Who would jump at an offer of an all-expense-paid trip for the family, including hotel accommodations, allowances and tickets, to watch Manny Pacquiao fight Jessie Vargas in Las Vegas on Nov. 5 (Nov. 6 in Manila)?
The PNP chief, Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, did and crowed about it: “Bahala na ang propriety na yan (I don’t care about propriety). All I know is it’s free, so I grabbed the opportunity.” He pointed out that he and his host, Senator Pacquiao, “both came from poverty,” and said: “We had this vacation and we’re really happy.”
Days later, when the Office of the Ombudsman began its inquiry into the sponsored trip, an incredulous Dela Rosa said: “So it’s wrong? Okay, go ahead, probe me.” He added, with an air of injured innocence: “What’s important is that we did not steal any public funds.”
But why should this free trip be under scrutiny? the PNP chief wondered. After all, he said, he had gone on similar junkets to watch Pacquiao’s earlier fights—with Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2015 and with Timothy Bradley last April—both sponsored by the boxing champ. He may, incredibly, be unaware of the problematic situation that ensues when a high public official is offered, and accepts, a gift of high value, but he can’t possibly be ignorant of Republic Act 6713, or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees. The Code forbids public officials from accepting a 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 transaction that may be affected by the functions of their office.
Two senators have since come to Dela Rosa’s defense—Pacquiao himself, who dismissed the all-expense-paid trip as just the way between friends and fellow Visayans, and Senate Majority Floor Leader Tito Sotto, who went so far as to say that since the matter took place overseas and not in the Philippines, the Ombudsman had no jurisdiction over it.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre, who has relentlessly harangued Sen. Leila de Lima concerning her love life, suddenly felt that there were more important things worth the government’s time and resources than Dela Rosa’s junket to Las Vegas. Even President Duterte exonerated the PNP chief of wrongdoing, saying there was “no criminal liability” in his behavior. But then the President is no stranger to gift giving and accepting: During the election campaign, he disclosed in his speeches that Pastor Apollo Quiboloy had given him presents when he was mayor of Davao City, including pieces of real estate and a couple of SUVs, not to mention the use of the pastor’s private plane during his sorties. “That’s service, that’s the contribution of Pastor Quiboloy to our government,” Mr. Duterte had said.
Inquirer columnist Ramon Farolan, a retired major general and a senior fraternity brother of Dela Rosa, presented an entirely different perspective. Dela Rosa’s free trip was “ill-timed,” wrote the former commanding general of the Philippine Air Force. “In any war, it is difficult to justify taking any kind of leave,” he said, referring to the President’s war on drugs that the PNP chief is spearheading.
“Sometimes a vacation can be so out of place, particularly when people around us are losing their lives,” Farolan added—an apparent reference to the fatal shooting by police officers of Mayor Rolando Espinosa of Albuera, Leyte, in his prison cell early on Nov. 5. A “drug personality,” Espinosa had submitted an affidavit naming government officials and celebrities involved in the trade in illegal drugs.
There is another important thing: Because Mr. Duterte had promised to fight corruption during his presidency, his lieutenants should not only comport themselves with propriety but also behave like Caesar’s wife—above suspicion. In this sphere where transactional politics continues to prevail, offering and accepting gifts and favors are seen to amount to quid pro quo. More often than not, they are a prelude to horse-trading, with public interest trampled underfoot.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.