Stay Safe in Philippines
Use common sense when travelling in and around the Philippines, as you would when travelling to other developing countries. Although the people on these islands are generally friendly and accommodating, be aware of the widespread poverty (especially in the big cities) and the things that unfortunately come with it.
Petty crime, such as pickpocketing and robberies, is common, especially in busy areas. You should not show your valuables (especially iPods and Apple iPhones) as they are a risk for pickpocketing. Carry small change and do not show large notes. Pickpocketing is common in big cities. Manila is not a violent place for pickpocketing, but scams involving ativan (drugging someone to steal from them) are common practice. Do not expect retaliation from the police and be careful as they are easily bribed and can get involved in their own scams. Women are advised to travel in groups and to exercise caution when going out at night. Do not enter alleys and secluded areas at night.
Thefts by robbery are also common. Many cases of robbery are committed by motorcyclists (especially tandem riders) and are mainly directed against people carrying shoulder bags. Sometimes they drag the bag with the person a few metres. Be careful when carrying expensive bags as this may attract the attention of thieves. Avoid wearing jewellery, especially earrings or rings, when in busy places.
Women should be careful when driving taxis as there are several cases of drivers spraying chemicals on the air conditioner and the passenger falling asleep and waking up with their bag and other stolen valuables. There have been reported cases of women, especially call centre agents, being robbed and raped by taxi drivers who are actually driving a stolen taxi (“Carnap”). Make sure the taxi has a driver’s ID and beware of suspicious drivers: if you see anything suspicious about a taxi or its driver, do not take the taxi.
Prostitution is thriving but officially illegal in the Philippines, although there are hostess bars, massage parlours and other fronts offering the service. EDSA and Makati in Metro Manila and Angeles City are well-known hotspots for these activities. The age of consent is 18 years old. The Philippine National Police take strict action against sex offenders, paedophiles and those involved in prostitution. If you are caught prostituting or sexually abusing children, you face a long prison sentence, fines and deportation to your country.
Child pornography is also widespread, especially on the internet where it is aimed at foreign customers. If you are caught in possession of child pornography, you face imprisonment, fines and deportation.
Marijuana and shabu (crystal methamphetamine) are widely used in the country; however, they are also illegal and the penalties are very harsh: you could very well be sentenced to a long prison term, followed by deportation. The authorities regularly raid drug dens and labs, especially those that manufacture, possess and sell shabu. Chinese drug traffickers are not uncommon, as they do business in the Philippines to avoid the death penalty in China for drug possession. The Philippines does not have the famous high-quality weed from neighbouring Thailand; most of what is available is not worth the price, let alone the risk.
Gays and lesbians
Gays and lesbians will do well in the Philippines as part of the tolerant younger generation is very open-minded, but you shouldn’t be too curious – a couple kissing in public may be stared at or even insulted. In the countryside and among the over-60 generation, they are also likely to condemn it. But Filipinos still have their warm hospitality. Violence against gays and lesbians is rare.
Stay healthy in Philippines
Food and drink
Drink easily accessible bottled water. Buko (young coconut) juice is also safe unless they have added local ice. Beware of sellers of buko juice; some simply add sugar to the water. Buy and eat fruit that has not yet been cut. Food cooked in a karenia (open-air canteen) is acceptable if there is a fire under the pots and the food has been kept warm.
If you must drink tap water (it is usually served/held in a small or medium-sized plastic bag), water from Manila, Cebu City and other major cities is generally good, but it is recommended to boil tap water for at least 5 minutes just to be safe. Elsewhere, you should drink bottled water. In the countryside, there is always a risk of contracting amoebiasis from drinking tap water. This also applies to the ice cubes that are usually added to drinks.
It is best to buy bottled water in protected shops and restaurants. Bottled water sold outdoors (by the roadside) is most likely a used bottle that has been filled with tap water, sealed and then refrigerated.
Be careful with pampalamig (cold drinks like Sago’t Gulaman) as some sellers use Magic Sugar (sodium cyclamate), an artificial sweetener that has been banned by the Philippine government because of its harmful effects on health, such as an increased risk of cancer. It has been used as an alternative to regular sugar because it is much cheaper; call 117 (Philippine National Police) if you encounter such a situation.
Street food is not so safe in the Philippines; hygiene standards are not very enforced. It is better to eat both street food and pampalamie in malls than on the street, as the stalls in malls are better kept clean.
CDC says there is a risk of malaria only in non-urban areas within 600 metres on the islands of Luzon, Mindanao, Mindoro and Palawan. The Visayas are malaria-free. Chloroquine is no longer recommended for malaria prophylaxis in the Philippines, as there are strains that are resistant to this drug. In general, malaria is not very common in the Philippines compared to Africa and the rest of Southeast Asia, and about half of the approximately 40,000 cases per year occur in a few specific locations.
Dengue fever is widespread in the Philippines and cases are increasing every year. It is therefore advisable to apply mosquito repellent and wear long-sleeved clothing whenever possible. A vaccine should be available in some areas, including the Philippines, by mid-2016.
Rabies is also common among street animals in the Philippines. If you haven’t already, get vaccinated against rabies, and if you are travelling with children, vaccinate them as soon as possible, as they are at high risk of contracting rabies as they tend to play more with animals.
Hepatitis A, B and C are a high risk in the country. There are vaccines for A and B recommended for all travellers; there is no vaccine for C yet (mid-2015). Avoid contact with other people’s blood – sharing needles or even personal hygiene items such as razors or toothbrushes – as this is the main route of transmission for B and C.
Japanese encephalitis is common and vaccination is recommended. Avoid swimming in freshwater areas where there is a high risk of schistosomiasis (unless chlorinated). Leptospirosis is often contracted during recreational water activities, e.g. kayaking, in contaminated water.
Tuberculosis is very common in rural areas. Therefore, try to avoid people who cough or look weak, and be careful not to stay too long in villages where the number of contagious people can be high.
Take anti-diarrhoea medication with you, as there is a high risk of travellers’ diarrhoea in unhygienic conditions. Gatorade or other “sports drinks” can help compensate for fluid loss. Drink bottled liquids if you are unsure and always wash your hands.
Over the past seven years, the rate of new HIV cases in the Philippines has increased by about 30 percent annually. At the end of July 2016, there were 35,765 known HIV cases in the Philippines. The Philippine Department of Health has stated that 133,000 people could be living with HIV in the Philippines by 2022. The Philippines has a low rate of people getting tested for HIV and a low rate of condom use. There are now 37 HIV treatment centres in the Philippines that provide antiretroviral drugs free of charge.
Other sexually transmitted diseases are more widespread than HIV. There are social health clinics (STD clinics) all over the Philippines.