Living in the Philippines – keeping our heads down or holding them high?

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There are as many different ways of adapting to life as an expat in the Philippines as there are expats in the Philippines. Carol and I tend to approach our life here as though we were walking on eggshells. We advise against nightlife, business dealings, philandering and other behavior we think of as risky within the Philippine context. We recently have an exchange with another expat who does not mince words with us. He thinks our approach is living a life cowering in fear.


Like with so many things there may not be a right answer as to how to live in the Philippines. Perhaps we do deprive ourselves of people and experiences as a result of an overabundance of caution. Perhaps others live too dangerously. Of course one’s philosophy and options for life in the Philippines is influenced by personality and inclination. If you are a brash, type A, John Wayne (or Joseph Estrada?) type of person, we can see why we might come across as  Milquetoasts. If you are old and shy, you might indeed see other expats behavior as reckless.

With those issues in mind, we like to share the exchange of emails and comments with a MyPhilippineLife reader. As we say, there may not be a right and wrong, but we hope the contracting points of view are worth thinking about.

Here is the first message we received:

“I am sorry when you are a foreigner here you are a target immediately. I am married to a filipina and i once told her to get me a bottle of water at a store and i was across the street, I walked into the store as the lady was taking the water and putting it on the counter once they saw me the price went from 20php to 35php. I took the water, paid for it opened it and then poured it all over her counter.”

Bob was taken aback by this and replied:

“Thanks for your comment.  Actually, I don’t have the foreigner overcharge problem very often, perhaps because there are not so many foreigners in our area.  Personally, I would be very uncomfortable reacting as you did for a number of reasons.  It’s pretty confrontational and could provoke some reaction from a security guard, husband, boyfriend or bystander.  Insults are not always forgotten or forgiven.  Further, as I say, there are not many foreigners in our area and I try to behave so that it creates a favorable impression. Perhaps it would have been better  just to refuse to buy, explaining why.  Just my two cents. Bob Hammerslag”

This is the response we received via email:

Dear Mr, Hammerslag, I have to once again strongly disagree with many of the things you mentioned and what I said was just one instance but please let me enlighten you to some others I encountered. My business partners and I were at a meeting and we wrapped up, My wife was with me so we decided to just go home, we were in an area that there was much traffic ( jeepneys,tricycles,metered taxis, foot traffic) we got into a taxi, locked the doors as we always do and told the driver where to go. after about 1 kilometer he stopped and told us that we would have to pay additional money due to the time and traffic, I told him I would not pay him anything extra and only what was on the meter. He turned the taxi down a road and then floored it going about 60 miles an hour, I reached across to grab him and he ducked his head and then stopped the taxi, he jumped out of the taxi and had a machete in his hand and told us to get out. I told my wife to get out on my side letting me go out first. As I got out he started swinging the machete and my wife was screaming, I told her that I would keep him on my side and for her to get out on the other side. I reached in my pocket and showed him some money, he stopped swinging the machete and my wife was able to get out of the taxi. there were many rocks in the area so I threw the money in the air and then reached down and grabbed rocks and started throwing them at him. he was trying to see where the money fell so he could grab it but we both started pelting him with rocks. I hit him in the head with a fairly large rock and he reached up to grab his head and then I grabbed him and took the machete away from him. he took off running. He did not get the money either. The keys were not in the taxi so we figure he took them. we walked back to another road and got into a tricycle and got off one block from the house. by the way the taxi? this guy was standing outside the taxi smoking a cigarette talking with a police officer? the taxi? it was stolen? is not the warm and fuzzy friendship just gushing from the filipino people? By the way this was not a provoked instance. The  next sir was 3 men who jumped onto the same tricycle my wife and I with another person were on and pulling a rusty automatic gun to rob all of us, the driver pulled the tricycle over and ran away, what they did not know was that I was also armed and since I am rather tall and they wanted my money I told them I had to get out to reach my pocket, that was a bad mistake for them because I started shooting at them before my feet hit the ground. I know I hit the one with the gun but when he screamed and I kept shooting the rest ran away like crazy. I do not call attention to myself Mr Hammerslag, I own 4 businesses here and have many great employees who work for me too! but I do not take no shit from no one. If you try to cheat me I will tell you and call you out on it. The one thing Mr. Hammerslag is that this society breeds this culture, it is not new, it is not recent, it has been around a long time. They kill their own, they torture their own, they rape their own and anyone else in between. You make it sound as if one acts a certain way one is safe, no you are not Mr, Hammerslag either just like any other foreigner is. One can exist but that is it.”

Bob responded:

I apologize for being so long in responding to your email. I am sorry if I came across as preachy regarding your experiences in the Philippines. I often receive criticism for being alarmist about the risk of crime against foreigners in the Philippines, especially from people who have lived in the Philippines and never had any problems.

I have lived here for almost seven years. Because of where we live and my cautious, perhaps timid, lifestyle, I have had nothing but positive experiences. But, I am fully aware that just because I have had no problems so far, living a reclusive lifestyle in a quite secure house and taking few risks (no girlfriends, bar hopping, late nights out, business deals) certainly does not mean I am unaware of the many foreigners who have had serious and often fatal trouble in the Philippines. I generally save new reports regarding foreigners being killed here and elsewhere in the Philippines. I have quite a collection. If I were to post them on my blog, one after the other, it would create quite a lot of discomfort by those who think the risks of living in the Philippines are overblown, and to those considering retiring here. I might just do so. I will say that almost all, but not all of these are inside jobs such as wife’s boyfriend, maid’s boyfriend etc.

I do realize that my whole perspective and peace of mind here could be shattered if I had experienced even a portion of the things that you have been through. In fact, I don’t have your quick wits and strength. I am a timid old man. I probably would have just paid the extra money to the taxi driver. Sometimes timidly does not work and if something like you described happens to me I’ll be in big trouble.

Best regards,

Bob Hammerslag

This is the final installment in this conversation

Good Day Robert,

I grew up in New York City, I am a disabled Vietnam Veteran. Out of three of us on a mission I was the only one who returned and I was carrying my buddies body which had no head. All during this time part of my leg was blown off. For every one report you have I have 4 of them. I also work all over the world where I have been in some pretty hairy areas. I have lived in the Philippines for 10 years robert, I own 3 businesses along with another foreigner who is married to a filipina. The one thing you leave out is that the filipinos are desperate people. You may slide in under the radar, but you in a round about way are saying is that as a human being you can not live as you would like because your head would be removed from your body. You must work for the travel bureau since you say that if you placed reports out in your blog no foreigners will visit or retire here? The phils have some of the most archaic laws in the whole Asian theater. Even Thailand who is widely know for their sex trade is not as bad. so what you are telling the masses is to dress like bums hide all your valuables, make your homes impregnable and you will live an carefree life with a beautiful filipina woman. 

So robert if you moved to the philippines to hide then by all means do, I to am married to a filipina, I like to dress well, I like to go out and eat in the better restaurants, my home has the most up to date security systems, I always carry a .357 and a 45 my wife carries a 25 auto and a host of other small things to render folks stunned. My SUV is Armored and also well equipped. I brought it with me from the states. I do not walk scared Robert but I detest people who would harm others because they are to lazy to work or feel that taking from others is much easier because they are desperate. Their desperation if it comes up against me or my family is immediate death period. By the way robert just so you know after all the bad experiences I went thru and all the changes I just discussed, there have been some who have tried, you may have read about them or seen them on the ABS-CBN news program. My business partner who has lived in the phils much longer than me once told me while in the company of many other foreigners discussed all the things talked about in all the blogs here in the phils, the majority of it is bunk period does not matter what you think robert if you have molded your mind to believe all the drivel then I feel that is why you think and responded as you do. Tell the truth Robert it is less costly than telling lies and living a life cowering, and even if you do not say you are, let me enlighten you on  something you are.

At this point it seemed like we had pretty much both expressed our differing perspectives and approaches.  As in all things, there is may be lesson or lessons to be learned from this exchange.  Each foreigner living in a foreign land brings not only their passports and luggage, but also their own history, strengths and weaknesses.  Out of these they fashion a way of life in the Philippines which suits them.

Comments (7) Write a comment

  1. WOW !! Those are some heavy experiences. I am moving there in a few months to retire. I will be keeping a medium to low profile. I am a Texan and love guns. How is it possible that someone can carry a gun in a country that does not allow guns ? That’s going to be hard with my background. I have many questions about stuff that I can’t find answers for online. I would love to talk to some experienced residents to get some inside information. Please contact me at Looking forward to my new life in the Philippines !!!


    • John,

      The Philippines is awash with guns. I’m guessing that most households who can afford one have one. It’s just that foreigners are not allowed to own guns. A wife or girlfriend who is a Philippine citizen of course can own one. While there are various schemes for gun ownership, I feels it’s best to live in such a way that you won’t need one. Shooting a Filipino, however you may feel it is justified, opens you to a world of hurt.



  2. Interesting discussion.
    I call it the ‘foreigner’s surcharge,’ what we sometimes have to pay an avaricious merchant. I always pay, and I always tell the merchant we will not be back with our business, and we will tell our other foreigner friends and acquaintances that this merchant was unfair to us. We spend almost the entirety of my retirement income (it is quite small by Western standards) locally, so word passes swiftly among the market merchants: “Cheat that foreigner once and kiss off any more money from him.” We enjoy doing business with the locals who have always been straight with us, and have developed good relationships with them without any demonstrations of overt enmity or contempt.
    We don’t own any firearms. It is illegal for a foreigner to own a firearm in this country. But I would like to own one or two pellet guns to discourage neighborhood dogs, cats, chickens (they scratch up my wife’s garden), banana thieves, vegetable thieves and other annoying intruders. I don’t think a common low-life thief (and there are countless thousands here) should pay with his or her life. They should certainly pay with a stinging butt and no loot.
    A last warning for now. It is possible for anyone to make a deed of sale after an exhaustive due diligence, then discover – after your money has changed hands – that another party has a pre-existing deed of sale, absolutely undiscoverable, unrecorded anywhere, but valid and inviolable under Philippine law. I don’t know what the remedy for this is. The ensuing fight is costly, frustrating and lengthly.


  3. This from a reader: “Wow, that`s why i love the Philippines, and would not live anywhere else: it`s just so much more fun!!! Where else could i go out for a pleasant, informal, friendly lunch with friends, proudly wearing my Ruger .357 on one hip and my favourite Dan Wesson .460 Rowland on the other. The only inconvenience is that i have to wear a three inch wide rawhide belt to stop the weight of the guns pulling my shorts down, that and the fact that i have to wear a long `t` shirt to prevent me being too conspicuous: although the belt is useful for attaching my nine inch jungle knife and my eighteen inch bolo. My wife has a problem concealing her .45 1911 pattern weapon under her mini skirt. She had to change the original one, to one with a stainless finish, as she found it rusted somewhat when slipped into the side of her thong.
    Our friends join us for outings sometimes. We all have armored vehicles, good value at only six million pesos for the latest Expedition model, although the 8 kils per gallon mean we are always hoping that there is a gas station in the next village. I do not think that this makes us targets for the locals, because we are so obviously wealthy, but it gives us all peace of mind.
    On the roof of our house we keep a Barrett M107, which as you all know fires a 12.7 round to a distance of at least 4 kilometres, with an easy accuracy to 2,000 metres when in my capable hands. My wife keeps a Barrett .416 calibre rifle. She feels that the slightly smaller gun is more feminine, and of course, with the ammunition costing only $55.00 for a box of 10 at current prices, it`s a bargain. If you don`t know these weapons, i can thoroughly recommend them. Look them up on utube, you wont be disappointed!! We once shot a balut seller by mistake as he left the Petron station about a kilometre away, because my wife thought he looked” too foreign”. We paid 40,000php to have it hushed up.
    Finally, to all the namby-pamby ex-pats who try to blend in to their adopted country, who form a happy rapport with their local neighbors and make genuine friendships with pilipinos, i would like to say this. Try it my way!! We dont live our lives in constant fear, we love it here!!


  4. Teeheee.. Bob and Carol, next time I ride the van, I’d want it to be armored…Let’s pass by that milk plant again. Let’s not pour milk on the counter.


  5. Whether people agree or not, there are certain personality types and lifestyles that attract undesirable and even violent reactions from other people. This pen “pal” of yours certainly appears to be one of them. His response of pouring water on the counter of the store for a PhP15 (less than US$0.35) price markup is quite telling. The rest of his proud descriptions are pathognomonic.


  6. Carol and Bob—
    Well, in the end, my guiding line is “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” So—although I am not 100 percent in line with your opinion—I corroborate your belief. I do not carry any weapon besides my wit, and most likely never will. I surely know how to make a stand for myself and the persons I cherish, if the situation demands it, but in general I think the minimization of conflict potential is mostly if not always the better path. This whole habit of “everyone is entitled to carry a weapon”, countless times defended in a manner that is in no way different from the most extreme religious fundamentalism, is very unique to US Americans, and unfortunately has spread wide in the Philippines, too. In Europe, where I grew up, almost no one shares that sentiment.

    Like you said, every foreigner brings his own history. And some bring armored cars. I wonder if the one in the story above paid proper duties and taxes…but I might be too judgmental, sorry for that.

    Best regards,
    Willy from Pavia, Iloilo


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