Today across the country they will be hunted down in droves. For most of them there will be no escape: they will be run to the ground and made to pay. Children in western countries celebrate Easter with egg hunts. During Christmas in Manila children hunt ninongs, a more rewarding pursuit. A ninong is a godfather - the female equivalent is ninang - and every Filipino has at least one of each. Every Christmas Day each child makes the rounds of godparents and gets presents. Almost always, the largesse is monetary. I have childhood memories of falling in line with my cousins while various godparents handed out crisp bills. Children would compare how much their Christmas take was and, if you had lots of wealthy godparents, aunts, uncles and grandparents, your haul could be considerable. Filipinos acquire godparents on three occasions: baptism, confirmation and marriage. Best friends and relatives are usually asked to be ninong or ninang, but the lineup often includes rich and influential people. Having a millionaire as a ninong to your wedding is a sure ticket to getting an all-expenses paid honeymoon abroad. Social and political heavyweights have scores of godchildren and can afford extravagant Christmas handouts. It is a safe bet that, with elections next year, many candidates will be asked, and agree, to stand as godparents for children across the Philippines. For those who are not affluent and have consented to become godparent to too many kids, Christmas obligations can mount. This has led to the cartoon stereotype of the vanishing ninong: when his godchildren visit, he is conveniently absent. Or he could be calling on his own ninong. What matters about having godparents is that they're obligated to render a service to their wards when asked. As every Filipino has a ninong - including the ninongs themselves - there is a dense network of social obligations. It is also a society where everyone is only several degrees removed from anyone else. The network of obligations is mostly a form of social security that is probably more reliable than the national welfare service. But the ninong system also accounts for some social ills. The custom's values are the seedbed for personality politics and patronage. Voters tend to expect the politicians they choose to behave like godfathers, dispensing largesse and favours. Former president Joseph Estrada appears not just a godfather in the cheery Christmas sense, but in an alleged illicit one because he is being detained on corruption charges. Having a powerful politician or general as a godfather gives a person some clout. Unfortunately, some journalists ask government officials who they report on to be their wedding sponsors. About a decade ago, a reporter asked the president to be a sponsor, approached the cabinet secretaries for contributions and wanted to use the presidential aircraft for his honeymoon to Europe. He must have thought it was Christmas.