Crime against foreigners in the Philippines

My wife and I feel  safe living in the Philippines.  Now we live in a house we built in a rural area, on a dead end road with no close neighbors. When we first moved to Iloilo City we lived in an unusually secure private compound in Iloilo City.  We didn’t even have to consider security.  We could leave our doors open if we want to.  We have ridden jeepneys everywhere.  I have literally walked more than a thousand of miles on the streets of Iloilo City and lonely rural paths in the country.  I have never had the slightest problem.  No one has robbed me or threatened me or tried to pick my pocket or done anything but treat me with respect and kindness.  The worst crime we have been a victim of is being overcharged for shrimp in the public market.  Many expats have similar experiences.

sawn_security_bars_

A break-in at a foreigner’s residence (a reader of myphilippinelife.com)

Nonetheless, when I read posts by expats saying that there’s no more crime in the Philippines than there is in the USA, I’m concerned.  Americans from LA or Baltimore or Miami might not see much difference. (See this article in the New York Times about the psychology of “lock” and “no lock” advocates.) For small-town Americans, the Philippines can be quite different.   Enthusiasm for their new life in the Philippines, thinking that the situation Philippines is the same as life in the US can prevent foreigners from taking common sense precautions to provide for their own safety in the Philippine context.

I’ve been following news of murders of foreigners in the Philippines for several years. There are quite a few, considering how few foreigners there are in the Philippines.  Here are a few observations which might be of help to anticipate problems.

  • Most violence against foreigners is not perpetrated out of desperation by the poor Filipino whose family needs food or medicine.  Perhaps we are projecting on to Filipinos our own perceptions of what we would do in such circumstances.  Most provincial Filipinos would never commit such acts.  They accept what comes their way as part of God’s plan.
  • I believe that murders are generally not by the desperate acting out of real need, but rather by those as a way to “get rich quick”, often by maids, casual workers and boyfriends who have some knowledge, association and access to the foreigner victims.  The operative influences are greed, sex, booze and shabu (methamphetamine) — not helping a sick or hungry family member.
  • Almost all the murders of foreigners I have read of have occurred in the foreigner’s hotel or apartment or home, not in bars, not on the streets, not by the Muslim extremists.  Most of these murders been been committed by people the victim knew or people associated with these people, not by a strangers breaking into their house.
  • By far, the most common perpetrators are:
  1. the boyfriend of the foreigner’s wife or young girlfriend,
  2. the maid’s boyfriend,
  3. some relative of the girlfriend, wife or the maid.
  4. Ex-employees are another possibility.

These murderers usually don’t break in. They are let in, either knowingly by the foreigner or by one of the other parties mentioned, or they take advantage of security vulnerabilities they have observed or learned of.  The foreigner is killed because he resists or because the robber is known to him and he does not want to be caught.  Sometimes the accomplice maid or girlfriend is “tied-up” and reports the crime to neighbors or police when she gets free.  I have read of many of foreigners murdered in this way.

  • If you are a Caucasian foreigner and stay out of dangerous areas in Mindanao, you probably don’t need to worry about being kidnapped.  Except for Mindanao, kidnappers generally target rich Chinese-Filipinos (Chinoys).  Generally, they pay ransom without going to the police.  The police have been reported to be involved in such kidnappings.  Some foreign businessmen and aid workers have been kidnapped, usually Japanese.  Remember, the vast majority of retirees are pensioners who live on modest retirement pensions — not good kidnap ransom targets.  Kidnapping a rich Chinoy businessman really boils down to negotiations over the size of the ransom.  Kidnapping a foreigner invites complications.
  • If you do have a lot of money, keep it in a foreign bank.  Information about your bank balances in your Philippine bank are not necessarily secure. Don’t brag about or discuss your finances with any one, including other foreigners.  Make sure everyone is aware that you are living off of a pension, that when you die the money stops.  Don’t have a safe in the house.  Everyone will assume it is full of money, even if it’s not. Don’t withdraw large amounts of cash from your bank account.  There have been cases where bank employees sent text messages about large withdrawals to accomplices outside the bank.  The foreigner was robbed at gunpoint.  Pay for major purchases (vehicle, house) with a manager’s check from your Philippine bank.

Ordinary break-ins are also a problem.   We have friends whose house was broken into the very first night they stayed there.  Luckily they slept through the experience. Break-ins are very common in their open subdivision in Iloilo.  See http://myphilippinelife.com/our-philippine-house-project-security/ for how we built security into our new Philippine house.

Here,  just about everyone goes into some level of lock-down at night.  If you’re prosperous you’ll have a concrete wall and iron grates on your windows  If you’re poor you’ll have a bamboo fence and gate, bamboo grates on your windows.  All have a four-legged alarm system — if poor, a mutt, if richer a Doberman.  If you leave something out at night, it might well be gone in the morning.  Well-to-do Filipinos move to gated subdivisions.

The wall of Lo Wai, a wall village in Lung Yeuk Tau, Fanling, Hong Kong

The wall of Lo Wai, a walled village in Lung Yeuk Tau, Fanling, Hong Kong

Some foreigners feel it’s distasteful and/or unnecessary to live in a walled compound.  In our view that’s naïve. Every Filipino who can afford it lives behind walls and gates.  Do they do this because they are paranoid about crime?  We assume it’s because they are know what it takes to be safe in their own country.  Walled cities, walled compounds, are everywhere in developing countries and historically a response to insecurity. Think of the lovely walled cities of Europe; Italy, Portugal, Spain and China. They were not built to make better scenery for tourists!

Don’t expect your neighbors, security guards or police to come to your aid if you get into problems at night.  It’s dangerous for them to get involved, just as it may be dangerous for you to intervene to help someone in the middle of the night.  A well-liked, long-time American resident of Iloilo City was recently stabbed to death in his apartment.  Neighbors suspected something was wrong.  After all, the American was a big guy, a martial arts enthusiast, being murdered by four young men.  The neighbors were very close, in a close-packed neighborhood.  It’s hard to imagine there was not a lot of noise.  The neighbors peeked in the windows in the morning and the guy was dead.  Any neighbor coming to his aid might well have been killed too.  Some news accounts tried to portray this murder as the possible work of a New People’s Army “sparrow” assassination unit.  This is far-fetched. The NPA does not generally stab and rob ordinary American retirees in their home at night in the city.

A stable, monogamous married life is prudent.  A taste for young boys has gotten many foreigners into trouble.  Chasing young women can also expose you to all sorts of dangers; from her jealous or conniving boyfriend or from her family.

If you live in a city, living in a gated, guarded subdivision probably is safer.  It’s not perfect, but low-life characters may find it a bit harder, bit more intimidating, more frightening to get in at night, and a bit harder to flee.  This only applies to subdivisions with real security including roving patrols at night.  It’s no accident that Filipinos move to such subdivisions if they can afford it.  Many subdivisions put up a show of security with a fancy guardhouse, but often anyone is allowed in.

Secure subdivisions don’t exist outside the bigger cities and may be less necessary, but don’t fool yourself.  Many foreigners have been killed in their bucolic rural homes. Foreigners like my wife and I can happily report that they have lived in such and such a place for two or three or five years and have never had a problem.   We don’t feel such anecdotal tidbits really prove anything.

Observe how affluent Filipinos provide for their security.  As mentioned earlier. foreigners sometimes belittle walls, and gated subdivisions and other security precautions that seem over-done or distasteful from an American or European perspective, as though they know better than Filipinos what the dangers are and how to provide security.

Here a few specific security suggestions:

  • Keep gates locked at all times and doors at night.  Night means after dark.
  • Don’t leave your home unattended for any extended period of time and certainly not overnight.  If you are away, have a family member or trusted maid stay in the home.
  • Maintain good control over who comes into your compound or house, especially at night.  Unless you really trust your maid, make sure she can’t let people in.  Once again, if you are murdered, it’s probably because you or someone else let the killer in.  Recently a foreign retiree was watching TV with his wife.  The dog started to bark.  The man opened the door to see what the problem was.  He was immediately stabbed in the stomach by an intruder waiting there.  He died on the way to a hospital.
  • Have one or more noisy dogs. Have the police emergency number programmed into your cellphone and keep your cellphone in your bedroom.  Consider a secure bedroom door and don’t challenge any burglar.  If someone breaks in, stay in your bedroom and let them steal what they like.  Have a very loud panic alarm and lights when can be switched on from your locked bedroom.

In the comments below, Jerry says,  “It is definitely unwise to join a ‘inuman’ or ‘drinking’ party by yourself. Especially if you don’t know the people really well.”  We concur with this advice 110%.  When you are with inebriated men and women and you are also inebriated, a wrong move or comment can easily escalate into something violent.  A comment or flirtation which would be acceptable in your home may provoke anger in another culture.

We love living in the Philippines.  Many expats may feel these comments to be excessively alarmist.  Most Filipinos would not.  (See Josh’s comments below.)  These comments are intended to help you stay safe, not to frighten. These precautions will become second nature to you.

See more discussion of safety for foreigners in the Philippines at http://liveinthephilippines.com/content/why-do-a-lot-of-foreigners-think-the-philippines-is-dangerous/

Also see the excellent  security recommendations of the U.S. Embassy.

Comments (104)

  1. I come to the Philippines for more than 30 years. My wife is from there. We have a house in the province and a car in the garage. Our plan is to retire there and spend 6 month in the Philippines and travel 6 month. I work as expat overseas, mainly Africa. In “dangerous” places such as Nigeria and congo. I have never ever experienced any problem anywhere. The opposite is the case. My german co workers had , over the last 20 years, their houses and flats emptied in Germany while they were on assignment in Africa. One got stabbed in berlin, another one pick pocketed in London. No one has broke in to our house yet, we have not been stabbed, pick pocketed , nor have we been hold up or subjected to any corrupt business. I have friend living in the Philippines since 20 years and they are alright. I know expats working there for decades without a problem. So, we must be lucky then.

    • Are you an American Eberhard?
      Either way,yes,i would say that you have been very lucky
      Hopefully your luck holds

  2. All the above statements that say that you are on your on here..That is very correct. Do not expect any kind of help from so called local law enforcement. You are all perceived as a typical Yo Joe..And yes i am a veteran of the U.S. Army special Op’s DIvision. in no way should you perceive this country as the charming post card layout you will see. From corrupt medical facilities to law personal the list goes on and on.All the whorehouses and internet prostitute workers.All are illegal but things are simply handled by turning the other cheek or holding out your hand if your an elected official and letting a little bribe get you by.90% of all Europe is far safer and much more healthier cleaner and far less corrupt.If you like this sort of lifestyle,by all means go give it a try in The Philippines..Good Luck

  3. I’m from Camden, New Jersey. Been to the Philippines many times, no, it is not dangerous, Mindanao is not full of Islamic terrorists who kidnap foreigners for money, you’re not more likely to get robbed and killed for being a foreigner. But yes, you will be overcharged!

  4. We were robbed, or more like my wife was pick pocketed from her purse, on a jeepney in Olongapo City. They used the dropped coins scam, and got my wife to move over out of the way, away from me and the guy next to her got in her purse, which was securely on her shoulder, and managed to obtain her wallet. They were good, I will give them that much. They got her ATM and ended up getting a large amount of money..we also had a solar light stolen right off our front area at night. It was actually there for a few weeks, then one day, it was gone. We live in Balanga City, Bataan. For the most part, it is a nice area, and we walk around both day and night with no problems. We go to the Bayan, and when we drive around the city, we are shown the same mutual respect, in regards to someone giving me way, to turn or something. I always give way to others and especially pedestrians, which they really seemed surprised at, but I think many remember seeing me driving around, and know, I don’t act like a stuck up, wanna be king of the road or anything. There are a few foreigners, most are older guys walking with very young girls, and based on their actions, meeting for the first time type of thing, but there is only like 2 or 3 of us that drive around here, and are seen in public on a regular basis. A friend of my wife came to see us from Olongapo. When she got on the tricycle at the bus station,she told the driver our barangay, and told him my wife’s name, and said she was married to Kano..because she wasn’t exactly sure of our address. The driver said, oh, you going to the Kano’s house? He brought her straight here. Mind you, we don’t know any drivers personally, or anything, so looking back at it, we laughed at first, but, it is a little unnerving, people who don’t even live in our neighborhood, happen to know where the Kano lives. In all, I feel safe, except in Manilla, but we have decided not to stay here long term, as planned. I know financially it is better, and all that, but, I do miss the US, and will stick to the vacationing place here in PI. At first in the market, we were always double charged, but after they see us here for a couple months, they stop all that, and w get the same price as the locals. In regards to the crime, mostly petty crime, it is, in my opinion, opportunistic crime. Everyone has bars, and locks and everything, because the opportunity is there, theft will occur, for example. It’s like the old saying….those locks and bars on the windows, keeps the honest man honest. A true thief/criminal will get what they want, even with the precautions in place. One advantage I have, is I live right next to the former Barangay Captain. He is obviously well known, and everyone knows where he lives. All my neighbors are consequently related to one another as well. My wife’s brother is married into that big family, which makes us part of the family as well, so we have a good neighborhood, all of whom look out for each other. I can say, maybe in public, I would be, but around my house, I don’t think I would be standing alone if something was happening. I hope I never have to find out. Living here would not be bad, I just have some other doubts on things. Such as doctors. I have no trust in the doctors, should we need one. Well not so much the doctors, as I know they are well trained, but it’s more getting to see a doctor. The hospital staff is just clueless, and have no sense of urgency. In case they were ever needed, the police and ambulance would take forever to get there.

  5. hi all just fand ur post and i love to say a think or too about it ok as i a men married to a filipina girl and have been now for 14 years or so and have been go on an off to manlia in that time and love it there and never been hurt or robed there as i never ever go out on my own at night or to bars looking for girls and it is the same here when u go in to a citty u do not know never go and get drunk and go out too places u dont know and it is the same there ok it is not ur home ok so take good care where and what u do with ur self…..

  6. Well the 22nd of October 2013 at 10 PM we finished having a friendly get together in Angeles City. My friend is from the UK he went down stairs
    from my apartment and about 3 minutes later heard yelling. I went down stairs and saw 2 young local men yelling at my friends wife. My friend and his wife and my Girl and her female friend were saying goodbye. The story went this way the Two young men told my UK friend to go to his own Country and Date his own women not in nice words. He explained she was his wife. My Girl friend heard one of the 2 young men say ((Hey we can KILL him he is a Foreigner ) I did not find this out until the next morning. Any way my friend went to the end of the street to get a Trike Home i had not gone in the house yet waiting for my Girl to return when 2 young men who i did not Recognize as the 2 that threatened my friend sprint past me. I heard yelling and started to walk to my friend the 2 young men ran back past me and 1 said (SORRY DUDE ) IN PERFECT English * They had Hit him in the HEAD with A Cement Rock -Had to have Stitches to his Temple- CLOSE CALL YES LOCAL MEN DO HATE FOREIGNERS HERE-i Talked to trike drivers next morning they Blamed my friend because he was a Foreigner The Security Guard with a Pistol Grip Shot Gun watched the attack ??? You are on your OWN here be ware Ivan in Angeles City Philippines

    • Ivan,

      Thanks for sharing this unhappy story. While many of us have never had such a problem, this is a good reminder that such things do happen and you really are own your own. I have heard numerous stories of security guards standing by and not intervening. Don’t expect neighbors to come out of their own locked-down homes to help. Guards and neighbors want to avoid trouble and don’t want to get hurt by getting involved in something which is not their business, especially at night. Such people will help you out with a smile in other circumstances, but in this kind of thing you are on your own.

      I am sure that it is hard to recover your previous sense of security and enjoyment once something like this happens. In that way everyone is a victim.

      Regards,

      Bob and Carol

      • That is amazing that in Philippines a “Guard” minds his own business..what the hell is he paid for then? What is the gun for? Oh yea to shoot his foreigner boss 6 times for firing him for coming to work drunk again. True story by the way…google Brit shot 6 times by security guard.

        • Exactly.What the h*ll good is a security guard even paid for?.And Bob and Carol’s reply of ” i’m sure it is hard to recover your previous sense of security and enjoyment?..For God’s sake people.Things like this happen all the time there.I have a wife from Makati City who had Family in Caloocan City..Needless to say i was very glad to get away form there and she is very happy and enjoys her life much more here in S. Alabama..And yes most all do hate foreigners,especially ‘white faced’ Americans

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