The Philippines is making the news recently, mainly for drug warfare and terrorism, thus giving the impression that the it’s a dangerous country. We’d like to assure you that the opposite is true, and the Philippines is a great place for traveling. Although there are some conflicts, it’s a very big country and most of it is perfectly safe. That being said, no place in the world is really secure anymore, and the Philippines is not excluded.
Some areas in the country are notorious for hosting terrorist groups and criminals. Being a poor country with a strong rich-poor gap doesn’t help in reducing petty crimes. In this post we will summarize all of the information needed in order to have a safe trip in the Philippines, including some practical tips.
The face of crime in the Philippines
As mentioned before, crime is prevalent in some parts of the Philippines, mainly in the big cities with Manila being the most crime ridden destination. The majority of the crimes you may encounter are petty theft, scams, and rarely holdups. In rare cases it might be worse than that. You can’t or shouldn’t avoid Manila or Cebu just because of that.
Other destinations are known for kidnapping, but as you’ll read below this phenomena is limited to very specific areas and rarely happens. If you are well informed and take the necessary amount of precaution you won’t have much to worry about. The number one rule in order to avoid such situations is not to go to destinations with a travel warning, unless you have an extremely good reason (don’t go there for leisure traveling under any circumstances).
Crime in Manila, Cebu, and other big cities
Big cities all over the world suffer from higher crime rates than rural areas. Manila and Cebu aren’t different, but Manila is by far the most crime infested as it is the biggest and busiest. The crimes you might face in the city are usually petty. If you follow the tips below, which go hand in hand with simple common sense, you’ll be perfectly fine.
- Stay in a secure neighborhood such as Makati, Pasay and Taguig in Manila, which are all much safer than Ermita or Malate for example. When you book with us we make sure that your hotel in Manila will be in a location you’ll won’t have to worry about safety.
- What you should be most aware of is pickpocketing and theft of your belongings. Therefore never leave your things unattended. Your bags should always be near you and within eyesight, and better within touch. Never have your valuables in your back pockets, and on crowded places wear your backpack in front.
- Be careful of strangers – Another common practice for robbers in Manila and other cities is to start a conversation on the street, creating rapport and distracting the potential victim, while their criminal partners will snatch your belonging, or they will lead you somewhere and rob you. If you feel like you’re forced into a random and strange conversation on the street, get out of it. Filipinos are very friendly, but use your common sense to avoid these traps.
- Spiking drinks is a notorious practice in the Philippines, and the target is usually single foreign males. The scammers will be either an attractive woman or a friendly stranger, who will buy the victim a drink. They will give him the drink after she/he spiked it in order to lead him back to his hotel room and steal all of his belongings. Never accept drinks from strangers.
- Beware of beggars! They aren’t bad people, they are just poor, financially and socially. They beg for money as they often need to provide for themselves and their families, and it’s impossible for them to find a job. It happens a lot that if you’re not careful you’ll be swamped by beggars from all directions and before you realize your belongings are taken from you.
- It is also true with street kids, which is truly a heartbreaking sight. Be very cautious and resist the temptation to give them money as they don’t take it for themselves but give it to the person who operates them. Give them snacks or food instead or, as hard as it is, just ignore them. Never go with them or hold their hands, as sometimes their families will claim you’re a pedophile in order to extort some money from you.
- Holdups are also happening in the cities much more than in the provinces, so avoid dark alleys especially when alone or in a small group. Regarding transportation in the city, use Grab, an app similar to Uber but more successful in the Philippines. The drivers’ regulation is very strict and the price is determined by the app itself prior to the ride. In any case lock the doors while you’re in to avoid any attempt of robbery.
- Taxis are notorious for swindling money from people and especially from tourists, claiming that the meter is broken, asking for a fixed price, or ask you to add some money to the final price. Keep in mind that during rush hours you might have to agree to their terms as finding a taxi becomes difficult. Just more of a reason to use Grab.
A word about safe traveling in the province
Traveling in the province is very safe, as long as there is no travel warning (read the section about kidnapping below). The people there are simpler than in the city, and in the province usually everybody knows each other. Filipinos are among the most hospitable people in the world and you’ll notice that immediately. In any case keep in mind that the same rule of thumb regarding strangers in the city (as you can read in the section above) still applies.
If strangers try to befriend you, just keep a healthy level of skepticism. Bear in mind that even if you’re a backpacker, to most people in the province you’re rich. If something looks too good to be true, it might be just that. If strangers you only recently met offer to treat you to things, keep in mind that what seems like a negligible sum is a lot of money to them. You should be suspicious to any scams they might try to run on you. This is rarely the case, but it’s a good mindset to have when traveling in poor developing countries.
Fake travel agents or tour operators can take your money without providing the goods. It started to be more prominent lately, and became a huge concern of the Department of Tourism (DOT). Luckily, the DOT regulated this issue, and fights fake or fraudulent travel agencies and tour operators. Don’t do any business with unaccredited professionals, online or in person. you can find a list of accredited business here.
Kidnapping in the Philippines
Some destinations are considered dangerous, primarily central and southern Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago. Those are areas with less government control and presence of terrorist groups, so naturally crime permeates all levels of society. Therefore a vicious form of violent crimes became popular in these areas – kidnapping. The areas considered most dangerous up to date are the Sulu Archipelago, and the Zamboanga Peninsula.
Locals suffer from it much more than foreigners, and these areas should be avoided by anybody without a very good reason to visit them. The method is simple, criminals kidnap a person and demand a ransom for his or her release, and if the demand goes unanswered, this person is usually transferred to one of the terrorist groups in the jungles. When this is done, the ransom goes much higher, as well as the chances for the captive to never be seen alive again. There has been a number of such incidents involving foreigners in the recent years, all occurring in Mindanao.
Drugs in the Philippines
Drugs in the Philippines is a very hot topic nowadays. The Philippines was never a drug mecca for tourists, as it was never easy for tourists to buy or use drugs, but it was possible with minimum risk. We don’t advise anyone on their pastime habits as anyone is entitled to do what’s good for them as long as they don’t harm others. That being said, do not attempt to buy or use any type of illegal drugs anywhere in the country.
The current president Duterte declared war on drugs, and he’s dealing with the issue with utmost severity. You probably heard on the news about the extrajudicial killings of drug addicts and dealers, that cost the lives is estimated to be 7,000 as of the time writing this post. It’s not a laughing matter, and there will no forgiveness even towards foreigners.
By now we are already aware that unfortunately no place is safe from acts of terror, and even countries that never faced these problems before now suffer from it. The Philippines is no different, as there are Filipino terrorist organizations, both communists and Muslims affiliated with ISIS. There has been a bombing in Davao, Mindanao’s capital, on 2016, and two attacks this year on Quiapo, Manila. All there is to say is that the Philippines is not more dangerous than any other country including the U.S and Europe.
Even though terrorists can strike anytime and anywhere, these groups are located mainly in Mindanao, where they have frequent clashes with the military. It has been only recently that local terrorist groups joint by ISIS captured the city of Marawi and declared it an ISIS stronghold in the Philippines, later to be recaptured by the Philippines troops.
However, these violent clashes are rarely seen outside of Mindanao, since the Filipino government has a very strong control over all other regions. The travel warning advises not to travel to Central and Southern Mindanao, Sulu Archipelago and the Zamboanga Peninsula. It also advises to be alert when traveling to southern Palawan, though the rest of Palawan – Puerto Princesa, El Nido and Coron included, is safe for traveling.
Emergency help in the Philippines
When traveling there is always a chance of getting into accidents, or other incidents where emergency help is required. There are two numbers you must remember: 911 – National Emergency Hotline, and 143 – The Red Cross. You can call the police or an ambulance with these two numbers respectively. Here you will find an inclusive list of all the emergency numbers you will need while in the country, for emergencies that 911 and 143 don’t cover.
It is safe to say that you should consider buying a traveling insurance, in case you’ll actually need it. Since many areas in the Philippines are remote, sometimes the only way to reach the closest hospital in a reasonable time requires a helicopter. Be sure you buy the insurance with enough coverage, because it is always better to be safe than sorry. In case of emergency be sure to contact your travel agent for extra help.
So is the Philippines a safe country?
The purpose of this post is not to discourage you from traveling to the Philippines. As a travel agency who promotes traveling to this country, we are absolutely certain it’s safe. Even though we know that like any other place in the world, this country isn’t perfect and tourists to the Philippines can run into trouble from time to time.
Therefore we feel it’s our responsibility to give anyone who’d like to come here the most detailed information that will keep him/her out of trouble. On that note, if you booked with us we are available online and on the phone in case of emergency, to guide and support you in times of need. For any suggestions and additional requests,just leave a comment below.