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Personal safety in the Philippines

Discussion in 'Migrating to the Philippines' started by Sunnyjim, Jan 14, 2014.

  1. Sunnyjim

    Sunnyjim Member

    Hi everyone. I don't want to open a can of worms here but I want to ask some questions about personal safety in the Philippines.

    I am considering spending 6 months or perhaps more in Cebu or Bohol. Somebody told me that kidnapping is rife in the Philippines. My research suggests that it is mainly poor, young philippino girls who are drawn into nefarious activities on the promise of a job. Of course, that is exactly the same here in the uk.

    I know that Mindanao is a no go area. But should I be worried about Cebu etc?

    I must say I travelled to Cebu recently for a holiday and never felt in danger.

    What is your perspective?
  2. Anon04576

    Anon04576 Well-Known Member

    Hi SunnyJim,
    a legitimate question so no can of worms required :) Kidnapping is not rife however it does happen and as you say it's the southern part of the Philippines where this activity usually takes place. Like you, I have vacationed in Cebu and never felt in danger. I felt comfortable enough to walk around late at night in the city and carbon market area. However that doesn't mean one shouldn't be aware and take precautions to protects ones self just as you would anywhere in the world.
  3. JohnAsh

    JohnAsh No longer a member

    My wife offers a slightly different perspective. She has always said that one needs to exercise caution. She has lived for a considerable number of years in Cavite and spent time in Manila. She is a 26 yo Filipina so she has had boots on the ground.

    I have travelled all over the world and been in some particularly dodgy places. When I visited the Philippines I took it in my stride and feared nothing. It was my wife that said be careful when you go to the cash machine and be aware of people around you. Now of course the same can be true in the UK, but this was right outside the Mall of Asia.

    Same in the streets of Manila. And on Jeepneys. She never travelled with her decent mobile phone - she left it at home as she tells me that robberies are common on Jeepneys.

    Only last year her sister had her gold cross and chain wrenched from her kneck while she was carrying her 3 yo son. She was on her way back from a day trip to Manila from Cavite.

    Her sister of course is a 30 yo Filipina.

    Does this begin to build a picture....I could go on and on but this should suffice.
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2014
  4. Markham

    Markham . Lifetime Member

    Firstly, let me correct this misconception:

    That's a bit like saying one should avoid eating eggs because of the risk of Salmonella poisoning! There are parts of Mindanao that it would be most unwise to visit, principally around Cotobato, Sultan Kudurat, the Zamboanga peninsular and the islands of Basilan, Sulu etc. But many expats live outside that area including in Cagayan De Oro, Surigao, Bukidnon and down here in Davao City.

    The Metro Cebu area is fairly safe for foreigners and there is a sizeable expat community living there. That said, here are some tips for you:
    1. Trust your Filipino companion's instinct. If she tells you it is not safe to be in a particular place, leave immediately.
    2. Be aware of your surroundings at all times.
    3. Avoid areas such as Colon after dark.
    4. Carry a "disposable" wallet containing a few Pesos which you can surrender to a mugger and keep your debit/credit cards, ID and the bulk of your money well-hidden such as in a concealed money belt or in a velcro-secured pocket in the front of your pants.
    5. Do not give the appearance of being a typical American or Japanese tourist wandering around with an expensive camera slung around your neck.
    6. Watch out for pickpockets and bag thieves on public transport (jeepneys especially) who often employ distraction tactics and may work in gangs of two or three.
    7. Make photocopies of the personal details' and immigration arrival stamp pages of your Passport and carry with you at all times; your Passport can then be secured in your accommodation. After you have been here for 59 days, you will be issued with a Tourist ACR identity card which serves as "government id".
  5. Methersgate

    Methersgate Well-Known Member Lifetime Member

    Very good advice from Markham.

    As regards Mindanao, I have visited Zamboanga del Sur, where my inlaws live, which is on the margin of being a "no go area", but expatriates do live there, albeit in smaller numbers. The "outlaws" have been extremely protective of me when I have done so. I decided against visiting with my young son reasoning that he would be too much of a tempting target.

    Generally, it makes sense to be extra careful around ATMs, banks and pawnbroker's shops (why pawnbrokers? Because they are actually an informal banking system, operating cash transfers, and handle a lot of money in that capacity as well as pawnbroking - that is why there are so many pawnbrokers - and people may walk out of them carrying a lot of cash).
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2014
  6. Markham

    Markham . Lifetime Member

    Mae reminded me of one further precaution: when riding a taxi, especially at night, lock the rear and front passenger doors.
  7. JohnAsh

    JohnAsh No longer a member

    That's the kind of thing my wife has said to me.
  8. blue_acid

    blue_acid Member Trusted Member

    I have lived in the Philippines my whole life and travelled a lot since I was a child and I have exerted the same precaution where ever I am but more so if I know/feel that I am in a dodgy place. One has to be smart and not be a typical wide eyed tourist so you won't attract unwanted attention.

    Whoever said that kidnapping is rife in 2014 must not have lived in the Philippines during the 90's. I'm not saying it is non-existent, there are still kidnappings but not as rampant and alarming as before.

    Mindanao is safe or unsafe depending on how you see it. There are places like Palawan or Davao that is located in Mindanao that is fairly safe. I have been to Metro Cebu and in Bohol and they are relatively safe. There will always be petty crime but it does happen elsewhere. I'd say that Bohol is a lot safer compared to Cebu. Im Bohol, you can leave your car unlocked and no one will drive away with it.

    Especially in the provinces, I look foreign and have not really encountered problems even with my jewellery, designer purses, camera or phone. Just don't leave it and expect it to be still there after. Or don't flash it around like you want the whole world to see your brand spanking new DSLR or iPhone or diamonds.

    When travelling, if you can hire a driver and private car, that would be good but if not, you can get a cab and always text the number plate to someone. Always insist on the meter and don't let them charge you a fix rate, it's prolly triple the price that you're supposed to pay. In a bus, jeepney or tricycle, keep your belongings close and don't talk to strangers. Don't go to unfamiliar alleyways or isolated areas alone or even dodgy neighborhoods where squatters are. You'll prolly leave without your wallet and your debit card empty.

    Have clear copies of your passport, entry stamps, ID's and other pertinent documents. Also have in handy emergency telephone numbers of local agencies as well as your embassy.

    Don't go with strangers or accept things from strangers. It would be good to learn a few local phrases.
  9. JohnAsh

    JohnAsh No longer a member

    I do pay heed to UK and American government advisories. The reason is simply this. I have spent time in several countries where strong advisories apply and have seen the reasons for the advisories. I havent been to Mindanao but I have been in similar areas were the advice from our government and the American government has been ....dont go there.
  10. Sunnyjim

    Sunnyjim Member

    Can you tell me more about the kidnappings? Were Westerners targeted? Where did it happen - Mindanao?
  11. JohnAsh

    JohnAsh No longer a member

    I agree with a lot of what you have said here. A lot of good practical advice. A point worth making though is that if you are on vacation you really want to switch off and enjoy and not be permanently on your guard, even though one ought to be vigilant.
  12. Methersgate

    Methersgate Well-Known Member Lifetime Member

    That's very good advice. I'd just add that whilst "of course" you won't think of going down an unfamiliar alleyway or into a squatter neighbourhood on your own, you must beware of being enticed into such places by someone whom yuo don't know well, but whom you have, for some reason, chosen to trust...

    blue_acid's mention of the 90's reminds me that there was a "cottage industry" in those days which consisted of slipping tourists "Mickey Finns" and leaving them to wake up minus passport and wallet and perhaps their clothes in an unfamiliar alley. I don't know how much of this goes on now.

    If you choose to enter a "KTV-disco" bar, don't ever do so on your own, partly for the reason in the paragraph above, and if possible go with Filipino friends. (It helps if at least one of your friends looks like a bouncer...) Similarly, and this is old seaman's advice now, don't EVER get the cab that's waiting outside the door when you leave. Walk a couple of hundred yards and hail one, or get a jeepney.
  13. Methersgate

    Methersgate Well-Known Member Lifetime Member

    Pretty much all over in those days - besides the Abu Sayyaf in Mindanao the New People's Army were active in several provinces of Luzon and were more aggressively anti-foreigner then than they are now. Plus of course regular criminal kidnappings for ransom.
  14. Sunnyjim

    Sunnyjim Member

    Are these still happening, or is it mainly in the past as well?
  15. Methersgate

    Methersgate Well-Known Member Lifetime Member

    To judge by the Press, which is my only way of knowing, criminal kidnappings do take place, but they seldom involve foreigners. There was a nasty case recently in which a young film and television starlet was kidnapped off the street in downtown Makati taken to a house and repeatedly raped, "to teach her a lesson" because she had apparently suggested that a rival starlet had had two children. Unfortunately for her she recognised one of her attackers, and they concluded that they had to kill her, and did so.

    Here's a recent case with a better outcome:


    This case involved a foreigner:


    This one is an example of the more usual Islamist type kidnapping:


    You can get kidnapped by the police:

  16. Methersgate

    Methersgate Well-Known Member Lifetime Member

    And just to cheer you up..


    This isn't quite accurate; I know the uncle of the unfortunate young man; he was a mate on an OSV working out of Singapore and had got to know the young lady, not over the Internet, but at the bar where she worked as a GRO or dancer in Singapore. When they both went on leave she invited him to visit her; the boyfriend was indeed posing as her brother.
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2014
  17. oss

    oss Not Here Staff Member

    After I get home I will rehash our personal attempted KFR story, I've mentioned it a couple of times on here before.
  18. JohnAsh

    JohnAsh No longer a member

    Indonesian drugged, robbed

    "An Indonesian tourist was drugged and robbed by suspected members of the notorious “Ativan Gang” who befriended him in Quiapo, Manila, last Saturday.
    The tourist, Oscar Susanto, 33, of Jakarta, Indonesia, billeted at Kabayan Hotel on Epifanio Delos Santos Avenue, appeared at the Pasay City Police Station and reported that he lost his Samsung Galaxy tablet and P20,000 cash to the gang.

    The victim told police that a group of men befriended him while he was walking in Quiapo area at about 7 p.m. on Saturday.
    He said he was convinced by the suspects to board their vehicle where he was given a bottle of beer.
    After drinking beer, Susanto said he felt dizzy and fell asleep. When he woke up, he was alone and found his tablet and money missing.
    Since the incident happened in Quiapo, the Pasay City Police referred the case to the Manila Police District. (Mitch Arceo)"


    I seem to recall a simlar circumstance a year or so ago involving a Brit.
  19. Methersgate

    Methersgate Well-Known Member Lifetime Member

    |Thanks, John; it looks like the Mickey Finn routine is still going strong!
  20. oss

    oss Not Here Staff Member


    I mention in that post about an incident in 2007 when I was in Laguna with my family, basically we were threatened with kidnap and were told to take it seriously by the local police, we ended up getting an armed escort back to Manila, just over an hours drive.

    Most of the time I feel safe in the Phils but if you make one innocent wrong move you could be in danger, that is true in any big city that you are not familiar with and even in the UK I would be concerned wandering around the countryside in an area I did not know well, same is true in the Phils however the basic problem is that we all look rich and while most crimes are usually opportunistic a quick grab of a purse wallet or bag and then run away, some crimes inevitably won't be simple and some will be violent.

    I know from friends who were seconded to Batangas in the late 90's that the security situation for westerners was taken much more seriously then, all of the guys I knew lived in a gated walled compound with armed guards watching out for them 24 hours a day.

    All of the advice given so far is eminently sensible, fake wallet with fake cards and some small cash is also a great idea that I tend to use a lot, although these days it tends to be hide the majority of the cash elsewhere on my person and also split your cash over many pockets if you are carrying a lot until you get home.

    So far I have always been lucky.

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