Friday, October 9, 2009

Is It Safe in the Philippines?

Tom stayed with us in OUR MELTING POT last week and shared his very unsual observation of Metro Manila. "I'm curious, but it seems all these bad things, fears, negative perception of the Philippines that I harbored in Europe or elsewhere are actually in the mind of the Filipino people. In reality, the Philippines or Manila, in particular, is a big, loud but safe and charming city.

I don't quite understand it, but the Filipinos seem to project these fears almost everywhere. You see them as warnings inside the rest room: watch out for your valuables. They greet you at the Metro stations: beware of pickpocketers. The dispatcher at the taxi stand gives out flyers that tell you: call this number to report erring taxi drivers. Surprisingly, I've already been in the Philippines for two weeks but the "predictions" have yet to happen to me; I don't even think they will ever happen to me. But the fear is palpable. Warnings are still everywhere. Amusingly, no one appears willing to take the responsibility. It seems like saying: if something bad happens to you, then I told you so... because I thought so. However, simply because I told you, no way can you hold me liable for your misfortune.

In the more famous European capitals such as Barcelona, Rome, Paris, thieves or snatchers are common place, especially in the street of Las Ramblas, the Roma Termini Station, or the Eiffle Tower in Paris. But hardly are the tourists forewarned because after all, even if it's government's thrust to ensure the safety of travelers, securing oneself is also a personal responsibility.

Anyway, back to the Philippines. Lonely Planet warns travellers that the most common scam in the Philippines involves drugging a tourist's drinks or food and then robbing them. With the gravity and the "commonality" of the warning, would anyone ever risk coming to the Philippines if s/he is in the right frame of mind?

But where do you think this is coming from? If you are just doing your thing and enjoying yourself, it can and WILL NEVER happen to you in the Philippines. But if you take out prostitutes or associate with society's trouble-makers and let all your defenses down, then in Manila or elsewhere, you are vulnerable. It all boils down to choice and ways of behaving or conducting yourself. But Lonely Planet is not irresponsible with its statement. Yet I strongly suspect that this is a product of an ordinary Filipino's tendency to magnify the negativity. Too bad, the rest of the world catches it.

Tom continued. Lonely planet also wrote Manila's Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) is a dismal introduction to the country: lines are often long at immigration; the airport is old and decripit. Be prepared to deal with the unscrupulous taxi drivers. Well, I flew in to Manila via Asiana airlines and landed at the old NAIA Terminal I. Guess what? I actually thought I was at the wrong airport when I arrived. There was no chaos. No long queues. I even thought the airport was very organized. Terminal 1 was old, not magnificent, not state-of-the-art. It was not beautiful. But it was not bad either, in fact far from being detestable. So again, don't you think the Filipinos are feeding these impressions to the entire world?

In reaction to what Tom said, I referred him to the statement of Ben Beiske, a blogger in, who recently visisted Manila and met with my friend Lili. "The guidebook had called Manila airport dirty, chaotic and dark. I was expecting the worst, but instead after arriving here from Taipei I found it super-clean, well sign-posted and modern. Maybe they have recently upgraded it or I arrived at a different terminal? Leaving the airport, I braced myself for the usual army of taxi drivers and other hawkers but I found -- NOTHING. ??? Not a single person approached me? And I had time to get my bearings. How nice!

So, I continued. The change of perception requires a gargantuan change in mindset or consciousness in every Filipino. But that's almost an impossible task. So we're just starting in our hostel. We're here primarily to promote everything good about our country and about the Filipinos in general. The reviews made by tourists, turned friends, who stayed in our hostel, are a living testament to it. And so this is a mission we would like to carry out for as long as the need is there. We want more Bex Davis of facebook, a recent guest in the hostel, to say: THE PHILIPPINES ROCKS, or Peter Wall who wrote us: we found everyone that we met in the Philippines extremely friendly and helpful.

Our islands are incomparable and are touted as paradise. Yet those island-pearls are not exactly our greatest treasures. Our gentle, caring people are! Our people, because probably of the long history of colonization, can be likened to diamonds trampled upon in the streets. If no one dares pick us up, we might just as well pick up ourselves and show the world that the Philippines is not only a safe place to be. This is the best place you can be. You can in fact immediately call this your home.


  1. Well, i think that if warning signs abound about possible dangers and troubles here and there it is because Filipinos do care about the safety of our guests. It is not lack of patriotic sense. It is really genuine care where the Filipino transcends human-made barriers and boundaries.

    Don't we tell each other "ingat" before we part ways. I guess, our eyes are just open to realities of life, and our both feet are on the ground. So, when we say "ingat" we just remind each other that being safe is a personal responsibility, too, as we can't fully control what others will do. The warnings in the metro stations, in the airports, in the travel brochures and books are not pessimism or negative mindsets which is unfortunately how they are picked up by foreigners who does not know about our "ingat" practice. It's just an expression of concern as we do care about our "kapwa," kapamilya man, kababayan, kalipi o kapwa-tao.

  2. Very True. Our main problem comes from our way of thinking..