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The Philippines has a moderately high rate of violent crime, particularly in the capital city of Manila. Incidents of violent robbery and assault occur frequently, and visitors are often targets. The biggest culprits of these acts are local criminal gangs, and it‘s not unheard of for individual hoodlums to strike on their own.
But, just how much of a threat is crime to travelers? Here's what you need to know before you go to the Philippines.
Adding fuel to the fire is the high number of Filipinos who own guns; the Philippines has the second-highest gun ownership in South East Asia and it is very poorly regulated.
Firearms are frequently used in the commission of crimes in the Philippines. Avoid unpopulated areas at night and try to travel in groups.
Since President Duterte was elected, there have been over 7,000 judicial killings by police and vigilantes in response to the President's war on drugs. This heavy stance by the government has divided the nation and seen innocent people, including visitors, caught up in the crossfire. In October 2016, a South Korean businessman was kidnapped and killed by rogue police officers in the National Police Headquarters in Quezon City. His wife was also threatened with a ransom. In a separate attack, in January 2017, three South Korean golfers were victims of robbery and extortion by rogue police officers in Angeles City.
Many visitors have been victims of bag snatching by armed assailants on foot or on motorbikes. In July 2017, a New Zealand man living in the Philippines was shot dead while being robbed of his bag when he visited a market on Bilirian Island. A British man was also mugged and shot dead for US$13 outside a bar in Cebu.
If you find yourself at the end of a robbery, do not resist or attempt to fight back – losing your life is not worth it.
There have been numerous terror-related incidents in the Philippines in recent years, and although they don‘t necessarily target visitors, it's still possible to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, there have been targeted incidents against foreign interests such as an improvised explosive device found at the US Embassy in 2016.
There are many parts of the Philippines you should avoid due to their heightened risk of terrorist activities, and it's wise to keep across any potential alerts via your government travel safety advisory.
Gangs will often get a member to pose as a friendly local inviting you to join them for meals with the family, then once you have established trust, they invite you on an out-of-town trip. Once you are away from the city, they might drug you (usually via a drink), then rob or rape you.
The consumption of alcohol is often the trigger of street fights and violent crime. The national liquor, a coconut concoction called tuba, is typically mixed with Coca-Cola and consumed in large quantities. It is an extremely potent drink, so if you plan to partake, avoid doing so in public taverns and only drink with people you know. Bar brawls often involve guns and machetes.
Drink spiking is an issue – the locals refer to it as the Atvian Scam after the drug used in the crime. Victims are often robbed or assaulted while they are unconscious. If someone you don‘t know offers you a drink that you didn‘t see being made, no matter how friendly they seem, don‘t take it. It‘s better to be safe than sorry.
While petty crime is typically non-violent, when it occurs at night or in rougher areas it could quickly turn dangerous. It‘s not unheard of for a simple pickpocketing incident to escalate into assault or worse.
Many parts of the Philippines are poor, and children begging on the streets is a frequent sight. While giving them money might be tempting, doing so could be contributing to a crime. Most of the time, the child begging on the street is being exploited by an adult who is not necessarily their own parent, but a trafficker or drug dealer. There is also the possibility that the money you give could go to a drug-addicted relative. Also, while children are working on the streets, they are not attending school.
Instead of giving money to children, find out what organizations are operating in the country to help lift communities out of poverty and encourage children to attend school; donate your money, time or both, to these organizations.
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Find out which provinces in the Philippines you should avoid before you book your trip. From military areas to kidnapping hotspots, here is everything travelers need to know.
Be warned, you'll be taking a huge risk if you ignore warnings about the dangers of foreigners being kidnapped in these areas of the Philippines.