The Philippines – although generally safe and sincerely friendly to tourists – is also prone to the usual safety issues plaguing even more developed countries, such as petty crime and small scams. Before planning a trip to this Southeast Asian paradise, it makes sense to read up about general safety in the country.
The Philippines has developed rather a bad reputation in recent years with terrorism activity in the far south of the country and the hijacking of a tourist bus in Manila in 2010. However, these are isolated incidents and there is no reason for tourists visiting the popular spots to worry about safety in the Philippines any more then their home countries, providing they take sensible precautions.
Petty crimes in the Philippines
Aside from the nauseating traffic, travellers should also watch out for petty street crimes that are widespread, especially in the major cities of the country. Visitors of whatever gender or age group should be careful when walking through crowded city streets – especially during the night – as pickpockets, bag snatchers and other petty thieves roam around. Avoid congested areas altogether, as you might just lose your wallet. If you are riding the train during rush hour, wear your backpack on your front to protect your belongings.
Terrorism in the Philippines
Terrorism has been a long daunting problem for the country, but it is isolated to the southern region of Mindanao. Extremist and terrorist groups here are a threat; there is a long history of bombings and violence.
The southern regions of the country – especially mainland Mindanao, Tawi Tawi, the Sulu Archipelago, Basilan and Jolo – are generally off limits to tourists because of possible attacks especially in crowded public places such as malls, resorts, public transport hubs, and places of the like. However, these problems never spread outside this region.
Traffic and road problems in the Philippines
The notorious traffic of the Philippines can be a worry, especially if travelling in the large cities such as Manila with small children. Crossing the road can be perilous while not all taxis and buses have safety belts, and virtually no tricycles or jepneeys. The sights of mangled vehicles at the side of the road is commonplace, but don’t let that disturb you. If you are just visiting the Philippines for a short time, you are extremely unlikely to come to any harm. The best thing is to arrange trusted taxi drivers through your hotel desk to ensure their cars are well-maintained and they take proper care on the road.
Kidnapping in the Philippines
Some foreigners have also been victims of more serious crimes such as kidnapping, although these were isolated cases in very remote regions of the country. They certainly don’t happen often. Still, precautions and vigilance should be observed. Heed the travel advisories and avoid the violent parts of southern Mindanao.
Hustlers and touts in the Philippines
Crowded ‘bargain’ shopping areas in Manila – such as the Divisoria, Quiapo, and Greenhills – are home to rather pushy touts who want to sell you something. Simply ignoring them usually works as they just simply move on the next tourist, but if they do not stop, then a firm “No, thanks” (they all understand English) is in order. Children can be harder to ward off, as they look like they really need the sale. Resist the temptation to hand them money, or a swarm of other kids will ask for cash from you, too.
Taxi overcharging in the Philippines
Taxi drivers in the Philippines are notorious for overcharging foreigners, sometimes by up to three times as much. To avoid this, make sure that the driver runs the meter once you get into the cab. Some drivers pretend that their meters aren’t working and attempt to ‘negotiate’ a price instead, charging you hundreds of pesos more. Insist that the ride be metered, or just leave and take the next taxi.
Ferry safety in the Philippines
The Ro-Ro (roll on, roll off) ferry service in the Philippines is a modern marvel of engineering. Hundreds of boats ply the ‘nautical highway’ every day and connect the four corners of the archipelago. Although mainly for transporting goods and cargo, thousands of passengers continue to use these ships and occasionally there can be deaths from boats sunk during storms or bad weather.
There is no need to worry too much about ferry safety in the Philippines, but do note where the emergency exits and life vests are in case the worst should occur.