Skip to main content

Christmas bribes?, presents? and corruption

Three days ago, I had an animated conversation with a former student of mine who now is an mid-level executive of a government agency involved in regulation. He told me that he gets a heaps of Christmas baskets and other presents from contractors and suppliers. His rule is that if the supplier or contactor is involved with a project under his watch, he returns the present. But he finds it increasingly difficult to draw the line.

He says that if it is a money envelope, it is easier to deal with it. He told me that bribers know when to sense if the public servant is really in need of money. So I told him "I am in government service too, and we all know that government servants are ALWAYS IN NEED of money. Just look at the paychecks we get!"

But contrary to what many in the public think, the overwhelming majority of public servants are honest. The papers report of cab drivers, security guards and other blue collar workers returning thousands if not milions of pesos to their rightful owners, without thought of reward. We barely hear of the papers reporting of the honest deeds of public servants. Public servants are very aware of the importance of their job and its ethical dimension. But the public may have the perception that public servants are corrupt.

Civil service directives may order that government employees not to accept presents. But that is futile, Pinoy culture loves presents. And I think that one may receive presents in appreciation for a job well done but we have to leave it at that. The giver must not expect any favours in return as the taker never expected a Christmas present in the first place.

I apply that principle with students who appreciate what I did to them in the semester. I tell them a simple note of appreciation will do, but still some give presents. I give most if not all the presents to people who need them since many of the presents I don't have use for. For example: What am I to do with five Queso de Bolas?

In Robert Bolt's play and movie "Man for all Seasons", Thomas More received a silver cup from a woman who had a case in More's court of requests. More received the gift and whilst on a boat back to Chelsea, threw the cup overboard. The boatman just in time caught it and said "This cup's worth good money!"

Obviously the cup was a bribe. More gave the cup to a social climbing student (who later would give a perjurious testimony in More's own trial for treason). In More's inquest a few years later, the cup would be brought against him. Norfolk would say "As soon as Thomas knew the gift was a bribe, he threw it to the nearest gutter!"

This leads us to the question, when to know if a gift is a bribe or not? And when we realise it is, what then?

Perhaps we could return the present to the briber. In most cases it may be too late. In More's case it was. But can we take comfort that there is a way out.

The Catholic Church teaches that bribery is a violation of the 7th Commandment. In fact bribery is a result and will result to stealing from the poor. So if follows that the bribe may be given to the poor "who are in the gutter". That is the only choice (CCC 2412).

But we have to realise that it is us who have put the poor in the gutter. So the act of gift giving is really a penance. To give presents is to diminish the giver so that the taker will increase. This is a prime Gospel value.

The was the spirit behind the first Christmas presents to the Baby. The Wise Men gave the Lord gold, frankincense and myrrh. The Wise Men recognised the Divinity of the Child and also the inevitable sacrifice He would give so that we may increase.

So if I have turned your concept of what Christmas really is, I apologise. Christmas really is redemptive since it looks into the Passion and the Resurrection. The gifts we give and receive are signs of that truth.

A Blessed Christmas to you!


Popular posts from this blog

Simoun's lamp has been lit, finally.. not by one but by the many!

"So often have we been haunted by the spectre of subversion which, with some fostering, has come to be a positive and real being, whose very name steals our serenity and makes us commit the greatest blunders... If before the reality, instead of changing the fear of one is increased, and the confusion of the other is exacerbated, then they must be left in the hands of time..."
Dr Jose Rizal "To the Filipino People and their Government"
Jose Rizal dominates the Luneta, which is sacred to the Philippine nation as a place of martyrdom. And many perhaps all of those executed in the Luneta, with the exception of the three Filipino secular priests martyred in 1872, have read Rizal's El Filibusterismo. Dr Rizal's second novel is a darker and more sinister one that its prequel but has much significance across the century and more after it was published for it preaches the need for revolution with caveats,  which are when the time is right and who will instigate it.

President Manuel Luis Quezon's Code of Ethics

Being a denizen of Kyusi, in honour of the man who gave my city its name and for being the most colourful prez the Philippines ever had, I have the pleasure to post Manuel L Quezon's Code of Ethics on his birthday. Let us profit from the wisdom of the Kastila.

1. Have Faith in the Divine Providence that guides the destinies of men and nations.

2. Love your country for it is the home of your people, the seat of your affection and the source of your happiness and well-being. It's defense is your primary duty. Be ready to sacrifice and die for it if necessary.

3. Respect the Constitution which is the expression of your sovereign will. The government is your government. It has been established for your safety and welfare. Obey the laws and see that they are observed by all and that public officials comply with their duties.

4. Pay your taxes willingly and promptly. Citizenship implies not only rights but obligations.

5. Safeguard the purity of suffrage and abide by the decisions of the…

Flame trees in bloom

The hottest summer courtesy of El Nino in at least 10 years gave runners and walkers in the University of the Philippines Diliman campus a visual treat. This year the flame trees Delonix regia are in full bloom!
In past summers it wasn't as hot and dry so the trees did not shed their leaves and few blooms were produced.
It is the tropical version of the Japanese Hanami or the Cherry blossom viewing season. While Hanami tells us the fragile impermanence of beauty, the flame tree hanami tells us that summer burns but soon it will all be over.