Prohibited Gifts

Exchanging of gifts is probably the most common Christmas tradition in the Philippines. Almost all of us have participated in this tradition during our elementary and high school years. Shops, departments stores, and malls are filled with shoppers looking for the best gifts for their office exchange gifts and for their children to wrap and give away during their own Christmas programs. This beautiful tradition is a replication of the act of the three magi offering their gifts to the new born Messiah. It can also be said that in gift giving we are imitating God’s generosity for giving Jesus as the ultimate “gift” to humanity on Christmas day. Generosity is one of the traits most people value, but can there really “true generosity” where a person gives things to another without expecting anything in return? Is it really our nature to expect something in return when we give? Gift giving reinforces our relationship with family, friends, officemates, constituents, or even build one with an acquaintance. This is most probably the main reason why gift giving is prohibited in some instances.

“No Gift Policy”

This policy is not new. It is more than half a century old. Republic Act 3019 which was signed into law on 17 August 1960 prohibits public officials from receiving “gifts” from any person. The giver is also liable under this law. The law says: “Receiving any gift” includes the act of accepting directly or indirectly a gift from a person other than a member of the public officer’s immediate family, in behalf of himself or of any member of his family or relative within the fourth civil degree, either by consanguinity or affinity, even on the occasion of a family celebration or national festivity like Christmas, if the value of the gift is under the circumstances manifestly excessive. Take not that the prohibition even includes the immediate family of the official! The very reason for this prohibition is the obvious effect of giving a gift to both giver and receiver. The giver expects something in return and the receiver knows that he is expected to be more generous to the giver on matters within his power as a public official. This clouds the public official’s judgment. He is now more likely to decide in favor of the giver or be more lenient to someone from whom he has received a gift or favor. It is most likely that government resources and the law will be used by the official to reciprocate the gift received. This is what the law aims to suppress. It makes an exception though: “Unsolicited gifts or presents of small or insignificant value offered or given as a mere ordinary token of gratitude or friendship according to local customs or usage, shall be excepted from the provisions of this Act.” But then of course the term “small or insignificant” gifts is subjective. What may be insignificant to a millionaire can be of great value to someone who is considered poor.

Prohibited Gifts in Marriage

The Family Code also prohibits certain gifts within marriage. Article 84 says that if the property regime is not absolute community of property, the couple“cannot donate to each other in their marriage settlements more than one-fifth of their present property. Any excess shall be considered void.” Ultimately, Article 87 states that: “Every donation or grant of gratuitous advantage, direct or indirect, between the spouses during the marriage shall be void, except moderate gifts which the spouses may give each other on the occasion of any family rejoicing. The prohibition shall also apply to persons living together as husband and wife without a valid marriage.” These prohibited donations will be considered void or can be annulled by the proper party. It aims to discourage one party from exerting undue influence over another or from making the other more dependent. Perhaps the very purpose of the prohibition or regulation by our laws on the act of gift giving is not to make the act evil, rather it is to protect it from being used for morally wrong purposes. Merry Christmas everyone!

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