Chapter 1 – The Bribery Problem
And you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of the Just” (Exod. 23:8).
Thomas and his wife Martha were preparing for their first overseas missionary assignment in the Philippines. Their mission board told them that they were entitled to bring used personal effects into the Philippines duty free. They shipped some of their personal effects from Chicago and the rest from New Orleans. After arriving in the Philippines, they experienced considerable delays in obtaining their permanent visa. Each day’s delay increased the storage fees on their shipment which had already arrived from New Orleans. Thomas and Martha were very anxious to get their personal effects so that they could set up their household and begin working.
They hired the broker that their mission group used to process shipments through customs. He told Thomas that he needed an additional 2,500 pesos to facilitate the release of their shipment. Thomas gave the 2,500 pesos to the broker and after two weeks the visa was granted and the shipment released. The broker gave Thomas official receipts for everything except the 2,500 pesos.
They were then notified that their shipment from Chicago had arrived. The broker informed them that they were only entitled to one duty free shipment, and that the customs and duties on the most items in their second shipment would be 100‑200 percent of their value. However, by using Martha’s passport the broker thought he could get the shipment released if he had an additional 2,500 pesos to facilitate the release. Thomas gave the broker the 2,500 pesos, but wondered if he had done the right thing.
Thomas and Martha’s story illustrates the type of situation that a missionary to the Philippines may encounter in dealing with some employees of the Bureau of Customs, Bureau of Immigration, and other government agencies in the Philippines.
Other examples abound. Mission agencies periodically order Christian literature, equipment, and other supplies, which are not readily available in the Philippines. Each time materials arrive in the Philippines from outside the country, there is the potential for the solicitation of a bribe by a Customs officer.
Whenever a missionary departs from the Philippines for any reason, his travel documents must be processed through Philippine Immigration. Usually a travel agent takes the missionary’s passport and other documents to the Department of Immigration for processing. The agent pays the required fees and walks the papers through the processing. It is routine procedure for travel agents to pay various people at the Department of Immigration small amounts of money to speed up the processing. The missionary then reimburses the travel agent for the required fees and pays a service charge to cover the extra payments. Situations like these are not unique to the Philippines, but are common in many countries.
A missionary faced with these types of situations that he has never encountered before may knowingly or unknowingly participate in bribery. If he gives what he believes to be a bribe, he may feel he has compromised his integrity and witness. He may feel resentment toward his mission board for not having alerted him to the situation and given him guidance on how to deal with it.
The missionary may wonder how his actions will affect others. What will be the impact on the government worker who encounters some missionaries who give him some extra money and some missionaries who refuse his subtle suggestions? What kind of message comes through to the national Christian whom the missionary expects to exhibit great care with church funds?
National Christians often experience pressure to give bribes or submit to extortion. For example, a Christian businessman may need to give some extra money to have his business permit approved. A Christian taxi driver might be stopped for a minor traffic violation by a policeman. The policeman threatens to hold his license indefinitely, depriving him of his only source of income, unless the driver gives him some money.
How the problem of bribery and extortion is handled can undercut the confidence and credibility of missionaries and national Christians and adversely affect the work of Christ in the Philippines.