Is Travel to the Philippines Safe?

Is travel to the Philippines safe? Recent kidnappings and the bullet planting scam at the Manila airport might have you reconsidering a visit to the Philippines.

Travel Advisories in the Philippines

China has issued travel bans because of their ongoing dispute in the South China Sea with the Philippines. A travel advisory issued by Beijing has caused a disastrous fall in arrivals from China.

“We are worried and we are affected,” said Dionisio Salme, president of the Boracay Foundation Inc., the island’s resorts’ association.

Since the warning was issued on 12 September, 2014, Boracay has seen a steep drop in Chinese visitors. Numbers fell from 18,479 in August to less than 7,000 in September 2014.

While bars and clubs on Boracay’s main beach are said to be still crowded with Filipinos and tourists from other countries, the large resorts which take in busloads of Chinese tourists are almost empty.

In its advisory, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs cited a “worsened security situation in the Philippines” that may see Chinese nationals targeted. (Source: BBC)

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to the Philippines, in particular to the Sulu Archipelago, certain regions and cities of the island of Mindanao, and the southern Sulu Sea area. (Oct. 21,2015)

Yep, pilgrim, it’s the usual warning the State Department has been putting out for years. BUT, and this is a bigger butt than Kim Kardashian’s,  you still need to pay attention to the advisories.

The Abu Sayyaf Group is demanding P1 billion ($21 million) each for the release of the hostages abducted in a resort on Samal Island, Davao del Norte last September 21.  Samal is a 15 minute boat ride from Davao City.

Please try to maintain some kind of low profile. These guys were hanging out on some luxury yachts.  Sweet crackers! A white guy in the Philippines stands out like a turd in a punch bowl. Take my word for it. I know my turds.

Abu Sayyaf members are threatening  to kill the hostages if their demands are not met.Abu Sayyaf demands billions for foreign hostages

According to the State Department, over the past nine months, at least 15 separate kidnappings have been reported across Mindanao.

  • In western Mindanao, terrorist, insurgent, and criminal gangs regularly conduct kidnappings for ransom, including the kidnapping of a foreigner in Dipolog City in early October 2015 by unknown assailants.
  • In central Mindanao, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) remain active in the Cotabato City area, and in the Maguindanao, North Cotabato, and Sultan Kudarat provinces, where the government maintains a state of emergency and a greater police presence.
  • There have been no reports of U.S. citizens in Mindanao targeted specifically for their nationality; however, general threats to U.S. citizens and other foreigners throughout Mindanao remain a concern

That said, readers like Todd, Tom Ramberg and others have spent extensive time in Mindanao without any problems. Folks, as I point out in my e-book, “The Philippines Expat Advisor,” you have to exercise some good COMMON SENSE.

Do you think I walked the streets of downtown Chicago without some trepidation? I always traveled with a group or at least one companion. That’s good common  sense no matter where you live.

The State Department strongly recommend that U.S. citizens traveling to or residing in the Philippines enroll in their Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). STEP enrollment gives you the latest security updates, and makes it easier for the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate to contact you in an emergency. If you don’t have Internet access, enroll directly with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.

GOV.UK

The Brit’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all travel to southwest Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago because of on-going terrorist activity and clashes between the military and insurgent groups.

The FCO advise against all but essential travel to the remainder of Mindanao for the same reasons.

The Limeys note that there is a high threat from terrorism, including kidnapping. Information as of late October 2015 indicates that kidnap for ransom groups may be planning operations in North Mindanao including the islands off the coast.

The Australian Government

Latest advice, 30 Oct 2015
The Aussies intel coincides with their British counterparts. Information of late October 2015 indicates that militants may be planning a kidnapping operation in North East Mindanao, including the islands off the coast.

Resorts in the area are being notified to take extra precautions. Expect increased security and travel disruptions during the period surrounding the APEC Leaders week 16-20 November.

The level of advice has not changed. The Land of Oz continue to advise its citizens to exercise a high degree of caution in the Philippines.

The Australian government advises visitors to exercise a high degree of caution in the Philippines due to the high threat of a terrorist attack and the high level of crime.

The Kangaroo kickers also advise you to reconsider your need to travel to eastern Mindanao (including the provinces of Bukidnon, Camiguin, Misamis Oriental, Compostela Valley, Davao del Norte, Davao del Sur, Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Surigao del Norte, Surigao del Sur and Davao Oriental) due to the very high levels of violent crime and the high threat of terrorist attack and kidnapping.

The Bullet Planting Scam

These so called “tanim bala”  [planting of bullets] incidents have SURGED in 2015 at the Manila Airport.Chiz ‘Tanim-bala’ taking out fun in ‘More Fun in the Philippines’ mb.com.ph

(Photo Source: mb.com.ph )

(C’mon guys, I know you’re not looking at the luggage in this photo)

Some workers at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport have been extorting money from travelers by planting bullets in their luggage.

The head of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) wants the public to put things in perspective.

Transportation Secretary Joseph Abaya states that of the 34.2 million travelers who passed through the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) last year, only “0.004 percent” constituted cases of bullet possession.

The 0.004 percent translates to 1,510 people.  Abaya lamented that the so-called laglag-bala or bullet planting scandal had been blown out of proportion and there is no syndicate known to be behind the scam. (Source: Yahoo! News)

Abaya goes on to state that “Although we are talking about statistics in the decimals, let me emphasize that a single case of any passenger wrongly charged, extorted upon by planting and unjustly charged in court is unjust. It is not something that government should ignore. It is something that it should put full force and attention to and likewise it is a great concern for the state,” he said.

No matter how small the number of incidents, this bullet planting scheme has given the Philippines a black eye and will certainly have some negative impact on its tourism.

Is travel to the Philippines safe? Yes, in my opinion. I’ve lived in the Philippines for over six years without as much as getting my pocket picked on jeepneys. Again, exercise some good common sense and you’ll be just fine.

12 comments

  1. Dave,
    For the most part travel is safe here, but certain areas and certain behaviors are to be avoided like anywhere in the world. But this bullet scam will really hurt the Philippines. It still has a lot of work to catch up with many of the other Asian countries, but probably not in my lifetime.

    1. I agree, Papa Duck, I’ve never had any problems traveling in the Philippines. Aside from the Tawash pump boat disaster, where nine people died, travel is relatively safe. I’ve heard that even the crew members on our local pump boat route are being made to wear life jackets. I’ve been told some young kids refused to put their life jackets on. The boat did not leave until they did.

  2. Hi Dave, I feel reasonable safe here in the Philippines you’ve just got to use common sense, be aware all the time would I walk alone in any English city at night no way,
    We have been to Mindanao but stayed at general Santos, and Davao went to samal island
    But no way would we go to southern Mindanao ,and yes those 4 hostages were kidnapped from samal island so it can happen anywhere, we often go to China town in
    Manila but don’t stop to long whants it gets dark that’s just because of low level crime
    Snatches pickpockets etc, do l feel safe in the Philippines yes I do ,by the way nice
    Picture of the luggage lol .

    1. We’ve stayed in Chinatown overnight as it was close to Immigration, Derek, but also did not go out at night. I’ve had no problems when in Manila but always had my wife and her sister, who lives in Manila, with me as I traveled. Been on the FX’s, jeepneys and MRT’s there without any worries.

      Glad you liked the luggage. 🙂

  3. been coming in and out of the philippines for over 30 years and I find if you use a little respect and know your surroundings you will be fine. even that it is trying on your patients sometime. but I have also found that since I have been coming out to sorsogon that the people here for the most part leave you alone and usually are pretty friendly. but I do know that I will not be traveling to mindanao don’t care how safe some areas are there.
    I also think the bullet thing has gotten a little overblown now don’t get me wrong on the ones that have had bullets planted on them it’s terrible. but some of the bullets where probally purposely being caried because for some reason philipinas think they are good suvinors.

    1. Word is that some folks were wearing bullets in an amulet to protect them. As you know, Roger, many folks in the Philippines have what some people might consider strange superstitions. I doubt, however, that the majority of the passengers have any reason to pack a single bullet in their luggage aside from Barney Fife if he was still alive.

  4. Absolutely positively I would not, and will not, hesitate to travel to the Philippines and I would encourage ANYONE to do the same.

    Yes, there are certain areas of the Philippines that are dangerous, just like ANYWHERE in the world. There are places, many, in America that I would probably warn people not to go to.

    As far as Mindanao…there are certain areas there, mainly the south of the province of Zamboanga Del Norte that I would not go to. I lived in the province of Zamboanga Del Norte in the town of Sindangan. NO problems what-so-ever.

    I will admit the issue with the kidnapping near Davao is a bit unsettling. But again, the chances of this happening to anyone is REALLY REALLY remote.

    But if people don’t want to go to Mindanao, my goodness, there are thousands of other places that are great to visit and live.

    And as far as the bullet scam…I said my peace on another post. But the odds of anyone being a victim of that scam are so low it is basically not worth more than a minute or two of thought.

    1. I’ve never had any problems whatsoever traveling in the Philippines the past six years I’ve lived here, Todd. Again, all a person has to do is exercise some good common sense. I’ve personally never been to Mindanao but would like to visit Tom Ramberg over in GenSan sometime. Just have to convince my wife on that one.

      The kidnapping near Davao is unfortunate but the victims were on a yacht, which I would assume is a high profile target. A person has to exercise some degree of caution wherever you might travel and as a foreigner we stick out from the crowd as it is.

  5. After my first visit last year I am hooked. So bullet or no bullet scam I am going back in April or early May for a month or two this time. I look at this as something that might not happen to me, but what i learned from my first visit is if i get in at around 11ish to midnight, they just ask you a question or two and let you go by. Figure they just want to be home sleeping rather then checking bags and planting a bullet,hahahaha…

    1. I think the whole bullet scam is going to be firing blanks by April or May, Art. But one poor lady that had to report back to her job in Hong Kong was fired because she was held up by the scam and reported to work a day late.

  6. In 2013 my wife and I traveled to her parents home in rural Zamboanga City, we arrived at night and for the time at my inlaws I felt safe as at home. Our last night was in down town Zamboanga City, it was not comfortable and probably a mistake, I did not feel safe. We did follow our plan and ride the bus from Zamboanga to Cagayan De Oro, but from now on I will keep my rural travels to the Eastern side of Mindanao, CDO, Camaguin, Davao, Mati, etc.. It’s a shame because because staying with my wife’s family in that small Zamboanga village was my most enjoyable time in the Philippines. I hope times will change in the coming years so that I can return, what a beautiful place..

    1. Thanks for that anecdote, Lee. It really is a shame that parts of Mindanao cannot be traveled safely, though, I, personally, have never been there. What with the present high level of terrorism from Muslim extremists, such as the recent tragic attacks in Paris, I fear that things in Mindanao and across the world are not going to get any better soon. America needs to step up and stop these morons with any means necessary.

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