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Overseas Security Advisory Council
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Philippines 2020 Crime & Safety Report

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Manila. OSAC encourages travelers to use this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in the Philippines. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s Philippines page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Travel Advisory

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses most of the Philippines at Level 2, indicating travelers should exercise increased caution. Do not travel to the Sulu Archipelago, including the southern Sulu Sea, or to Marawi City in Mindanao. Reconsider travel to other areas of Mindanao due to crime, terrorism, civil unrest, and kidnapping. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory System.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Crime Threats

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Manila as being a MEDIUM-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Crimes of opportunity, including some violent crime, occur in Manila and other large cities. Crime continues to remain a significant concern in urban areas of the Philippines. According to the Philippine National Police (PNP) Directorate for Investigation and Detective Management, theft, physical assault, and robbery were among the most common crimes reported to local authorities in 2019. Other common crimes included pickpocketing, confidence schemes, and credit card fraud. Carjacking, robberies, and violent assaults also occurred throughout the country. Review OSAC’s report, All That You Should Leave Behind.

PNP reported that crime decreased from 2018 to 2019 according to statistics of index and non-index crimes. This includes crimes against person, such as physical injuries and sexual assault.

Victims have reported robberies committed by taxi drivers and/or individuals using stolen taxicabs. Reports of crime associated with other ride-sharing services are relatively uncommon.

There have been reports of credit card and ATM fraud. Use credit cards only at major retail facilities and banks. Always check bills or statements for suspicious charges. Review OSAC’s reports, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud and Taking Credit.

Areas of Concern

U.S. government employees must seek authorization for travel to Mindanao, the Sulu Archipelago, the Sulu Sea, and southern Palawan. Martial law in Mindanao expired at the end of 2019, but Proclamation No. 55 (the State of Emergency) remains in effect.

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

In most urban areas, traffic is dense, chaotic, and unpredictable. The road system is frequently congested, and drivers are often undisciplined. Be extra vigilant when crossing the street; do not expect vehicles to yield or stop. Drivers regularly fail to yield to emergency vehicles and do not adhere to general rules of the road. These combined factors can impede the ability of emergency vehicles to reach the scene of an accident in a timely fashion. Avoid driving off the national highways and paved roads, which can be particularly dangerous, especially at night. Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad, Driving Overseas: Best Practices, and Evasive Driving Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving and road safety abroad.

Public Transportation Conditions

The safest way to travel using taxis is to ask a hotel, restaurant, or business establishment to call a reliable taxi service. Most taxi services (especially metered taxis and similar car services) remain safe and reliable.

Always use extra caution when hailing taxis on the street. Consider texting/calling a friend or local contact to provide the number/name of the vehicle/driver upon entering the taxi. Do not share taxis with strangers. Before getting into any taxi, always check to see if the fare meter is functioning. If the taxi does not have a functioning meter, or if the driver refuses to use the meter, do not use that taxi.

The availability and use of ride-sharing services in metro Manila has increased significantly. These services have generally proven to be very efficient and convenient.

Exercise caution while traveling by inter-island ferry. Avoid overcrowded or unsafe transportation, especially during storms. Accidents involving ferries are relatively frequent, and often result in serious injury or death to passengers. Review OSAC’s report, Security In Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

On August 8, 2019, US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) rescinded the Public Notice regarding security conditions at Ninoy Aquino International Airport (MNL) in Manila. Per the DHS announcement, the Government of the Philippines has made significant improvements to the security operations of MNL. 

Terrorism Threat

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Manila as being a HIGH-threat location for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Terrorist violence continues to affect primarily the Mindanao region, in the country’s south. Notable groups include the New People’s Army (NPA), the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), and Jemaah Islamiyah (JI). Elements within the two main insurgent groups, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), continue to pose a security threat. A splinter group of the MILF, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), has been responsible for several attacks. Some groups have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). Terrorist and armed groups continue to conduct kidnappings, bombings, and other attacks targeting foreigners, civilians, local government institutions, and security forces.

Certain areas, including Mindanao, the Sulu Archipelago, and the Sulu Sea represent a higher security risk. Terrorists and armed groups may conduct attacks with little or no warning. Past targets have included tourist locations, markets/shopping malls, and local government facilities. The Cotabato City area, as well as the Maguindanao, North Cotabato, and Sultan Kudarat provinces remain in a state of emergency and continue to see a greater police presence. U.S. government employees must obtain special authorization to travel to Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago, and thus have limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in those areas.

For more than a decade, terrorists, insurgents, and criminal actors have carried out major attacks against civilians. Most of these have occurred in southern and western Mindanao and on the islands of Basilan and Sulu. Some notable recent attacks include:

  • In July 2018, suspected Abu Sayyaf militants killed 11 people when a van with an improvised explosive device (IED) exploded at a military checkpoint in Lamitan.
  • In August 2018, BIFF militants killed three people and wounded 36 during the 60th anniversary of Hamungaya Festival in Isulan, Sultan Kudarat.
  • In September 2018, an explosion in Isulan killed two people and injured 14.
  • In December 2018, a bomb exploded outside a shopping mall in Cotabato, killing two people and wounding 35. Authorities deactivated another suspected IED found in a subsequent search of the area. 
  • In January 2019, bombings at the Jolo Cathedral resulted in 20 fatalities and 82 injuries. The Indonesian group, Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) claimed the attack together with ASG.
  • In April 2019, a restaurant bombing in Isulan in the province of Sultan Kudarat resulted in five injuries.
  • In June 2019, two suspected ASG suicide bombers struck a military base in Jolo, Sulu.
  • In September 2019, an IED explosion in the motorcycle parking area near a bakery in Isulan injured seven.
  • In September 2019, a suspected ASG suicide bomber attacked a military checkpoint in Sulu. Apart from the suicide bomber, there were no reported injuries.


Anti-U.S./Anti-Western Sentiment

Small-scale, anti-U.S. demonstrations are common in front of and nearby the U.S. Embassy in Manila. Various groups organize the demonstrations are, including Filipino college students, the Communist Party of the Philippines, and various labor/socialist organizations. Many of these demonstrations contain an element of anti-U.S. sentiment. PNP officers intercept most of the protest groups. The demonstrations typically attract fewer than 200 people. Injuries are rare, though demonstrators have assaulted the police and defaced the walls and the main gate of the Embassy. Review OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Manila as being a HIGH-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. While political violence is present throughout the country, it is more intense in Mindanao. Political and clan violence may occur in many areas of the country. Historically, elections have led to acts of violence targeting candidates throughout the country and incidents of unrest have typically not resulted in widespread civil disturbances or large-scale partisan clashes. There are no scheduled elections for 2020.

Religious-based violence (fundamentalist terrorism) mainly, but not exclusively, occurs in the south. Ethnic violence is also present throughout the country, but is most common in the southern Philippines. This mostly affects indigenous people (locally called Lumads) and is practically undistinguishable from economic violence (centered on land rights and resource conflicts) and political violence (environmental defenders and opposition).

The Bureau of Immigration may consider the participation of foreigners in demonstrations or political rallies in the Philippines to be a violation of the terms of admission. Authorities may detain and deport foreign nationals who participate in demonstrations, political rallies, or other activity deemed anti-government in nature for violating immigration laws.

Post-specific Concerns

Authorities may question you if you take pictures of certain buildings (especially government buildings or military installations). Review OSAC’s report, Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.

Environmental Hazards

The Philippines lies along the Pacific Ring of Fire, and experiences frequent seismic and volcanic activity. Small earthquakes occur regularly due to the meeting of major tectonic plates in the region. Additionally, the island country faces the Pacific Ocean, where 60% of the world's typhoons originate. On average, 25 typhoons enter waters around the Philippines every year. Other environmental issues affecting the Philippines include flooding, air and water pollution, deforestation, landslides, coastal erosion, and climate change.

The start of 2020 witnessed an increase in volcanic activity. On January 12, the volcanic island in the center of the Taal caldera began erupting, producing a nine-mile-high plume of steam and ash, and significant ashfall in multiple municipalities up to 40 miles to the north and northeast of the volcano. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) issued an alert level 4 for the Taal volcanic eruption. Ash in the airspace and ashfall in the metropolitan areas of Manila and Quezon City prompted the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines to suspend all flights from MNL temporarily.

 In past years, typhoons and heavy rains repeatedly caused extensive damage and landslides, resulting in loss of life, homes, and electrical power in various regions. In September 2018, Typhoon Mangkhut made landfall in Cagayan province, causing extensive damage and killing 150 people.

Personal Identity Concerns

Review the State Department’s webpage on security for female travelers.

There is no prohibition on entry into the Philippines by LGBTI individuals. Transgender travelers should be aware that immigration officials might require supporting documents if the gender in the traveler’s passport does not reflect the gender expression of a transgender person. According to Philippine law, an individual’s sex must match that assigned at birth as reflected on the official birth certificate, even in cases of post-operative sex reassignment. Same-sex relationships are not illegal in the Philippines, but they lack legal recognition. No federal law prohibits discrimination against LGBTI individuals. Several cities, however, have passed local ordinances protecting LGBTI rights. Despite these legislative efforts, LGBTI individuals continue to face discrimination and harassment. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+ travelers.

Review OSAC’s report, Freedom to Practice, and the State Department’s webpage on security for faith-based travelers.

Streets, buildings, and public transportation may lack facilities for persons with disabilities. Government efforts to improve access to transportation for persons with disabilities are limited due to weak implementing regulations. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers with disabilities.

Drug-related Crimes

The production, trafficking, and consumption of illegal drugs is an ongoing concern, and has become a priority issue for the government. Although an anti-drug campaign launched in 2016 has focused primarily on arrests and enforcement operations, the government has indicated that it intends to expand treatment and rehabilitation activities.

Trafficking and abuse of methamphetamines remain the foremost drug-related problem, followed by marijuana and, to a lesser extent, cocaine and MDMA/ecstasy. Transnational organized crime groups exploit under-staffed and under-resourced law enforcement and a weak judicial system to establish clandestine drug laboratories and import wholesale quantities of methamphetamines to supply the domestic market. Authorities have raided meth laboratories throughout the country, including in major urban centers like Manila.

Penalties for drug-related crimes can be severe, ranging from 40 years to a life sentence in prison for drug couriers. Additionally, proposed legislation under Philippine congressional review is seeking to revive the death penalty for drug traffickers.

Kidnapping Threat

Kidnapping for ransom (KFR) is a persistent problem throughout the Philippines. Over the years, KFR payments have become a reliable source of funding for various insurgent groups in the Philippines. In southern Mindanao, KFR injects significant amounts of money into the local economy, which could suggest tacit support by the local populace. In October 2019, armed men abducted a British national and his Filipino spouse from a beach resort in Mindanao; Philippine forces rescued the couple in November. In May 2019, kidnappers killed a 59-year-old Dutch hostage on the island of Jolo.

The PNP Anti-Kidnapping Group (AKG) is primarily responsible for kidnapping investigations. In 2019, kidnapping victims were predominantly Philippine and Chinese citizens. AKG officials report kidnappers in Mindanao are mostly Muslim extremist individuals/groups. While kidnappings occur throughout the country, most cases appear to be criminal and related to casinos and Philippines Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO). Review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics.

Police Response

PNP is the armed civilian national police force that employs approximately 170,000 personnel within Regional Police Offices. Each division exercises independent control over all police units within their respective areas of operation. The PNP is a capable force but limited in its ability to respond to and assist victims of crime and traffic accidents due to a lack of response vehicles, radios, and other essential equipment.

The emergency lines in the Philippines are 911 and 117. You can also call 02-8722-0650. Report all incidents of crime to the PNP. Remain calm and polite when interacting with the PNP to avoid misunderstandings and miscommunication. Download the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure. U.S. travelers who feel that the police are harassing or extorting them should contact that officer’s commander and to report the incident to the U.S. Embassy. In the event of arrest or detention by the police, reach the U.S. Embassy at 02-5301-2000.

Further local police contact numbers are as follows:

  • Manila: 02-8523-3378 (District Tactical Operations Center)
  • Makati: 02-8843-7971 (Tactical operations Center)
  • Pasay: 02-8831-1544 (Tactical Operations Center)
  • Quezon City: 02-8925-8417 (District Tactical Operations Center)

For fire assistance within the National Capital Region (NCR), contact the Central Operations Center Hotline: 02-8410-6319. Bureau of Fire Protection: 02-8426-0219 and 02-8426-0246

The following emergency lines relay fire alarms to respective fire district by radio:

  • Manila: 02-8827-3627 and 02-8527-3653
  • Makati: 02-8818-5150 and 02-8816-2553
  • Pasay: 02-8843-6523 and 02-8844-2120
  • Quezon City: 02-8924-1922 and 02-8929-6-8363

There are many reliable local private security companies.

Medical Emergencies

Adequate medical care is available in major cities, but not all Philippine hospitals uphold the standards of care, sanitation, and equipment of hospitals in the U.S. Medical care is limited in rural and remote areas. In addition, traffic patterns in Manila may prevent first responders from reaching persons in need. There are many Western-trained Filipino doctors who are generally capable of providing quality medical care, even when with sub-standard medical facilities. For a list of doctors and medical facilities in the Philippines, consult U.S. Embassy Manila’s Medical Assistance webpage.

Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the U.S. can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Most hospitals will require a downpayment of estimated fees at the time of admission and full payment prior to discharge. In some cases, public and private hospitals have withheld lifesaving medicines and treatment until receiving payment. Many hospitals will not release a patient until receiving full payment for services. The U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Departments webpage on insurance overseas.

CDC Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

The Philippines hosts mosquito-borne diseases that can be viral (e.g. dengue, chikungunya, and Japanese encephalitis) or parasitic (e.g. malaria and filariasis). The Philippines is a moderate risk location for Zika virus transmission. Health officials in the Philippines have reported an ongoing outbreak of measles throughout the country. U.S. citizens living in or traveling to the Philippines should make sure they are vaccinated against measles with the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine. Avoid contact with people who are sick. Health officials have reported an outbreak of polio in the Philippines. The U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that all U.S. citizens living in or traveling to the Philippines be fully vaccinated against polio. Before traveling to the Philippines, adults who have completed their routine polio vaccine series as children should receive a single, lifetime adult booster of polio vaccine. The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for the Philippines.

OSAC Country Council Information

The OSAC Manila Country Council generally meets on the third Thursday of each month, except in December. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s East Asia & Pacific Team with any questions.

U.S. Embassy and Contact Information

1201 Roxas Boulevard, Manila, Philippines 1000.

Website: https://ph.usembassy.gov

Embassy operator and after hour emergency line: +63-2-5301-2000.

The Regional Security Office in Manila is also responsible for Micronesia, Palau, and the Marshall Islands.

Other U.S. Diplomatic Posts in the Philippines:

U.S. Consular Agency, Cebu City, Waterfront Hotel, Ground Floor, Salinas Dr, Lungsod ng Cebu, 6000 Lalawigan ng Cebu, +63 32 231 1261.

Helpful Information

Before you travel, consider the following resources:



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