Sunday, December 21, 2008


I was pleasantly surprised by the comments elicited by the Facebook status I entered yesterday. The comments compelled me to relate the reason behind what I noted in my FB status which said “Ruffy is sad…people are less appreciative nowadays.”

Perhaps what caught people’s attentions is that in the midst of what is supposed to be a season of holiday cheer, someone is in a state of sadness. When I did that entry, I was indeed in that state, although the quick responses of my FB friends also quickly redeemed me from such emotional sandtrap. Spending some time with my family, who always indulge me with their sincere appreciation of who I am and the things I do, was also uplifting and blew away whatever sadness I had in my heart.

What prompted me to make that FB entry was the reaction of some people who received Christmas giveaways from me. Particularly, some of my political leaders whom I traditionally give gifts every Christmas since I assumed office in 2001.

Ever since I became a politician, the gifts I give during Christmas are divided into two—personal and political. Personal of course includes family and friends that I have had even before I became a public official. Political include those who are colleagues, associates, personalities, and individuals who I met, work and relate with in line with my political career. Of course, it goes without saying that many of those in the political ledger have transitioned to the personal.

With so many people to give gifts to, it is no wonder that often, I am able to get gifts for my family only in the last minute, after I have ensured that all other people in my life—friends and political relations—already have something to receive from me for Christmas.

(Another Facebook status of mine about that situation was picked up by a TV talk show, Strictly Politics and used as a topic—“Politician’s Christmas”. Thanks, Ellen and Pia!)

In my political Christmas gift-giving, I always give priority to my political leaders, more than 600 of them, because I value the help they give me in the work I do. While one of their major functions is to help me get the votes every election, they are also the conduits of the social services that I extend to my constituents. They serve as my extensions in the communities, enabling me to deliver services to and get feedback from the grassroots.

Actually, it can be said that they are an unofficial part of the delivery system of government service, on a voluntary basis. In a gesture of appreciation for the help they give all throughout the year, I include them in my priority gift list, meaning they can never be scratched off, in case circumstances compel me to shorten my list.

And so it is that year in and year out, these political leaders of mine receive Christmas gifts from me. However, due to the financial crunch that everyone is feeling nowadays, this year’s Christmas gifts to my leaders was a little bit of a downgrade compared to last year’s. I felt that it was a better option than to cut them off entirely.

As the gifts were distributed, my staff reported the feedback from some of my leaders. Others directly sent their feedback to me and my wife through text messages. Without going into the painful details, instead of sending us a word of thanks, they sent us criticisms of the gifts we gave. My first reaction was to be ashamed of myself, carried away by their comments. Shame turned to sadness, especially when I remembered that I have not even bought gifts for my own kids. Sadness because after giving priority to them and making special preparations to ensure they receive something this Christmas even ahead of my own family, it seems they focused more on what they wanted to have rather than the spirit of Christmas, which is exchanging goodwill towards fellowmen.

In my Christmas messages in all the speaking engagements I had this season, I always put emphasis on the message of faith, hope and love as the center of the celebration of Christmas. But it seems that in the turbulence of the times and perhaps the experience of disappointment, strife and difficulties, people have turned from the message of “Goodwill Towards All” to the mindset of “What’s In It For Me?”.

There are many sayings, proverbs and quotes that are often repeated during Christmas. One very popular saying is that “it is better to give than to receive”. It is actually a paraphrase of a Bible verse, found in the Book of Acts (Acts 20:35). It is already a Christmas cliché, but I wonder…during these times, do people actually believe and live according to this?

But I think one verse that is rarely mentioned in relation to this season is 1 Thessalonians 5:18 which says, “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus”. In encouraging people that it is better to give, shouldn’t they also be enlightened to give thanks?

And in giving thanks, it should be in everything, big or small. To those whose faith in God are beyond doubt, they are in thanksgiving even in the face of difficulties and challenges. What more if you receive something given in goodwill?

In my contemplation of these matters, I realized that as a nation, thanksgiving seems to be overshadowed by the mindset that we deserve the things we receive and others are obligated to give, therefore, thanksgiving is an option. It struck me as a matter of admiration and even envy that in the United States, they actually have a holiday for Thanksgiving. Perhaps that’s why if you listen to Americans, they easily convey thanksgiving and in many different ways---- “Thank you”, “I appreciate it”, “much obliged”.

Some may say that in giving, we should not expect anything in return, even gratitude. Some may even say that in my particular case, I shouldn’t wait for thanks because after all, I’m a public official and it’s my obligation to my constituents to give. Perhaps that is correct and I’m just expecting too much. Actually, I wasn’t expecting a verbalized expression of appreciation. But what I wasn’t expecting was a word of criticism on something that was given from the heart, as a token of my appreciation for the recipient.

Well, Christmas goes on. My wife and children are waiting for their gifts but their appreciation of me is there even if I come home empty-handed. After all, for us, it is being together as a family that matters. And for that, I endlessly thank and praise God for giving them to me.

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