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Kris-Crossing Mindanao

‘Gifts are never free…’

Gifts, according to French sociologist and anthropologist Marcel Mauss (1872-1950), are never truly free. In 1925, Mauss, wrote his landmark “The Gift,” an extended essay that mainly argued that gifts are never free; that objects exchanged in gift giving “are never completely separated from the men who exchange them.”

In “The Gift,” Mauss explained that gifts, whether material or in the form of services, had some “power” that obligated those who received them to reciprocate or give back. He notes: “…one must give back to another person what is really part and parcel of his nature and substance, because to accept something from somebody is to accept some part of his spiritual essence, of his soul.”

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This is the essence of Mauss’ concept of a “gift economy” — where gifts are always given with an expectation of a return.

While Mauss theorized the concept of the gift economy almost a century ago, his main idea of gifts as never freely given, without expectation of a return, still holds true at present, especially in the Philippine bureaucracy.

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Except that in the Philippine context, the return or reciprocation of a “gift” does not have the noble intention it was thought of, as it was true in the archaic societies that Mauss described in his essay.

Among the hottest discussions in the past few days were President Duterte’s pronouncements that government officials can accept gifts from people who are “generous” to them. To this, his sycophantic subalterns chorused in assent: the law on prohibiting the acceptance of gifts by government officials does not provide clear guidelines on what is “significant” and “insignificant” amounts or kinds of gifts.

In an interview on ANC, Commissioner Greco Belgica of the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission said P100,000 can be “insignificant” if given to a government official whose monthly salary is more than that amount. Ergo, the official can accept it without violating Republic Act No. 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.

One commissioner of the Civil Service Commission disagreed with Belgica, saying that any amount or gifts given to government officials is not allowed, under specific provisions of RA 6713, like Section 3 (c) that defines a “gift” and (d) on “Receiving any gift.”

Moreover, the code requires public officials to be at all times accountable for their actions, discharge their duties with utmost responsibility, competence and loyalty, act with patriotism and justice, lead modest lives, and uphold public interest over personal interest.

The practice of giving “padulas” or grease money or goods to government officials seems to have been embedded in almost all line agencies, especially in regulatory bodies like those that require businesses to observe compliance to environmental laws.

Some officials of such agencies live luxurious lifestyles, having multiple houses or condominiums and owning a fleet of high-end vehicles. They are even known to go on family tours to choice vacation sites here and abroad courtesy of fishing companies. In return, the officials of the concerned regulatory agency grant the required environmental compliance certificates to the fishing companies.

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In other words, it is largely through these gifts that are not freely given that we are encountering massive environmental problems.

So don’t blame big business for the pollution they have caused to our seas and riverine systems. Such is just the consequence of the gifts they have given to corrupt public officials who have reciprocated big businesses’ “generosity” to them.

All gifts have a price: they require payment, especially when given to government officials. And the price is quite heavy, and its effects are more damaging to the poor.

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TAGS: gift economy, gifts, Kriss-Crossing Mindanao, Marcel Mauss, Rufa Cagoco-Guiam, The Gift
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