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Discussions about crime and safety for expats living in the Philippines seem to generate big, passionate differences of opinion. Some feel that foreigners are prime crime targets. This view is supported by many news reports of foreigners being killed, mostly in home intrusions. Others have never experienced crime during their stay in the Philippines, feel very safe, that the dangers are overblown and that it’s safer in the Philippines than their home country.
One of the things that amazed me when I first came to the Philippines is that houses, even in very peaceful small places, had steel bars on their windows. Where we lived in Upstate New York, such a thing was inconceivable. Most people there did not lock their houses and left their keys in the ignition of their cars. Surely, something is different. See our discussion on crime and security at /crime-against-foreigners-philippines/
My experiences in the Philippines have been exceptionally positive. However, we’ve built our house in a quite isolated location with no near neighbors. We see that Filipinos with nice houses take security precautions, so we think it’s prudent to assume they know what’s needed.
We built security bars into our window design. The openings are small enough so that even a child could not get through. We worked to make the bars a positive part of the sash design, so that the bars would give the appearance of window panes. We are happy with the result. The window security bars are 14mm square steel. Each room, as required by our building permit, has a hinged window panel which serves as a fire escape. For more on how we built or windows see /our-philippine-house-project-windows/
We also constructed security screen doors. These are modelled on designs used in some higher crime areas in the U.S. See http://www.torreswelding.com/security_screen_doors.htm and http://www.titansecurity.com/traddoors.html
We welded these doors up of 1 1/2 x 1 1/2″ angle bar. We incorporated curly decorative panels so the doors would seem a bit less jail like. The hinges are heavy duty stainless steel. The doors have both deadbolts and padlocks. The deadbolts are keyed on both sides so that one won’t be able to reach through the grilles to unlock the door. They will also be effective against a common Philippine burglary scenario in which a small child is squeezed into the house, perhaps between bars, perhaps with a bar sawn with a hacksaw. The child then opens the exterior doors to let in his adult accomplices.
Above is a photo sent in by a reader whose house was broken into by squeezing in a child who unlocked the door. Fortunately the owners slept through the robbery and were not harmed, however quite a bit was stolen.
A break-in at a combination store/Internet cafe. The installation of this grille was very weak, depending on plastic expansion anchors, called tox in the Philippines.
Are our security measures overkill? There’s no way to really tell. We just feel we’ll sleep a bit better at night with these doors locked.
We also have pretty standard security lights; a lamp in each corner of the soffit and lights on our front fence and both front and rear gates. Our plans called for 500 watt halogen lights in the center of the soffits. We decided to use a pole mounted yard light instead. We bought a Firefly brand 250 watt sodium vapor street light and installed it on a pole in our yard. We decided on this type of light because it gives lots of light per watt and because it can illuminate our entire yard. Our lot is 1,500 square meters and except for the lighting we provide, totally dark. As we live in our house, we’ll decide how much lighting to use. We’d like to minimize lighting at night so we (and others) can enjoy the starry nights.
After living in the house for three years, we only turn on the big sodium vapor lights when there is some cause for alarm. Otherwise we use four 25 watt compact fluorescents at each corner of the house, two 15 watt compact fluorescents on the bahay kubo to light the back of the lot, two 15 watt compact fluorescents at each side of gate for a total of 160 watts. At twelve hours per night, this totals 57.6 kWh per month or at P12 per kWh about 700 pesos per month ($16US). This is more security lighting than most people will need. Our security lighting expenses are high because we have a fairly large lot in a fairly remote location. Our neighbors use much less lighting but we feel that ample lighting is a deterrent to crime. Criminals do not want to be identified. That is particularly true where we live, as opposed to a more urban location because any intruder will likely come on foot and be known if seen.
Many homeowners install halogen lamps for security lights. They are cheap and put out a lot of light, but they are a false economy unless they are used only occasionally. They use a lot of power per light produced. The better options are florescent lights, metal halide lights and sodium vapor light. All three of these are about equally efficient in terms of candlepower per watt. All three are much more efficient than incandescent or halogen lights. Florescent lamps are cheap and efficient, but are mostly available in smaller wattage units. Metal halide lights produce very natural white light efficiently. Sodium vapor lights produce the yellowish light we are used to in street lights. The big plus for sodium vapor is that the bulbs last about 10,000 hours as opposed to 5,000 for metal halide and florescent lamps. Both the metal halide and sodium vapor fixtures are expensive, but they are industrial duty, made for years of use. Metal halide and sodium vapor lights are available in very high wattage units, 500 and 600watts or more. Ours are made by Firefly and should be available from commercial electrical supply houses in the Philippines. The 150 watt “wall/tunnel” light fixturewe’re using in the garage is especially impressive with a cast aluminum case, glass lens and silicone rubber seals. We bought ours from Western Lamp in Iloilo. Citi Hardware sells metal halide fixtures. More information on Firefly security lights here.
Finally, we have a panic button in our bedroom which is connected to a loud outside alarm. This is not so much to summon help but to scare off prowlers. Of course we’ll keep a cell phone in our bedroom so we could call the police if we have a concern. Did I motion a dog — perhaps the best security device there is! We have four.
Are all of these security measures necessary? We don’t know. Foreigners tend to think they are overkill, Filipinos less so. We’ve lived in the Philippines for four years but always in situations where our landlords provide excellent security. The compound in which our apartment was located was protected by roving, armed security guards, German Shepherds and video surveillance. In our new home we’ll be on our own and responsible for our own safety. So far (13 months) we have had no problems at all. A recent New York Times article describes the same differing opinions about the need for security among New York City residents.
Updated August 25, 2013