Saturday, May 30, 2009

Safety in the Philippines

Safety in the Philippines is a topic that often comes up on forums and web sites regarding Philippine life. It is a difficult topic to talk about completely objectively as every person has to decide for him or herself what constitutes reasonable safety. Quite honestly unless you have actually been victimized by crime, safety is a state of mind, a feeling.

A problem can arise when your state of mind is way out of sync with what we might say is "reality". I put that in quotes because Your reality will vary depending on your place of stay, your wealth, and your attitude and lifestyle. If this sounds as if it could be anywhere in the Western world, you are are right. These general conditions tend to influence whether crime is perpetrated on you or not regardless of where you live.

What is different about the Philippines? If you are an average Filipino, nothing. If you are a wealthy Filipino or Chinese Filipino (Chinoy) maybe you are in some jeopardy from criminal elements. If you are a Foreigner from the West unfamiliar with Asian, let alone Philippine society, you have risks associated with your obvious looks and more importantly the assumption that all foreigners are wealthy, plus perhaps your unfamiliarity with the culture.

OK, to the point. the majority of Philippine people especially in the provinces are friendly, generous, and truly good people. Now maybe some urban Filipinos will think I discriminate, please that is not my intention. Cities merely offer a wider cross section of society in larger concentrations than the rural areas. Tourist areas sometimes will have a larger percentage of locals trying to exploit the tourists for extra money, higher prices on goods, and services rendered. This is also not uncommon in other parts of the world.

Crimes against foreigners fall into a few categories.

Poor people do not commit crimes here because they are poor, the vast majority of Filipinos are poor, only a minority are criminals or are likely to steal from you based on their poverty. Most crime here is local on local, family feuds, drunkenness, political murders, petty theft included.

Most robberies and or violent crimes on foreigners are committed by girlfriends, their boyfriends, or maids or other employees. Maybe you gravely offended a neighbor and acted like an arrogant bastard, but more likely they will get back at you not by stealing from you but irritating you by starting a smokey fire when the wind is blowing in your direction. In other words crimes are most often committed by some one you know. Drug related crimes are ever present. This kind of crime is usually random, and targets both locals and foreigners. This is relatively easy to guard against. If you are wealthy and look it with a big house, maids, car etc. you need to be in a gated compound or estate. Locked gates, bars on windows, security, and prudence go a long way to keep you safe. Good advice for anyone is to avoid high risk areas, travel in daylight hours, and keep a watchful eye for unusual behavior near you.

Techniques criminals use include cell phoning from inside a bank to an operative outside when making a large withdrawal. Use a secure bank for your local money in a safe location, and many now prohibit cell phone use inside.

If you are the type of person that stays out late, and looks for fun or female companionship, be aware some girls work in partnership with a Gay pimp. They will offer drugs to you perhaps, well, good luck... One fellow I knew is dead because he was stupid that way.

Drive by robberies do occur in Dumaguete. usually targeting locals but on a few occasions foreigners have been targeted, again because of a connection via a girlfriend or employee. The hooded perpetrators drive motorbikes and will pull a gun on you as you drive. I have one friend who has a hole in his gas tank to prove it. He was traveling listen carefully... late at night, alone back to Valencia from Dumaguete. In his case they were just looking for foreigners going home late at night.

What about all those terrorist groups you here about on the various CIA, U.S. Embassy web sites? Well unless you are in specific areas in Mindanao, or maybe a few other hot spots of Abu Sayef activity you have little to fear from Muslim terrorist groups. If they kidnap people it is more likely to be a rich Chinoy whom they know will pay a ransom and not call the authorities. The few times they have kidnapped Western foreign nationals, of course it hits the world press.

The New Peoples Army or NPA, seldom if ever target foreigners. They simply in my opinion want no centralized government telling them what to do, and spend most of their time sparing with local government troops, again rarely ever will a foreigner witness any of this. Dumaguete is surrounded by active NPA. Seldom will any foreigner be aware of this, nor should it be a concern. Let's just say the NPA has a stake in keeping Dumaguete safe for Foreigners. I have met no doubt many so called NPA, I don't ask them, they don't say. Some are the local Barangay chiefs.

One thing you should be aware of, political alliances are constantly changing and constitute relationships between dissident groups, police, local government, and criminal elements. Sometimes its difficult to know who you are talking to, even when you think you know. The best advice I can give to anyone making their home in the Philippines is be friendly to everyone but choose friends carefully, don't discuss politics with locals unless yo know them well, and make good friends with your immediate neighbors, especially if you live in a non secure area (Good advice in any area really). Living in the Philippines is about building alliances, either family or community or both.

I have never lived in a gated community, I have been fortunate, made good local friends, and even though I was victimized in a random hold up once in my four year stay, still choose to live in local Filipino neighborhoods. But I carry a cheap cell phone, never carry large amounts of cash, and keep a low profile.

Living in the Philippines is a great opportunity to mesh with another culture if you so choose. You will bring away from your experience pretty much what you bring to it. Knowing a few guidelines, Living and getting along in the Philippines is not so different here as anywhere else.

A note about police. Here the police are not here to protect you or solve crimes. Once you are aware of that then you can choose for yourself how you want to deal with them. Having a friend as a police officer can be advantageous, but be careful not to get in a position where you owe him something. If you have family involved in local politics or the police better yet.

I have some good friends who don't agree, they revel in having many high ranking local politicians and military brass in their circle. I believe this can be risky, especially if you expect them to act like you in all situations. Do so knowing what you are dealing with, a different culture.

1 comment:

Patrick Canonigo said...

Great to know someone cares! Keep up that great attitude! May the Lord Bless and Protect you!