Gifts

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CEBU CITY — “More,” yelled the kids after belting off-key carols at our gate.The driver gave them cookies and sweets. “Not enough,” they stomped. It was a demand, not a request, so unlike the typical children carolers.

Has the old “gimme” syndrome trumped carols freely sang for gifts freely given? But those kids are nothing compared to some officials who straddle government corporations (GOCCs) or financial agencies.

Ask Sen. Franklin Drilon. Metropolitan Waterworks & Sewerage System directors, he found, gorged on three types of Christmas bonuses — plus 32 other kinds throughout the year.

Granting “unwarranted allowances, bonuses, incentives, stock options”, Christmas or no Christmas, has metastasized in most GOCCs.

Among spendthrifts are Social Security System, Government Service Insurance System, to Subic and Clark Development Authority.

Their recklessness resulted in “ a noticeable increase in the aggregate deficit of 14 monitored (firms),” Asian Development Bank noted. “This brings their financial stability into question.”

This Christmas, some 45 GOCCs will lop slabs from a P22.3 billion subsidy as bonuses for themselves, Sen. Ralph Recto cautioned. They’ll ladle Christmas cheer “through“corporate give-aways”. That ranges from P9.1 million worth of 50,000 over-priced umbrellas to daily planners-cum-ballpens, snapped up at double market prices.

“Nobody says government should play Scrooge,” Recto said. But enough is enough. Those freebies are better spent for the ill-fed. A semblance of reason must replace today’s self-gorging.

President Benigno Aquino froze perks, until year’s end, for what former National Treasurer Leonor Briones calls the government’s “corporate fat cats.”

PNoy has widespread public support as The Grinch Who Stole the Christmas [Bonuses] — a play on the 1957 character of Dr. Seuss children’s book by a blogger.

He’ll have to provide leeway for performance-based bonuses. That’s an honored method to draw and keep brains, specially in banks. For now, he must crack down on GOCCs that pay lip service to his order.

Government has no monopoly on the “gimme syndrome”, writes Sun Star columnist Melanie Lim. She delivers concise eight-point rules for people who wring arms for presents, bitch about them and never say salamat.

Don’t ask, even if others do, Lim counsels. Don’t complain. “This is not a business transaction,” but a voluntary gesture of the giver. “Some fear we may run out of presents.”Never, but never, demand that a gift be reserved. There’s email, text, twitter, etc. to give thanks. “Surely, your mother taught you some manners.”

“Call me old fashioned.” But to spell out what present you want, unless asked, is a no-no. Squelch the itch to whip out your wish list, unless the prospective givers ask. ”The absolute worst thing” is to return a gift and demand another one.

“What is it about the holiday season that makes people, otherwise courteous, especially shameless when it comes to gifts?,” she wonders. “Is it a thing of this generation? Or just inability to sift right from wrong, after so many years of doing the wrong thing?”

Don’t greet passengers “Merry Christmas,” airport staff were told. They’ll think you’re panhandling. Just smile. How poor the country that handles Yuletide greetings with forceps.

“Christmas is a necessity,” the late CBS reporter Arnold Eric Sevareid mused. “There has to be at least one day in the year to remind us that we’re here for something else beside ourselves.”

Perhaps nothing reflects Sevareid’s insight better than the 1906 O. Henry short story The Gift of the Magi.

O. Henry was William Sydney Porter’s pen name. Anecdote has it that he scribbled the story on ruled paper, between swigs, at Pete’s Tavern in New York City. A waiting copyboy handcarried the draft, page by page, to a waiting editor.

The story line is simple. James Dillingham Young and wife Della, who live in a warren-like apartment, are broke. Neither can afford to shop for a gift on Christmas Eve.

Della sold her knee-length brown hair to a wig maker. Secretly, she buys Jim a chain for a prized pocket watch, inherited from his grandfather.Unknown to Delia, Jim sells his watch. He then purchases a set of combs, made out of tortoiseshell, for her hair.

Disaster? Let O. Henry tell it: “The magi, as you know, were wise men — wonderfully wise men — who brought gifts to the new-born King of the Jews in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication.

“In a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the Magi.”

After fleeing Nazi rule in her native Norway, Nobel Laureate (1928) Sigrid Undset rephrased O Henry’s insight into a three paragraph note:

“And when we give each other Christmas gifts in His name, let us remember that He has given us the sun and the moon and the stars, and the earth with its forests and mountains and oceans — and all that lives and move upon them.

“ He has given us all green things and everything that blossoms and bears fruit and all that we quarrel about and all that we have misused.. And to save us from our foolishness, from all our sins, He came down to earth and gave us Himself.”

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