According to the current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication, the Philippines has been assessed as Level 2: Exercise increased caution. Certain areas, however, including Mindanao, the Sulu Archipelago, and the Sulu Sea, represent a higher security risk.
Overall Crime and Safety Situation
U.S. Embassy Manila does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizen Services unit (ACS) cannot recommend a particular individual or establishment, and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.
The U.S. Department of State has assessed Manila as being a HIGH-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.
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.
Crime remains a significant concern in urban areas throughout 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 2017. Other common criminal activity included pickpocketing, confidence schemes, and credit card fraud. Carjacking, robberies, and violent assaults also occur sporadically throughout the country.
There have been reports of periodic incidents in which criminal gangs hit the rear bumper of a target vehicle; once the driver gets out of the car to check for damage, the suspects rob the driver and steal the vehicle. Such incidents usually occur on dark streets or isolated areas in metro Manila.
In 2017, robberies committed by taxi drivers and/or individuals using stolen taxi cabs declined from 2016. Crime associated with ride-sharing services was negligible in 2017.
There have been reports of credit card and ATM fraud. It is best to use credit cards at major retail facilities/banks and to 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.
For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.”
Road Safety and Road Conditions
In most cities in the Philippines (in Manila, in particular), traffic is dense, chaotic, and unpredictable. The road system is frequently congested, and drivers are often undisciplined. 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. Driving off the national highways and paved roads is particularly dangerous, especially at night, and should be avoided. For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices.”
Public Transportation Conditions
Transportation safety involving maritime ferries tends to be below U.S. standards, and Embassy personnel are advised to avoid using them. Accidents involving ferries are relatively frequent, and such accidents often result in the serious injury or death of passengers.
Always use extra caution when hailing taxis on the street. The safest way to travel using a taxi service 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. Consider texting/calling a friend or local contact to provide the name and number of the taxi and driver upon entering the taxi. Travelers are advised against sharing taxis with strangers. Before getting into any taxi, always check to see if the 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.
In 2017, the use of ride-sharing services surged in metro Manila. These services have proven to be very efficient and successful in Manila. For more information on ride-sharing, please review OSAC’s Annual Briefing Report “Safety and Security in the Share Economy.”
The U.S. Department of State has assessed Manila as being a HIGH-threat location for terrorist activity directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.
Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns
For the last several years, the Department of State has warned U.S. citizens of the risks of terrorist activity in the Philippines. Terrorist groups and criminal gangs continue to operate throughout the Philippines. In 2016, an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) was discovered several hundred meters from Embassy Manila. The device was deactivated by the Manila Police Department (MPD) Explosive Ordnance Division (EOD).
From May to November 2017, homegrown terrorist organizations pledging support to ISIS – including members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), Dawlah Islamiyah Lanao (also called Maute Group), and other smaller extremist groups – seized and held Marawi City, in the Mindanao region. The siege led President Rodrigo Duterte to declare martial law over the entire Mindanao region, which covers approximately one-third of the country’s 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 held dozens of civilians hostage as human shields. They also reportedly massacred and beheaded captive civilians.
Armed attacks against civilians and security forces continued.
The December 3 attack on a police station in Misamis Oriental by approximately 100 members of the New People’s Army (NPA), which is the armed winged of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), exemplifies the group’s frequent strikes at military, police, and local government targets.
Suspected members of the ASG attacked a village in Basilan on August 21, killing at least nine civilians and wounding a dozen more.
The press reported that on June 22, security forces rescued at least 60 civilians held hostage by members of the Islamic militant group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) after the group launched an attack in North Cotabato.
Political settlements to long-running insurgencies remained elusive, thereby driving recruitment up and fueling terrorist activities among certain groups. The Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), intended to implement the previous administration’s 2014 peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), is awaiting action in Congress. Delays in passing the BBL provide recruitment propaganda for former MILF fighters and commanders who formed more extreme breakaway groups over the years, including BIFF, Ansar al-Khalifa, and the Maute Group.
The BIFF, a MILF splinter group, continues to confront the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and other security forces in Mindanao. In September 2013, approximately 150 militants from the ASG and the BIFF joined forces in an attack against government troops in Lamitan on Basilan Island in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Multiple hostages were taken, and much of the city was burned to the ground. It took several days for the AFP to regain control of the city.
The BIFF was also linked with the MILF in the 2016 attack on a jail in the southern Philippines that facilitated the escape of over 150 prisoners.
The ASG operates in Mindanao, chiefly in Zamboanga and the Sulu Archipelago, as well as in/around the Sulu Sea. This group has pledged itself to ISIS. ASG is notorious for its kidnap-for-ransom operations. In January 2017, ASG militants reportedly released a South Korean and a Filipino national after holding them for more than three months.
The government of the Philippines and the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army ended their six-month long unilateral ceasefire in February 2017, and the NPA increased its attacks against security forces following the failure of the most recent round of peace talks in May 2017. On December 5, President Duterte signed a presidential proclamation to formally designate the CPP/NPA a terrorist group; however, the courts must still rule on the designation. The NPA has targeted foreigners and could threaten U.S. citizens engaged in business or property management activities. The NPA frequently demands “revolutionary taxes” from local and foreign businesses. Members of the group also threaten and conduct attacks on critical infrastructure to enforce their extortion demands. The group also targeted, attacked, damaged, and destroyed mining and road construction equipment and has set buses on fire.
Small-scale, anti-American 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 labor/socialist organizations. All of these demonstrations contain an element of anti-American sentiment, and each group’s goal is to reach the grounds of the U.S. Embassy. Most of the protest groups are intercepted by the Philippine National Police (PNP). The number of demonstrators is typically less than 200 people. Injuries are rare, though demonstrators have assaulted the police and have defaced the Embassy walls and main gate.
In October 2016, a demonstration held in the vicinity of Embassy Manila grew aggressive, as 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.
In 2017, protests near Embassy Manila were smaller in scale than in previous years.
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.
Elections have led to acts of violence targeting particular candidates, especially candidates for local offices, but typically have not resulted in civil disturbances or large-scale clashes by partisan groups. It is not unusual for the period leading up to an election to be marred by violence between the factions of competing candidates. Attacks have involved drive-by shootings, IEDs, and grenade attacks to settle scores and eliminate political rivals. The 2016 presidential election, which saw Rodrigo Duterte elected president, was largely devoid of any civil disturbances or partisan violent clashes. Barangay (village) elections are scheduled for May 2018.
In November 2009, a politically-motivated massacre took place in Maguindanao. The attack claimed the lives of 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 to curtail politically-related activities of armed partisan groups.
The Philippines is particularly vulnerable to typhoons, floods, earthquakes, landslides, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions. These disasters can set back development and economic gains, cause disruptions in communication and transportation, and result in significant injuries and casualties.
The start of 2018 witnessed an increase in volcanic activity. On January 15, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) issued an alert level 3 for the Mayon Volcano, (in Albay province, approximately 300 kilometers southeast of Manila on Luzon). PHIVOLCS warned that the area was “in a relatively high level of unrest,” as magma was at the crater, and hazardous eruption was possible within weeks or even days.
In 2016 and 2017, typhoons and heavy rains repeatedly caused extensive damage and landslides, resulting in loss of life, homes, and electrical power in various regions. On November 8, 2013, Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines with record-breaking sustained winds of over 195 miles per hour and sea level storm surges of over 13 feet. Over 16 million people were affected by the storm, including at least 6,000 dead and over 27,000 injured.
The production, trafficking, and consumption of illegal drugs are an ongoing concern. Drug trafficking has become a priority issue for the government. Though the anti-drug campaign has focused primarily on arrests and enforcement operations, the government has indicated that it intends to expand treatment and rehabilitation activities. According to PNP statistics, 3,968 deaths occurred in anti-drug operations from July 1, 2016 through December 27, 2017. Thousands more drug-related homicides by unidentified “vigilantes” occurred in the same period.
Trafficking and abuse of methamphetamine remains the foremost drug-related problem, followed by marijuana and, to a lesser extent, cocaine, and Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (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 meth to supply the domestic market. Authorities have raided meth laboratories throughout the country, including in major urban centers like Manila. The Philippines is an identified source of meth for Guam and a transit point from Africa to Southeast Asia.
Penalties for drug-related crimes can be severe, with 40 years in prison to a life sentence not uncommon even for drug couriers. Additionally, proposed legislation under Philippine congressional review is seeking to revive the death penalty for drug traffickers.
Host-nation media observed that kidnapping-for-ransom cases declined from previous years. The PNP Anti-Kidnapping Group (AKG) is primarily responsible for kidnapping investigations. In 2017, there were 43 reported kidnappings, predominantly of local citizens. Fourteen of these occurred in Mindanao. AKG officials report that kidnapping incidents in Mindanao are mostly perpetrated by Muslim extremist individuals/groups that are members or allies of terrorist organizations (ASG, ISIS Philippines/Maute Group, and radical MILF factions). Kidnappings remain prevalent in western Mindanao, particularly in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) area/provinces, the Zamboanga Peninsula; and in the Cotabato-Central Mindanao region, specifically in the provinces of South and North Cotabato, Sarangani, Sultan Kudarat, and in the Chartered Cities of Zamboanga, General Santos City, Cotabato, Iligan, Cagayan de Oro, and the Sulu Sea.
Several militant groups see kidnap-for-ransom as a way to fund their operations, and foreigners are targeted. But, the vast majority of the kidnapping victims are Philippine nationals. AFP indicates it is aware of at least seven foreign citizens being held hostage in the southern Philippines by ASG and other KFR groups. Five are Indonesians, one is Dutch, and one is Japanese. While kidnappings occur throughout the country, the majority appear to be criminal and not ideological. The perpetrators appear to mainly target local business people and individuals who are perceived as affluent. Criminal groups also tend to negotiate for a ransom within a relatively brief period (days or weeks, rather than years). Victims are often returned to their families after a ransom has been paid.
more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “Kidnapping: The
The Philippine National Police (PNP) is capable 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.
How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment
Although reports of corruption and bribery, to include crimes apparently committed by PNP officers, are widespread, it is U.S. government policy not to pay or condone bribes to officials.
Should Americans feel that the police are extorting them, they are advised to contact that officer’s commander and to report the incident to the Embassy. In the event of arrest or detention by the police, the U.S. Embassy can be reached at 02-301-2000. A duty officer is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Crime Victim Assistance
All incidents of crime should be reported to the PNP. Foreigners should remain calm and polite when interacting with the PNP to avoid misunderstandings and miscommunication.
The national emergency number is 117
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 within the National Capital Region, contact the Central Operations Center Hotline at 410-6319.
Emergency/Fire alarm will be 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
There are many reliable local private security companies.
Adequate medical care is available in major cities, but not all Philippine hospitals meet the standards of care, sanitation, and equipment provided by hospitals in the U.S. Medical care is limited in rural and remote areas. There are many Western-trained Filipino doctors, who, in general, provide quality medical care, even when they have sub-standard medical facilities. The national emergency number is 117.
Contact Information for Available Medical Services
A list of doctors and medical facilities is on the U.S. Embassy Manila’s Medical Assistance webpage.
Available Air Ambulance Services
International SOS-Philippines (Air Ambulance): 687-0909
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 down payment 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 for non-payment. Many hospitals will not release a patient until full payment for services has been rendered.
CDC Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance
The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for the Philippines.
OSAC Country Council Information
The OSAC Manila Country Council usually meets monthly, except in December. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s OSACEAP@state.gov 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
Embassy Contact Numbers
Operator: 63-2-301-2000 and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to connect callers to the duty officer for after-hours emergencies.
Consular Coverage for Multi-post Countries
The Regional Security Office is also responsible for Micronesia, Palau, and the Marshall Islands.
Virtual Presence Post Mindanao: http://mindanao.usvpp.gov/
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.
Philippines Country Information Sheet