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Overseas Security Advisory Council
Bureau of Diplomatic Security
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Philippines 2019 Crime & Safety Report

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.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

The U.S. Embassy in Manila does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizen Services (ACS) unit cannot recommend a particular individual or establishment, and assumes no responsibility for the quality of services provided.

Please review OSAC’s Philippines-specific 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.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Crime Threats

There is moderate risk from crime in Manila. 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 2018. Other common crimes included pickpocketing, confidence schemes, and credit card fraud. Carjacking, robberies, and violent assaults also occurred throughout the country.

The PNP reported, however, that the total volume of crime during the first half of 2018 had dropped, and that the volume of index and non-index crimes decreased. The nationwide crime rate dropped by 21.5% from July 2016 to June 2018 compared to the same period from 2014 to 2016, according to PNP data. Crimes against persons such as physical injuries and sexual assault also decreased.

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

There have been reports of credit card and ATM fraud. It is best to use credit cards only at major retail facilities and banks. Always check bills or statements for suspicious charges. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud.

Areas of Concern

Due to the security concerns highlighted in the State Department’s Travel Advisory for the Philippines, U.S. government employees must seek authorization for travel to Mindanao, the Sulu Archipelago, and the Sulu Sea. On December 12, 2018, the Philippines Congress voted to approve a request by president Duterte for a second one-year extension of martial law in the southern Mindanao region through 2019.

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. For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report Driving Overseas: Best Practices.

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. The vast majority of 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.

Bus accidents occur regularly due to poor bus maintenance or driver error. In March 2018, a bus crashed through a guardrail and plunged off a cliff killing 19 people and injuring 21.

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. In December 2017, a ferry capsized with 258 people on board. In 2015, 59 people died when a ferry capsized off the coast of Leyte.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

On December 26, 2018 the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a formal notice regarding the aviation security measures at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila (MNL). The Philippines continues to work with Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and other international partners to ensure that the airport meets international standards.

Terrorism Threat

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

There is considerable risk from terrorism in Manila. Terrorist organizations and criminal gangs continue to operate throughout the Philippines. 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 a number of attacks. Some groups have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and are likely to regard Westerners as legitimate targets. 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 Philippine government has instituted martial law throughout the Mindanao region. 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 January 2017, suspected Abu Sayyaf militants killed eight fishermen in an attack in Zamboanga.
  • In March 2017, suspected Abu Sayyaf militants killed at least four people and wounded 23 in a grenade attack in the Sulu area.
  • In April 2017, a firefight killed three Philippine Army soldiers, a police officer, two civilians and four militants near Inabanga, Bohol.
  • In July 2017, Abu Sayyaf militants beheaded two Vietnamese sailors held hostages for eight months in Basilan.
  • In July 2017, Abu Sayyaf left the bodies of seven Filipino loggers they had previously kidnapped in two separate towns of Basilan.
  • In August 2017, Abu Sayyaf killed nine people and wounded 16 others in an attack in Basilan province.
  • 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, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters 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 were and wounding 35. Authorities deactivated another suspected IED found in a subsequent search of the area. 

 

In May 2017, insurgent organizations pledging to support ISIS seized and held Marawi City, on the island of Mindanao. The siege led President Rodrigo Duterte to impose martial law in Mindanao, which covers approximately one-third of the country’s land territory. Security forces ultimately cleared the city and eliminated much of the terrorist leadership. During the “Battle of Marawi,” radical groups aligned with ISIS attacked, occupied, and destroyed several key public buildings and took hostages as human shields. These groups reportedly massacred and beheaded captive civilians. Immediately after the Marawi siege ended, some fighters were believed to have escaped and splintered into smaller groups scattered across Mindanao. On December 12, 2018, the Philippines Congress voted to extend martial law in Mindanao through the end of 2019.

In 2016, authorities discovered an IED several hundred meters from the U.S. Embassy in Manila. The Manila Police Department (MPD) Explosive Ordnance Division (EOD) deactivated the device.

Anti-U.S./Anti-Western Sentiment

Small-scale, anti-U.S. demonstrations are commonly held in front of and in the vicinity of the U.S. Embassy in Manila. Demonstrations are organized by various groups, such as 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.

In October 2016, a demonstration held in the vicinity of the Embassy became aggressive when approximately 1,000 protestors attempted to surge toward the Embassy walls. Several police officers and demonstrators were hurt before police regained control of the situation.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

There is considerable risk from civil unrest in Manila. Historically, elections have led to acts of violence targeting particular candidates, especially those seeking local office. These incidents, however, have typically not resulted in widespread civil disturbances or large-scale partisan clashes. It is not unusual for violence between the factions of competing candidates to mar the period leading up to an election. Attacks to settle scores and eliminate political rivals have involved drive-by shootings, IEDs, and grenades.

The mid-term national and local election period runs from January to June 2019. Voters will elect half of the Senate (the upper house) and all of the House of Representatives (the lower house). The campaign period for the Senate runs from February 12 to May 11, while candidates for the House of Representatives may begin campaigning only from March 29.

The Commission on Human Rights recorded 30 election-related killings ahead of the 2016 general election. A similar number were killed in the run-up to barangay (district) elections in 2018, when 684,785 candidates campaigned for 42,000 local government posts.

In November 2009, a politically motivated massacre in Maguindanao, on the southern island of Mindanao killed 57 people, including 30 journalists, making it one of the worst election-related acts of violence in recent history. As a result, the Philippines Commission on Elections (COMELEC) instituted a gun ban prior to all election cycles in an attempt to curb violence among political rivals and curtail the politically-related activities of armed partisan groups.

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 country is surrounded by large bodies of water and faces the Pacific Ocean, where 60% of the world's typhoons originate. An average of 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 2018 witnessed an increase in volcanic activity. On January 22, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) issued an alert level 4 for the Mayon Volcano, (located in Albay province, approximately 300 kilometers southeast of Manila on Luzon). PHIVOLCS warned that the area was “in a relatively high level of unrest.”

During the past two 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. In November 2013, Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines with record-breaking sustained winds of over 195 miles per hour and storm surges of over 13 feet. The storm affected over 16 million people, resulting in more than 6,000 deaths and 27,000 injuries.

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 methamphetamine remains 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. The Philippines is identified as a source of methamphetamine for Guam and a transit point from Africa to Southeast Asia.

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. In 2017 and 2018, all foreign victims of KFR were from other countries in Asia, and no Westerners were reportedly taken hostage. Over the years, KFR payments have become a reliable source of funding for various insurgent groups in the Philippines. Success in securing ransoms worth millions of dollars may have further incentivized KFR activities. In southern Mindanao, KFR injects significant amounts of money into the local economy, which could suggest tacit support by the local populace.

The PNP Anti-Kidnapping Group (AKG) is primarily responsible for kidnapping investigations. In 2017 and 2018, kidnapping victims were predominantly Philippine citizens. AKG officials report kidnapping incidents in Mindanao are mostly perpetrated by Muslim extremist individuals/groups. While kidnappings occur throughout the country, the majority of cases appear to be criminal and not ideological. The perpetrators appear to target local business people and individuals perceived as affluent.

Police Response

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

U.S. travelers who feel that the police are harassing or extorting them are advised to 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 02-301-2000. A duty officer is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Crime Victim Assistance

Report all incidents of crime to the PNP. Remain calm and polite when interacting with the PNP to avoid misunderstandings and miscommunication.

The national emergency number is 911.

Police Contact Numbers:

Manila: 523-3378 (District Tactical Operations Center)

Makati City: 843-7971 (Tactical Operations Center)

Pasay City: 831-1544 (Tactical Operations Center)

Quezon City: 925-8417 (District Tactical Operations Center)

For fire assistance within the National Capital Region, contact the Central Operations Center Hotline at 410-6319.

Emergency/fire alarms are relayed to respective fire district by radio:

Manila: 527-3627 and 527-3653

Makati City: 818-5150 and 816-2553

Pasay City: 843-6523 and 844-2120

Quezon City: 924-1922 and 928-8363

Police/Security Agencies

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.

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. There are many Western-trained Filipino doctors, who are generally capable of providing quality medical care, even when they have sub-standard medical facilities. The national emergency number is 911.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

For a list of doctors and medical facilities in the Philippines, consult U.S. Embassy Manila’s Medical Assistance webpage.

Available Air Ambulance Services

International SOS-Philippines (Air Ambulance): 687-0909

Insurance Guidance

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 payment is received. Many hospitals will not release a patient until full payment for services is rendered.

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 categorized as a moderate risk location for Zika virus transmission. 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 and the Pacific Team with any questions.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

U.S. Embassy Manila

1201 Roxas Boulevard

Manila, Philippines 1000

Website: https://ph.usembassy.gov

Embassy Contact Numbers

Operator: 63-2-301-2000 available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to connect callers to the duty officer for after-hours emergencies involving U.S. citizens.

Consular coverage for multi-post Countries

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

Nearby Posts

U.S. Consular Agency, Cebu City

Embassy Guidance

U.S. citizens traveling to or residing in the Philippines are strongly encouraged to enroll in the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). STEP enrollment provides travelers with the latest security updates and makes it easier for the U.S. embassy to contact them in an emergency.

Additional Resources

Philippines Country Information Sheet

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