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Editorial

Inciting to corruption

/ 05:07 AM August 14, 2019

It’s been barely a month since President Duterte almost bust a vein railing against the stubborn presence of corruption “everywhere in government” and the resulting “betrayal of public trust.”

What did he say again in his fourth State of the Nation Address?

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“Corruption continues and emasculates the courage we need to sustain our moral recovery initiatives. It is both a national embarrassment and a national shame.”

He lamented that “For every transaction, a commission; for every action, extortion.” He even made a joke that, in front of the country’s top officialdom, had more than a ring of truth to it: “[The] Philippines is so corrupt… that if you kill all congressmen, senators and the President, we will have a new day.”

But last week, that same president stood before officers and members of the Philippine National Police, an organization he had once chastised as being “corrupt to the core” — and encouraged them to go right ahead and accept gifts from benefactors “if there is generosity in them.”

“Basta ’pag bigyan kayo eh tanggapin ‘nyo (Just accept it if you’re given something),” said Mr. Duterte. “It is not bribery… It cannot be bribery because it is allowed by law. What I mean, if there is generosity in them, sabi ng antigraft [law] you cannot accept gifts? Kalokohan (the antigraft law says you cannot accept gifts? Baloney).”

That the police are Mr. Duterte’s fair-haired boys is beyond argument. The organization he has tasked to execute his brutal war on drugs has been lavished with extraordinary support and largesse — its budget vastly increased, its members’ pay doubled, the President repeatedly vowing that he had the cops’ back and he would take the cudgels on their behalf. Giving them leeway to ignore the express provision against bribery of government personnel is obviously more of this special treatment.

But the President is not the law — and last we heard, this is still a government of laws, not of men. Section 7 (d) of Republic Act No. 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees says: “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.”

The only exception, according to Section 14 of RA No. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act: “Unsolicited gifts or presents of small or insignificant value offered or given as a mere ordinary token of gratitude or friendship…”

That was what the President actually meant, sputtered presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo — that cops were free to accept gifts of “nominal value.”

Asked, however, what “nominal” means, and how to determine whether such a gift is being given freely or out of duress, and Panelo once again morphed into a human pretzel, unable to make heads or tails of his own argument.

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The prohibition against government personnel accepting gifts is precisely there to curb corruption, but it becomes even more salient in the case of the police, who carry something ordinary public workers and most other citizens are not allowed to have: a gun, along with the license to use it against lawbreakers, to wield it to impose peace and order.

With their guns, their handcuffs and their jailhouses, the police enjoy tremendous coercive power lent to them by the law — the same law that correspondingly seeks to prevent them from using that special power for ill ends such as extortion or bribery by mandating that they cannot “solicit or accept, directly or indirectly,” gifts and the like “in the course of their official duties…”

Bad enough that the PNP is already seen as among the country’s most rotten institutions. According to the New York-based business monitoring group GAN Integrity in a 2017 report: “The national police force is widely regarded as one of the most corrupt institutions in the country. Reports of the police and military engaging in corruption, extortion and being involved in local rackets are widespread. Companies report that they cannot rely on the police services.”

Few would dispute that assessment. Yet here is the President himself, ostensibly an avenging angel against corruption, publicly inciting his uniformed men to commit corruption and break the law.

From “tokhang” to this, the continuing damage to the police force — and to the country it is sworn “to serve and protect” — can only be profound, immense and incalculable.

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TAGS: accepting gifts, bribery, Inquirer editorial, police corruption, Rodrigo Duterte
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