AGRICULTURE Secretary Emmanuel Piñol was reported as returning a watch worth P450,000, given to him as a Christmas present. The story was circulated well over the internet; it hailed Piñol’s gesture as one other government officials should imitate and claimed the Duterte administration was winning the war on corruption.
It might have been jarring if the secretary had accepted the gift and wore it proudly on his wrist. Then again, one gesture does not make a habit, and it would be interesting to see how other government officials from other agencies draw lines on this matter.
As it is, gift-giving is a big thing in the Philippines during the holidays. It is part of our culture to bring or send tokens, even to just professional acquaintances whom we do not really know. For a people so steeped in personal relationships, refusing or returning gifts may be deemed offensive, no matter the existence of rules and guidelines that identify which is acceptable—and which is not.
This brings us back to gray areas, and what we are willing to tolerate.
The truth is, the issue is not about gifts, who they are from or how much they cost. What lies at the core is the thinking that one may be beholden to another person who does favors or gives presents.
Government officials, by virtue of their jobs, should be careful about what they accept, whether or not they know the senders, deal with them, or are even friends with them. It’s an issue of ethics, one that is difficult to regulate or suggest.
Being careful not to hurt the feelings of others, especially those who have been nice or gracious to us, is a distinctly Filipino trait. We must remember though that rejecting gifts is not a rejection of the friendship of the people they are from. It is just a shunning of the dangerous possibilities these gifts might lead to.