POSTSCRIPT / August 22, 2019 / Thursday


Opinion Columnist

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On Duterte's gospel of relative morality

THE POLICY set by President Duterte that any gift given to a civil servant out of gratitude is not a bribe and may therefore be accepted has renewed the search for the elusive formula for eradicating corruption in government.

The short and simple formula, of course, is: Just. Follow. The. Law! — which refers to RA 6713 (Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees), whose Section 7 (d) commands:

“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.”

In a speech at Camp Crame on Aug. 9, however, President Duterte preached his latter-day Gospel of Relative Morality in government, blurring the crime of bribery in the books. He told policemen and, by extension, all government personnel in Taglish:

“I will not stop you. If you are given (something), take it. It is not bribery… it cannot be bribery because it is allowed by law. What I mean, if there’s generosity in them, according to the anti-graft law, you cannot accept gifts? Foolishness!”

The Civil Service Commission hunkered down to define in two weeks what “nominal” or “insignificant gifts” government officials and employees are allowed to receive under RA 6713.

But Greco Belgica of the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission already opined that a civil servant may accept as much as P100,000 as gift without a pang of guilt, depending on how his conscience juggles the ethical issue.

Everybody knows where Duterte is coming from — Davao City, where he was lord and mayor for more than two interesting decades.

He is also a lawyer, as well as a prosecutor for many years, which may explain his penchant to lay the basis for his or a client’s defense even before the act itself is questioned. He has just prepared the defense of civil servants like himself who could face corruption charges.

Note that he has been saying from way back that his aide Bong Go, now a senator, comes from the wealthy Tesoro family — even if nobody was asking — or that his former Davao police chief Bato dela Rosa, now also a senator, is “fundamentally honest.”

If the bar of morality appears to have gone lower under Duterte, is it because of this attitude that ethics is relative and negotiable? Or is it because of gravity — the gravity of the extent of official corruption?

It is amazing that the Chief Executive has gone out of his way to practically amend (a legislative act) the intent of RA 6713 and liberalize the interpretation (a judicial job) of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for government personnel.

We spent time yesterday writing down some food-for-thought to contribute to the brainstorm on Duterte’s relative morality in government. Here are some:

1. Forbid under pain of severe punishment – including EJK-style execution — the giving or receiving of MONEY, of any amount, in cash or check, whether as gift or bribe, for services rendered, claimed or promised by government personnel.

2. Allow instead, or even encourage, the accepting of FOOD or anything edible, that can be consumed in two consecutive days by the receiver, his family, officemates or immediate circle of friends.

3. The food or edible goods must be given and accepted in full public view in the office of the official or employee. The items must fit on the top of the receiver’s desk, with the overflow or excess to be rejected or disposed of under No. 5 below.

4. The head of office shall draw up internal rules as to the sizes of desks and the optional sharing of the consumable goods with officemates. Take-home of leftover is allowed, but only to the extent of its being consumed in two days. Re excessive excess or overflow, see No. 5 below.

5. The Civil Service Commission shall lay down rules prohibiting acceptance of specific consumable items to include narcotics, alcohol and tobacco products. The CSC may also allow excess food to be given to outsiders bearing Social Welfare “Pantawid” certification that they are indigent.

• ‘Maraming kaibigan na mayaman’

STILL on gifts/bribes and morality in government, the President might want to check out this Aug. 18 commentary of Ellen T. Tordesillas, president of VERA Files, titled “Duterte gets gifts in multimillion pesos”:

“When President Duterte told members of the police force that it’s okay to accept gifts, he was just preaching what he has been doing. And his harvest has been bountiful, by his own account.

“On his 69th birthday, on March 28, 2014, seven deposits totaling P193,705,615.88 were credited to the joint account of then Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte and his daughter Sara Z. Duterte in BPI, Julia Vargas branch in Ortigas Center. The first was in the amount of P55,131,747.32, followed by P41,721,035.62. Then four deposits in the amount of P20,000,000.00 each came in. The last deposit for the day was in the amount of P16,852,832.94.

“VERA Files obtained the bank records from the Senate Record where former Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV submitted the documents. These are the same documents that were submitted to the Office of the Ombudsman when Trillanes filed a plunder case against Duterte.

“A few weeks before the 2016 elections, Trillanes came out with an exposé that Duterte has at least P211 million in the bank which was not reported in his 2014 Statement of Assets and Liabilities and Networth, a violation of the law. The deposits on Duterte’s birthday was included in the exposé.

“Initially, Duterte denied the existence of the bank account. But when bank deposits to the account disproved him, Duterte said the seven deposits on his birthday simply meant, ‘Ibig sabihin niyan marami akong kaibigan na mayaman. (It just means I have many rich friends.)’”

“He added that the money had already been spent….”

The rest of Ellen’s commentary is at:

(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 22, 2019)

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