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 (ACS) Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or establishment and assumes no responsibility for the quality of services 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 officials.
Please review OSAC’s Philippines-specific webpage proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.
Crime remains a significant concern in urban areas throughout the Philippines. Theft, physical assault, and robbery were the most common crimes reported to local authorities in 2016, according to the Philippine National Police Directorate for Investigation and Detective Management. Other common criminal acts include pickpocketing, confidence schemes, and credit card fraud. It is advised to use credit cards at major retail facilities/banks and always check bills or statements for suspicious charges. Date-rape drug use has also been reported, and travelers should never leave a drink unattended or accept drinks from a stranger.
Carjacking, robberies, and violent assaults also occur sporadically. Reports have identified incidents in which criminal gangs have rear-ended the bumper of a targeted vehicle. Once the driver gets out of the car to check for damage, the suspects rob the driver and steal the vehicle. The modus operandi for these incidents typically involves dark streets or isolated areas in metro Manila.
In 2016, robberies committed by taxi drivers and individuals using stolen taxi cabs declined from 2015. Despite one instance in which the driver of a ride sharing service was accused of rape, crime associated with ride sharing services in 2016 was minimal.
Areas of Concern
Due to the security concerns highlighted in the State Department’s Travel Warning for the Philippines, U.S. government employees are only permitted travel considered essential to Mindanao, the Sulu Archipelago, and the Sulu Sea and must seek prior authorization.
Road Safety and Road Conditions
In most cities in the Philippines, and in Manila in particular, traffic is dense, chaotic, and unpredictable. Roads are frequently congested, and drivers are often undisciplined. Drivers regularly fail to yield to emergency vehicles. These combined factors can impede the ability of emergency vehicles from reaching 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.
Public Transportation Conditions
Always use extra caution when hailing taxis on the street. The safest way to travel using a taxi is to ask the hotel, restaurant, or business establishment to call a reliable taxi service. Consider calling or texting a friend/local contact and providing the name of the company, the license plate number, and name driver upon entering the taxi. The vast majority of taxi services remain safe and reliable. Never “share” a taxi cab with a stranger. If there are any other passengers in the taxi, do not enter that taxi cab and wait for the next one. Before getting into any taxi, always check to see if the meter is functioning. Do not patronize a taxi that does not have a functioning meter or if the driver refuses to use it.
Another option for travelers is ride-sharing services connecting drivers and passengers through smart phone applications. In 2016, the use of ride sharing services surged in metropolitan Manila. These services have proven very efficient and successful in Manila. Ride sharing services often negate the need for cash.
Other Travel Conditions
Transportation safety involving maritime ferries tends to be substandard compared to the U.S., and Embassy personnel are advised to avoid using them. Accidents involving ferries are relatively frequent and have resulted in the serious injury and death of passengers.
The U.S. Department of State has assessed Manila as being a high-threat location for terrorist activity directed at or affecting official 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 there.
- In 2016, an improvised explosive device (IED) was discovered several hundred meters from U.S. Embassy Manila. The device was deactivated by the Manila Police Department Explosive Ordnance Division.
The communist New People’s Army (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 infrastructure (power facilities, telecommunication towers, bridges, etc.) to enforce their extortion demands. The group has targeted, attacked, damaged, and destroyed mining and road construction equipment and set buses on fire. In 2016, the NPA appeared to seek constructive dialogue with the Philippine government, with the group’s leadership expressing a desire to establish a lasting peace.
Since 2008, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and rogue elements formerly associated with the MILF have clashed with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in/around Mindanao, including the provinces of North Cotabato, Lanao Del Sur, Lanao Del Norte, Zamboanga, Zamboanga del Sur, and the Sulu Archipelago. The peace process with the Philippine government and MILF continues, with prospects for its completion uncertain.
- In 2016, armed rebels with links to the MILF allegedly attacked a jail in the southern Philippines and freed their leaders.
The Maute Group, named after founder Abdullah Maute, is a radical Islamist group composed of former MILF guerrillas and a handful of foreign fighters. The group (Dawlah Islamiya, the “Islamic State” in Lanao) was involved in a clash with Philippine troops in February 2016 that ended with the capture of its headquarters in Butig, Lanao del Sur. The Philippine National Police (PNP) suspects that the Maute Group may be responsible for several IED incidents throughout the Philippines, including a December 2016 explosion in Leyte Province, where 32 people were injured and the IED found near the U.S. Embassy.
The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a MILF splinter group, continues to confront the AFP and other groups in Mindanao. The BIFF was linked with the MILF in the 2016 attack on a jail in the southern Philippines that facilitated the escape of over 150 prisoners.
The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) operates in Mindanao, chiefly in Zamboanga and the Sulu Archipelago, as well as throughout the Sulu Sea. This group has pledged its allegiance 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 captive for more than three months.
In 2017, the AFP announced a campaign plan to eliminate all terror groups in the Philippines, the ASG and Maute Groups in particular.
Small-scale, anti-U.S. demonstrations held in front of and in the vicinity of U.S. Embassy Manila are common. Demonstrations are organized by various groups (Filipino college students, the Communist Party of the Philippines, labor/socialist organizations). All demonstrations contain an element of anti-American sentiment, and each group’s goal is to reach the grounds of the Embassy, though most are intercepted by the PNP. The number of demonstrators is usually under 100 people. While injuries are rare, demonstrators have assaulted police and defaced the walls and Embassy main gate by throwing red paint.
- In October 2016, a demonstration held near the Embassy 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.
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.
It is not unusual for the period leading up to Election Day to be marred by violence between the factions of competing candidates. Elections have led to drive-by shootings, IEDs, and grenade attacks designed to settle scores and eliminate political rivals (especially candidates for local offices). Typically, this does not result in civil disturbances or large-scale clashes by partisan groups.
The 2016 presidential election, which saw Rodrigo Duterte elected, was largely absent of civil disturbances or partisan violent clashes. Barangay (village) and Sangguniang Kabataan (youth Barangay sector) elections are scheduled to be held in October 2017.
As a result of a 2009 politically-motivated massacre, the 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 easily set back development and economic gains by causing disruptions to communication and transportation. These events have also led to considerable casualties.
- In 2016, several typhoons caused loss of life, homes, and electrical power in various parts of the Philippines.
- On November 8, 2013, Typhoon Haiyan hit 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, which left at least 6,000 dead, and over 27,000 injured.
The production, trafficking, and consumption of illegal drugs remain issues of concern. 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 both under-staffed and under-resourced law enforcement and a weak judicial system to establish clandestine drug laboratories and import wholesale quantities of methamphetamine to supply the domestic market. Authorities have raided methamphetamine laboratories throughout the country, including major urban centers like Manila. Regionally, the Philippines has been 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, with sentences of 40 years in prison to life not uncommon for drug couriers.
Drug trafficking has become a priority issue for the government of the Philippines under President Duterte. Though the ongoing anti-drug campaign has focused primarily on arrests and enforcement operations, the government has indicated that it intends to expand treatment and rehabilitation activities. Additionally, proposed legislation under Philippine congressional review is seeking to revive the death penalty for drug traffickers.
According to PNP statistics, 5,927 deaths linked to the "war on drugs" in the Philippines occurred from July 1-December 12, 2016. Of the total, 2,086 people were killed in police operations, and 3,841 deaths were attributed to extrajudicial or vigilante-style killings. More than 40,000 suspects had been arrested for drug-related crimes since July 1.
The PNP Anti-Kidnapping Group (AKG) is primarily responsible for kidnapping investigations.
- In 2016, there were 22 reported kidnappings, predominantly of local citizens. Thirteen of these incidents occurred in Mindanao.
AKG officials report that kidnapping incidents in Mindanao are most often perpetrated by Muslim insurgent/terrorist organizations (ASG, MILF, the Lawless MILF Group). Kidnappings remain prevalent in western Mindanao, particularly in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao; on the Zamboanga Peninsula; in the provinces of South Cotabato, North Cotabato, Sarangani, Sultan Kudarat; in the Chartered Cities of Zamboanga, General Santos City, Cotabato, Iligan, Cagayan de Oro; and throughout the Sulu Sea. Several militant groups see kidnap-for-ransom as a way to fund their operations, and foreigners are often targeted.
The AFP stated that the ASG was holding 13 foreign hostages kidnapped between February 1, 2012 and April 15, 2016. Although, the vast majority of the kidnapping victims are Philippine nationals, the period of 2014-2016 saw a marked increase in foreign hostage-taking. In 2016, ASG was linked to the kidnappings of one Norwegian, one Korean, two Canadian, and two Malaysian nationals. AFP indicates it is aware of at least 18 foreign citizens being held hostage throughout the southern Philippines by ASG and other KFR groups.
While kidnappings occur throughout the country, the majority of incidents in Manila and areas north of Mindanao appear to be criminal in nature. The perpetrators appear to 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/weeks). Victims are often returned to their families after a ransom has been paid.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) are capable but limited in their capacity to respond to and assist the 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
Foreigners should remain calm and polite when interacting with police to avoid misunderstandings and miscommunication. 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 they are being extorted by the police, they are encouraged to contact the officer’s commander and to report the incident to the U.S. Embassy. In the event of arrest or detention by the police, U.S. citizens should contact (or request that authorities contact) the U.S. Embassy at 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. 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)
Fire Contact Numbers: For fire within the National Capital Region, the Central Operations Center Hotline can be reached at 410-6319. Emergency/fire alarms will be relayed to the respective 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 companies that provide private security services.
Adequate medical care is available in major cities, but hospitals may not meet the standards of care, sanitation, and equipment provided 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.
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.
Contact Information for Available Medical Services
A list of doctors and medical facilities is on the webpage of the U.S. Embassy Manila.
Makati Medical Center