gift-giving” policy stand of President Duterte. Understandably, Lacson who once headed the Philippine National Police (PNP) did not quite agree to give presidential clearance on “gift-giving” to policemen. In his @iampinglacson Twitter account, he posted on Aug. 10 this rebuttal: “Mr. President, insatiable greed starts with simple, petty graft. It could be more addicting than drugs. There is no detox, nor is there rehab facility available for addiction to money.”

The opposition ranks headed by Vice President Leni Robredo chimed in with her own contrary statement that allowing such “gift-giving” is like a free pass to commit corruption no matter how petty the amount is. And for the succeeding days, there was heated national debate with Malacañang officials, like presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo, defending and clarifying the applicable laws.

President Duterte though kept unusually quiet after “shaking the tree” anew. 

Then came the next big national controversy that now reached the halls of the 18th Congress. From out of nowhere came reports on the possible release from prison of double murder-rape convict, ex-Calauan mayor Antonio Sanchez. Although sentenced to seven-life term imprisonments, the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor), and confirmed by the Department of Justice (DOJ), said Sanchez could be freed under the implementing rules and regulations of the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) law.

Admitting his exasperation on Faeldon’s latest scandal, the President stopped the release of Sanchez, “fired” the BuCor chief and ordered law enforcement authorities to arrest inmates freed under the questioned grant of GCTA but gave only a 15-day grace period for all of them to surrender. The President would later admit he had to do a “fireman’s job” to stop the conflagration ignited by the BuCor scandal from getting out of hand.

In extemporaneous speech in Bataan last Thursday, President Duterte obliquely defended anew his erstwhile BuCor chief as not corrupt but merely continued implementing the vagueness of the law. As usual, his long speech was punctuated with many other subject matters and comments.

In the process, rekindled the fire over the “gift-giving” remarks as the President sniped anew at the Vice President and Sen. Lacson for taking issue on it. “And yet Robredo who was a lawyer outright pati si Lacson ang sabi, ‘Mali ‘yan. That is illegal order,” the President fumed. Quoting himself, the President explained: “Sabi ko basta huwag lang mag-thousand-thousand at huwag kayong maghingi. Do not demand. And ‘yon ‘yan as a... Iyan ang wording ng batas eh, ‘to show gratitude.’ Hindi mo mawala sa Pilipino ‘yang utang na loob.”

The next day in a full-blown press conference at Malacañang, the President no longer minced words in attacking the two for being “ignorant” of the Anti-Graft Law. “And here is the word ‘token’ and ‘nominal.’ Alam mo kung saan ko kinuha ‘yan? Sa Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices law. It is an exception. Basta konti lang, allowed ‘yan. Eh pumiyok agad ito si Lacson,” the President ranted. Addressing himself to Lacson and the Vice President, he chastised them: “Adre, magbasa ka naman ng... Maawa ka naman. Magbasa ka naman ng libro. Hindi ka naman abogado.” Itong si Robredo, abogado. It is constitutional, illegal. G***** it. Nandiyan ‘yan sa batas.”

Lacson could only shrug off the presidential ire. In his Aug. 4 Twitter, he posted: “Malacañang says the president respects criticisms – if not baseless. The problem here is, the president decides which criticism has basis. Criticize anyway.”

The President’s perceived double standard in his war against corruption in government is based on his honest-to-goodness talk about these obvious realities taking place in the government. The President’s policy reflected his stand on the matter but apparently does not sit well with the do-gooders in governance.

The President’s guidance on “token” and “nominal” gifts is a far cry from the infamous phrase: “Moderate your greed.”

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