By Mario Casayuran
To stay attuned to Filipino values, grateful citizens who feel like giving something to public servants for doing their jobs should make an official donation to the institution they work for, instead of giving them gifts that might be perceived as valuable.
Senator Panfilo M. Lacson, chairman of the Senate national defense committee, said this could be one of the ways present anti-graft laws could be revisited or refined so they are more attuned to Filipino culture.
“Our laws should take into account Filipino values such as ‘utang na loob (gratitude)’ as there are Filipinos who may be offended if their gesture of gratitude is declined,” Lacson said.
“To be clear: Revisiting the law is not about providing excuses for accepting ‘gifts.’ This is about making our laws implementable and more attuned to our Filipino values. What good is a law if it cannot be implemented properly?” he added.
Lacson cited his experience in August 1981 when, as a Lieutenant Colonel with the Philippine Constabulary’s Metropolitan Command (PC-Metrocom), he led a team that rescued now-tycoon Robina Gokongwei from a kidnap-for-ransom gang.
Robina’s grateful family offered Lacson and his team a hefty reward, but Lacson – who has a no-take policy – declined it, pointing out he did not want his men to have the mentality of not helping “poor” complainants who may not be able to afford to give them a reward.
To show their gratitude, the Gokongwei family decided to donate mobile patrol vehicles to the PC for Robina’s successful rescue.
The donation was coursed through then PC chief Maj. Gen. Fidel V. Ramos via a deed of donation in favor of the PC Metrocom.
“The donation therefore carried in the inventory of government properties owned by the command, after I declined the reward money that they offered,” Lacson recalled, adding he was not issued any of the donated vehicles. “But at least the donation was to the government,” he pointed out.
Lacson, who headed the Philippine National Police from 1999 to 2001, founded the PNP Foundation in 2000, as a way for civic-minded people to give contributions for the benefit of the PNP as an institution.
He also stressed the need to draw a clear line between “gratitude” and “bribery” for laws such as Republic Acts 6713 (Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees) and 3019 (Anti-Graft Act).
Under RA 6713, a public official or employee may accept a “gift of nominal value” as a souvenir or mark of courtesy.
But without the needed refinements to the law, it might be impractical to interpret and implement the current laws to the letter, Lacson said.
“Our present laws have no clear definition of what is nominal. What is nominal for one person may be of value for another. That is something we have to address so our authorities can implement the law,” he said.
“If the present laws were implemented to the letter, how many people would be left in government?” he asked.