updated 12/7/2010 10:50:44 AM ET 2010-12-07T15:50:44

Visitors to the Philippines may get smiles from airport immigration officials, but they shouldn't expect to hear "Merry Christmas."

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Immigration Bureau chief Ronaldo Ledesma says officers at passport counters are banned from offering Christmas greetings because they may be misconstrued as soliciting gifts or cash.

It is a tradition in the Philippines for children to offer Christmas wishes to solicit gifts from godparents and relatives. The practice has been hijacked by corrupt officials who sometimes use it as code for extortion requests.

Ledesma said Tuesday that a Christmas greeting, even if sincere, may sound like asking for a tip. Instead, he said officials should give a warm smile, and efficient service.

Ledesma's bureau has been criticized as a beehive of corruption, and he has promised to clean it up.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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