In government, the fine line between a gift and a bribe | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

There was a businessman chasing a multibillion-peso government contract. He visited the concerned government official in his home with a “gift” he thought the official couldn’t refuse.

After the businessman pleaded his case, the official asked him, “So what makes you think I will help you win this contract?”

“Sir, may I invite you to look outside your window?” said the businessman.

The official looked and there, parked outside, was a brand new top-of-the-line Mercedes Benz 500 sedan in gleaming silver.

“Are you trying to bribe me?” The official glared at the businessman.

Not expecting such a vehement reaction, the businessman thought fast and blurted out, “Of course not, sir. I’m selling you the car at a discount.”

“And what is your price?”

“One thousand pesos.”

“I see. In that case, I’ll buy two,” said the official without batting an eyelash.

Although obviously apocryphal, this anecdote reflects the many possible (and actual) instances straddling the thin line between gift-giving as sincere appreciation or unsolicited reward, from the odious practice of corruption in public service.

This situation is further complicated by the normally laudable Filipino custom of giving gifts freely on almost any occasion.

At Christmas, mountains of presents pile up in living rooms for family members, relatives, in-laws, close friends and household staff. In our village, it is de rigueur for neighbors and friends to give one another token gifts during the holidays. Even service providers such as messengers and trash collectors leave empty envelopes to be filled with small cash gifts.

Ethical behavior

Thankfully, amid this pervasive culture of liberality, there are laws that clearly spell out the ethical behavior required for fellow citizens working in government, when it comes to receiving gifts and other forms of gratuity.

Several laws, a presidential decree (ironically from the Marcos era) and pertinent articles from the Revised Penal Code have strict provisions that should leave no doubt in anyone’s mind.

Section 7 (d) of Republic Act No. 6713 alone clearly states that 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.”

Given that President Duterte himself has been constantly complaining about the “endemic” corruption in government and after his threatening ultimatum to government personnel to stop their corrupt ways in his recent Sona, it is quite surprising that he himself has gratuitously opened the door wider by giving the go signal to police personnel to accept gifts if they were given out of generosity or gratitude or as a reward, if these were totally voluntary and unsolicited.

The existing laws are unequivocal and unless changed, do not provide for this interpretation.

But even if he is convinced that such practice would not go against the code of conduct for government personnel, why give another possible excuse for greater abuse in an already corrupt system?

Recipients of substantial gifts and other gratuities, not only the police, can now easily claim that these were unsolicited, when previously they could not even admit receiving anything of value from anyone.


A better way, I believe, is to institutionalize the recognition and rewarding of exemplary public sector workers—not only the police, but also teachers, hospital and social welfare personnel, firefighters, soldiers and other government employees whose work directly impacts the security, health and welfare of our countrymen.

This way, our expression of gratitude for excellent service becomes objective and equitable, not personalized and selective. A good example was the public drive to raise funds for the education of the orphaned children of our soldiers who were killed in battle in Marawi a few years ago.

Gift-giving is a very nuanced activity. There are the strictly corporate gifts given in the normal conduct of business. When I was CEO of my company, my office was bursting with Christmas gifts, mostly from media and supplier companies.

After I retired, I no longer received anything, not even complimentary copies of local magazines. By the same token, I also stopped choosing gifts for our clients, leaving it up to my successor.

And then there are the personal gifts for particular occasions—“exclusive” gifts for family, “special” gifts for close friends, and “mandatory” gifts for other friends and acquaintances.

Worth mentioning, too, are “recycled” gifts, those we receive and give away in turn. I have a friend who gave away a birthday present he had received, and got it back from another person, still unopened, a few years later.

For me, the true hallmark of gift-giving is thoughtfulness—of both the giver and the recipient.

As a giver, I try to find out what my intended recipient would most appreciate for the occasion—a birthday, a graduation, a wedding, or simply to say thank you. I myself usually choose, going for the best quality at the price I can afford.

As a recipient, I make sure to express my appreciation, even if I will probably not get to use the gift. And I do not “recycle” unwanted gifts, unless I am confident the next recipient will really appreciate an item and use it. —CONTRIBUTED

“The excellence of a gift lies in its appropriateness rather than its value.” —Charles Dudley Warner, author