With the holiday season just around the corner, the Civil Service Commission (CSC) recently reminded all government officials and employees that they are prohibited by law from accepting or soliciting gifts from the public.
The ban is aimed at minimizing graft and corruption that may arise from their receipt of Christmas presents from persons or parties doing business with their office.
However, the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act states that prohibition does not apply to “unsolicited gifts or presents of small or insignificant value offered or given as a mere ordinary token of gratitude or friendship according to local customs or usage.”
Note the phrases “token of gratitude or friendship” and “according to local customs or usage.” They reflect, respectively, the premium that Filipinos give to friendship and favors given to them by others, and the strong influence of customs and traditions on our daily life.
In the latter case, it is a custom of long standing in our society that gift-giving is an integral part of the celebration of Christmas and the new year.
When the happiest season of the year nears, it is standard practice for most businesses to do a Santa Claus on the people in government offices that supervise or regulate their operation.
Since that annual ritual is considered critical to good governmental relations, its costs are included in the budget as part of allowable representation expenses.
The gift-giving process follows the social pecking order. The nature or price of the gift is directly proportional to the level of influence the recipient enjoys in the government hierarchy.
And in keeping with the norms of our status-conscious society, the name of the person that appears on the card should have the same level of authority or standing as the recipient.
Although aware of the CSC’s and other government offices’ “no gifts” policy, most businesses ignore it because it runs against the grain of Filipino Christmas tradition.
The exception from the gift-giving prohibition earlier mentioned is often cited as justification for giving gifts to government employees whose goodwill could be useful in the future.
Besides, has any government official or employee been prosecuted or convicted for violation of that policy?
The law does not define what constitutes “small or insignificant value.” Thus, its definition is left to whoever wants to interpret it, taking into consideration the gift’s utility value, the position of its recipient and the extent of the transactions of its giver, all of which are subjective in character.
It is hypocritical to assume that high government officials are averse to receiving gifts from third parties. Of course, they are happy to partake of that practice.
The holiday season would be incomplete or less enjoyable without them. Besides, they form part of the perks and privileges of their office and they would be the last persons in the world to cast them aside.
For government employees with lower salary grades, the gifts are most welcome as they add cheer to whatever holiday joy they can get from their meager salaries.
In the past, to show compliance with the “no gift-giving” policy, some government offices posted notices in their premises calling attention to the ban. They even had photos of the notices published in newspapers.
And when people were seen entering with gifts for some personnel, they were barred entry and admonished to comply with that policy. As expected, those actions did not sit well with the intended recipients, but the latter could only protest in silence.
Unfazed by that Scrooge-like posture, the gift givers simply brought the gift to the homes of their intended recipients or, with prior arrangements with the latter, quietly put them in their cars. Problem solved!
No doubt, graft and corruption are rife in many government offices. But thinking that malady can be minimized by banning government employees from accepting or soliciting Christmas gifts is simply fanciful.
Nice try anyway. INQ
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