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Expat • Freedom

Christmas in the Philippines… and out of prison

Dateline: Davao, Philippines

There are perhaps few places on earth where Christmas is more widely and lovingly celebrated than the Philippines. In the extended family culture here, everyone gets together for big meals and time together.

Earlier this week, I met up with Justin Cooke from Empire Flippers, an online business that helps location independent entrepreneurs get started with entry-level website businesses.

Justin and his partner have built a team of dozens of people here in Davao and are among the most recognizable expat entrepreneurs in the town.

And each year, they go out and spend a lot of money to buy small Christmas presents to hand out to the city’s less fortunate children. Since I was in town, they asked me to join them as they cruised around the streets of Davao tossing wrapped gifts out the window of a chartered Jeepney.

Keep in mind that the cost of employees in Davao is cheap. People who speak English may only make $150 or 200 a month. People like plumbers might only make $3 or $4 a day. Those with lesser skills could easily be at the Asian poverty line of about $2 a day.

That means that while the Philippines is growing and has a growing middle class, there are still plenty of people who don’t have much. That includes children who might not get any Christmas gift if it weren’t for Justin’s annual toy drive.

While there are plenty of charities in the western world, the regulation and liability issues create a bureaucratic culture that prevents the average person from doing good on their own. Just as western governments set themselves up to be the go-between in as many transactions as possible, the trickle down effect of their regulations is that charities have become cumbersome bureaucracies themselves.

Between Justin, myself, and his team of seven or eight people, we drove two Jeepneys around Davao for several hours and handed out close to 1,000 gifts. The police commended us on our efforts. Locals appreciated what we were doing. We even got the blessing of a local hospital to come in – unannounced – and hand out gifts.

Let’s examine just how far freedom has fallen in the “free world”, versus just how much real, everyday freedom you have in places like the Philippines.

Here in Davao, we asked the Jeepney driver to blast our Christmas music mix. People around town loved it as it signaled the arrival of Christmas gifts for the children.

In the United States, police blotters are filled with guys who got expensive tickets and fines for “disturbing the peace” with their loud music.

While we were rolling along, Justin lit up a cigarette inside the Jeepney. What’s the big deal in a chartered vehicle? In the Philippines, no one really cares. He actually waved to the local police with a cigarette in his hand.

In the United States, cigarette laws have gotten so out of hand that certain cities in California now ban smoking in your own home. The trend for smoking freedom has been in a downward spiral for years, and now bureaucrats are working to outlaw e-cigarettes… just because they can.

Our process of handing out gifts normally involved stopping along the road to give gifts to families waiting for a bus, or kids playing along the road. Then, we’d pull into a local neighborhood where dozens of kids would run after us trying to get their hands on as many gifts and pieces of candy as possible.

They even scaled the walls of the Jeepney looking to get a leg up on the other kids.

However, there were times that we’d see child who deserved a gift, but couldn’t come to a complete stop. In those cases, we’d get the child’s attention and toss a gift to them. A few of the kids could have careers in professional sports due to their great catches.

I have to imagine the police in The Land of the Free would have an objection to throwing a wrapped gift out the window of a slow moving vehicle. How matter the good intentions, they’d find some reason to fine or imprison you for doing so. Would they call it “littering”? Or “assault”? Or something else?

Of course, there would no doubt be some lawyer waiting to sue you because of some tiny defect in one of the Christmas gifts you handed out, or because one of the kids got a paper cut tearing off the wrapping paper.

In the Philippines, the idea of suing someone for anything – let alone someone who gave you a gift – would seem ludicrous. People here in Davao say it’s even less likely here than in the “big city” of Manila. When it comes to crazy stuff like that, the rest of the world is decades behind the United States.

Each year around this time, I see news stories of police in the United States telling people they can’t provide free food to the homeless or hand out toys to children. In some cities, these activities are flat out illegal. In other cases, the permit process and layers of bureaucracy are so deep that only professional charities get involved.

Everyone else just says “screw it”… and it’s people in need that get screwed.

It’s true that there is no anarchist state in the world. No matter where you move, there will be a government. Some true libertarians tell me that leaving the United States is no solution because the next government will take advantage of you just as much as the last one.

I couldn’t disagree more. There is a huge difference between government run amok and that which stays out of your way.

Government in the west has gotten so out of control that your child can’t even open a lemonade stand on the Fourth of July, or hand out sweaters to homeless people on Skid Row. That’s the good work politicians in The Land of the Free are doing – all while blaming those who are successful for not “paying their fair share” to take care of the poor.

Places like the Philippines – and much of the rest of the world – still believe in letting people do their own thing and not having to regulate every movement within their borders. It feels a lot more like a traditional Christmas here than in the police state called “America”.

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