10.07.2019

Safety And Security Practices For Expats In The Philippines

Safety And Security Practices For Expats In The Philippines






Disclaimer

This article is not legal advice.  We hope that you may find information I have written here can help you. If you see something incorrect or that needs to be added, then please leave a comment.

Table Of Contents:

Another Westerner Kidnapped In The Philippines


I was already planning to write a post on personal safety and security sometime this month when today I read a report that a British citizen and his wife have been abducted in Zamboanga del Sur. Allan Hyrons and his wife, Wilma, were abducted from a beach resort that they own in Tukuran. Four gunmen took them away in motorboats. The Hyrons owned several businesses in addition to the resort and Allan is a dual citizen of the Philippines and UK.

We all need to be praying for the safety and safe return of these people.

Update 10-28-19 

It has been three weeks now and there is no news about the Hyrons other than we saw on FaceBook that the ransom has been increased.

Update 11-25-19 

The Hyrons have been freed by the Philippine Military.

Southern Philippines Is An Ongoing Danger


For many years I have been aware of the dangers present in southern Philippines. The UK provides this threat level map on its website that is identical to the one found on the US Embassy website:

licensed under OGL v3.0

The black circle on the map is the general location where the abduction took place. Notice that it is right in the middle of the red area, signifying "Advise against all travel."

I would not travel to that location unless absolutely necessary. If I did have to go there I would study the route and any locations where I would be staying to determine "the lay of the land." I would try to limit how much time I spend at any location. I would attempt to travel as rapidly as possible from point to point. I do not want to give anyone enough time to get ideas and devise a plan. I want to be in and out before they know I was there. While I was there I would make every attempt to blend in and not attract attention to myself. 

If I did live in that area I would not adopt a business as usual mindset. I would attempt to be as low profile as possible. The area is not designated as dangerous for no reason at all. Any place can be dangerous, but the place where this abduction transpired is well known for the real and present danger that it poses toward westerners and others. It is not a good idea for a foreigner to go there at all much less live there.

I am aware that many westerners live in that area and may read this post and disagree. That is great. You were prepared to live there. Nothing I can say will discourage someone who is prepared, but I do not want to encourage people who are not prepared.

Complacency Is Your Enemy


It is hard to maintain alertness and discipline at all times when out and about and doubly hard to do it at home in your safety zone. It is very easy to fall into a false sense of security. The main reason I can see for this is due to experiencing a long stretch of "situation normal" that breeds complacency.

The mindset that we need to adopt is that the situation is never normal. No matter how long you have been safe the next moment can bring your peace and safety to an abrupt end.

This is not legal advice, but only a personal view on issues related to safety and security in the Philippines. 

Situational Awareness


Colonel Jeff Cooper provides us with the four levels of awareness. The awareness levels are promoted as being for use in "high risk" areas and situations, but the truth is that they apply everywhere and at all times.
  • white - You are completely relaxed, perhaps daydreaming - may as well be asleep. No situational awareness at all.
  • yellow - Relaxed, but alert and aware of the environment and persons around you.
  • orange - Threat or potential has been identified. Escape and evade.
  • red - You are directly threatened. There is no direct escape and you must fight.

It is difficult to be alert and aware at all times. It can be exhausting. But at key times such as when traveling, shopping or doing anything out in the public you should make an extra effort to be at the yellow level. You should be at yellow while you are operating your business. Depending upon the type of business and if your business is at your home, then you should never drop out of yellow. Let's just be honest, stay at yellow 24/7/365 even when you are asleep.


An Example Of Me Being Situation Unaware


My wife and I were inside a government building in Manila. The place was packed and filled with multiple lines of people queued-up to process their papers. It was the kind of scene where there are so many lines and so many people that you cannot quite tell who is in which line. I was behind and slightly to the right of my wife. Another woman was a bit in front of and to the left of me and she was behind and to the left of my wife. This woman had a collection of papers in her hands. She placed the papers a bit over my wife's purse and slipped her left hand under those papers and into the purse. I was right there and did not see it, but my wife felt the hand in her purse and called the lady out right there in front of the crowd. The purse that my wife was using was not a style that could be closed with a zipper or buttons and was open on top. I surmise that the thief may have targeted my wife for this reason among others.

An Example Where Our Family Was Aware Of A Potential Threat


Another time we saw the same man several times on one of our shopping trips. He was watching us outside the bank. Then he came into the restaurant where we were eating, used the restroom and left. The third time we saw him was in the mall and then a fourth time at another mall.
 

 Now, maybe it was just chance, but James Bond writer, Ian Fleming might disagree:
"Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it's enemy action" 
You need to be aware of who is around you and what is going on whenever you go out and even when you are "safe" in your own home.

Never Panic


Getting back to the awareness levels, it is normal to panic a bit at the orange level - where you realize that there is or may be a threat. But this initial panic must be controlled and not allowed to progress.

Initial panic can progress into uncontrolled fear in which case you will experience the following effects:
  • tunnel vision - narrowing of the field of vision, as if in a "tunnel." You are focused on the threat that is in front of you.
  • auditory exclusion - a temporary loss of hearing caused by hormone induced increased heart rate i.e. FEAR.
  • muscle contraction - the same hormones that cause trembling due to rapidly oscillating muscle contractions can also lead to one being "frozen with fear."
  • time dilation - a person may remember a traumatic event as having taken more time than it actually did.
Fear can adversely affect what you see, what you hear, how you perceive time and space and it can affect your ability to fight or flee from danger. Mentally preparing yourself ahead of time may give you the edge over fear that you require to keep your mind clear and your body ready to act in a way that can save your life.

Fear can also detract from your ability to remember details of the event and prevent you from being able to give an accurate description of who and what you saw.

The only way to overcome the natural process of fear and panic is training and maintaining a prepared mind that is aware of what can happen. This does not mean not being afraid, but simply not being controlled by fear.

Be Alert And Be Aware


Educate yourself about the place where you live and those places you plan to visit. Know the general and specific threats. Be relaxed, but do maintain a mindset that understands that threats are real and something bad can happen at any time.

Suspicion and paranoia can be survival skills. Being obviously suspicious and paranoid is the opposite of a survival skill. Therefore, never appear to be suspicious or paranoid. This requires self awareness in addition to situational awareness. You do not want a potential bad actor to be aware that you are on to him or her. Concealing legitimate suspicion gives you the element of surprise. Revealing it makes you a target.

Know where you are going and how to get there. Download maps. Read reviews. Gather as much information as possible about places you will travel to. Whether you are driving your own vehicle or using public transport you need to know the lay of the land and the general route that should be taking to get to your intended destination. You should be aware if the transport you are using is going the wrong way. This can happen simply because you miscommunicated your destination or it could be a purposeful diversion in order to get you into a place where you can be taken advantage of.

When using public transport you should keep petty cash for that in some easily accessible location that is separate from the rest of your cash etc. You will notice whenever you pay in public that many eyes will be locked on to your hand as it pulls the cash from your pocket. You do not want those eyes to see a fat wad of thousand peso bills.

If you are driving your own vehicle or a rental then you should always follow all traffic laws. Do not speed or drive recklessly. Be courteous and do not make gestures and do be cautious about making direct eye contact. There is a recent case in the US of a driver who was killed just for looking at another driver. And again, know your route. Be aware of possible surveillance targeting you (discussed later).

Be aware of car jacking. Keep windows rolled up and doors locked. The time when you are just about to enter your vehicle is a point where you are extremely vulnerable to carjackers. Be alert to those who may be loitering near your vehicle and or watching you. Move quickly to enter your vehicle and to close and lock the doors. While you are driving be conscious of persons approaching your vehicle. They may approach on foot, riding in tandem on a motorcycle or they may even be passengers in an adjacent vehicle.

Look out for bump-and-rob attacks. These happen a lot in the US and in the Philippines. A person will bump your vehicle and when you get out to exchange information they rob you or steal your car. In a worst case they kidnap or kill you.

When you are in malls and other buildings be sure to know where exits are. Be consciously thinking about what you will do if there is a fire or an earthquake or if you hear gunfire. Try to avoid very loud and or crowded areas that might impede your ability to see or hear potential danger or block your escape should the need arise. Large crowds can become the threat if they stampede.

Don't be predictable in your comings and goings. For example, don't go to the bank on the same day every week, month, etc. Criminals scope out victims for patterns and routines. They learn the places you go, the times you go there and the routes and modes you take in coming and going. 

Surveillance And Information Gathering


Do you ever get the feeling that you are being watched?

Before criminals will act they will first learn your ways.

Surveillance can take many forms. It can be very clumsy and obvious and it can be extremely professional and difficult to detect. Surveillance can be undertaken by individuals or by teams. They may be on foot or they may be in vehicles. Teams may use a combination of pedestrian and vehicle based surveillance. More professional teams will employ persons traveling by various modes, of various ages and genders and appearing to be of various cultural groups. Persons engaged in surveillance may be "stationed" at static locations in order to document potential targets of opportunity.

Living in a rural area has some benefits when it comes to thwarting surveillance. Fewer people around means that those who do come around get more attention focused upon them. It also means that they have fewer reasons to loiter and less time to loiter before they look out of place.

In our place if you are poking around where you do not belong there will be lots of eyes on you and probably a few smart phones with their cameras focused on you as well. If you happen to stumble around the place at night you might find a pack of twenty dogs on your heels. There is also the fact that there is one road in and one road out.

Urban living is a greater challenge when it comes to personal security. There are lots of people everywhere and lots of reasons for them to be hanging out and loitering for long periods of time and less reason to notice them as being out of place.

Electronic surveillance may take the form of cameras and smart phones. Average criminals would not possess "sniffer" devices for monitoring cell phone communications. Data packet sniffing software is free and widely available and can be used to capture wifi traffic from your home network or public hotspots. Generally speaking, https is sufficient to thwart the vast majority of data packet sniffing. You could also use tools like VPN and other forms of encryption in addition to https.

Do not take for granted that security cameras are there for your security. Security cameras can and have been used to identify targets for criminals. Therefore, all security cameras should be treated the same way that you would respond to a person whose eyes are locked on your every move.

Spotting People Engaged In Surveillance


People who are casing you and attempting to learn your routines may carry various tools for collecting information:
  • binoculars
  • phones cameras
  • radios
  • GPS devices
  • voice recorders
  • notebooks

In other words, they carry stuff that just about anyone might be carrying.


It is what they do with those items and how they behave that sets them apart from normal people who have no ill intent.

If the watchers are clumsy and unprofessional they may stick out like a sore thumb.

But if they are pros and or have training, then they will be more disciplined and will attempt to blend in with the crowd. They will dress accordingly and will try not to wear clothing items or colors that would stick out in the moment to get them spotted or in the memory to get them ID-ed later. Loose fitting clothing with button or zip up pockets are a favorite because they hold surveillance tools. They may wear reversible clothing or layers that can be removed. Wigs, hats and facial hair can be changed. They may be any age even children or elderly. Be wary of beggars and kids. Sometimes kids may approach you and offer to be your house helper. There have been cases where people have allowed such persons to have access to their homes only to have that individual allow a team of robbers in later.

Those who have military or paramilitary training may have been trained to "be cool" and not act or look military. No buzz-cuts or camo. Tattoos may not be visible because they can be used later for identification.

The goal of good surveillance is to not be memorable - to be neutral in appearance.

One last word of advice about appearances: do not trust a person simply because they are an expat like you. There are criminal expats in Philippines. These friendly expats are involved in the full range of crimes and scams so be careful and do not be fooled by a friendly and familiar face that speaks your language and reminds you of home. They are betting on you letting your guard down. So don't.

Behavior Of People Engaged In Surveillance


Like the case I mentioned earlier, you may see the same person multiple times and they may even try to alter their appearance. There could be legitimate reasons for this and you should never be confrontational. If you sense a threat then the thing to do is to remove yourself from the area immediately.

Individuals who are surveilling you may exhibit nervousness. There may be furtive glances. Most of the time this will be due to the natural curiosity of the culture. Do be aware of those who are a bit too interested and do not be too obvious about it. Reflective surfaces of shop and car windows can help you to see without being seen - this technique may also be used on you. Those persons who are loitering, scanning and repeatedly focusing upon you bear watching. Pay attention to their reaction to police and security personnel - do they become nervous? Do they leave the scene?

It is difficult to have good recollection of a person's face if you do not make eye contact with them. Those who actively avoid eye contact may know this due to having received training. Lucky for them that it is also natural to look away when you are looked at.

Furtive glances, loitering, face hiding and avoiding eye contact are all normal to a degree, but when one person is doing all of that with you as the focus then perhaps something is up and you may choose to leave the scene. And if the scene is your residence, then shields up and go to yellow alert.

Motor vehicles make good cover for people to conceal a lot of the things just mentioned so pay attention to them.

Motorcycles are particularly dangerous because they can appear from nowhere and disappear just as readily. When you hear one approaching you should attempt to set your eyes on it and if possible to view the hands of those who are riding it. I understand that it is not possible to be aware of everyone who is around you and what they are doing, especially in a complex urban environment. Try to do your best.

I spend a lot of time walking our rural area and it is easier in such an environment for me to keep track of people and vehicles. It is also somewhat safer simply due to the sparse population. Our place abuts the national road, so there are also plenty of vehicles traversing from distant places and this does bring some risk. About one year ago a vehicle slammed into a tree across from our place. We learned that the driver had been shot by someone on a motorcycle. Fortunately that kind of thing is rare and most likely the driver knew the assailant.

Reporting Of Suspicious Persons


For you own awareness or to make a police report in the event of an actual crime you may need to note the description of suspicious persons and any vehicles involved. If you can do so safely, then it would be good to use your phone to discreetly take photos of suspicious persons and vehicles. If possible attempt to make notes that include:
  • sex
  • race
  • general age
  • height
  • body build (heavyset/thin)
  • skin tone 
  • hair color and style 
  • clothing color/style/condition
  • hats
  • glasses
  • tattoos
  • shoes
  • bags or other items they might have been carrying
  • number of persons if more than one
  • vehicle type/color/damage/license plate#
  • any other distinguishing characteristics

HOME SECURITY


Property Fencing


See the new post on Property Fencing In The Philippines

You should have a fence or wall around your property, but do not repeat the mistake that the Qin Dynasty made. You often see houses with big walls around them and broken glass on top of the wall. This is generally a waste of time and money and only gives a false sense of security. As for the glass, do you really want to be faced with neighborhood kids covered in blood because you thought it was a great idea to put broken glass into the cement on top of your wall? It's a really bad idea and it will not keep out real criminals who know how to easily defeat it.

A high wall may be useful for the purpose of noise suppression, but for security the marginal value begins to decline at about 5 feet. In one case I know of it was the high wall that allowed the attackers to have the privacy they needed to complete their crime. High walls and glass are easily overcome by a determined criminal. The wall or fence really only serves a couple of purposes: to keep out the lazy and casual opportunist who is usually intoxicated and to keep your dogs in and other dogs out. A five to six foot cyclone wire fence can serve that purpose. You could do a full concrete block wall, but in my opinion it is overkill and a mistake. We made our wall solid concrete for the first two feet just to make the fence strong and permanent. It also has a two-foot concrete footing to block roots and provide stability, as it is on a hill and there is significant runoff:

 
We have about 300 feet of fencing of the type in the photo above. The top is welded steel mat and the bottom is solid concrete. I have painted the steel matting twice using Boysen epoxy topcoat and Boysen 2-part epoxy primer. The second paint job seems to be holding up very well and I expect it to last at least five years. I tried using Davies Epoxy Enamel topcoat and I did not like it at all. It took forever to dry and it is a lot more like a latex than an enamel. The Boysen finished to a hard glossy shell. After years in the sun and rain (and right on the beach) most of the steel matting still sports a glossy finish. I do prefer Davies Megacryl Latex over Boysen Permatex or Acrytex for the concrete walls of the house, but that is another story.

The flat part of our yard is enclosed with 350 feet of the same concrete based fencing as the one above, but the top part uses cyclone wire:


Unlike the steel mat, cyclone wire is cheap and easy to replace. The only parts that I paint is the steel rebar we used to affix the cyclone wire and the fittings holding the cyclone wire in place. I do not paint the 1/2" steel tube at the top, but I probably should.

That fence in the image just above is the back of our place and beyond that is the public beach. We have an additional barrier thicket to keep people out:


Every plant you see in the image above is covered in thorns and razor sharp leaves. You do not want to go in there.

At the front yard entrance a locking gate keeps out unwanted solicitors who may be running various scams or looking for the opportunity to case the residence.

Update 2-7-2020

One of my neighbors built one of these huge solid walls two years ago. It has to be 9-10 feet tall. They painted it when it was done and they had to paint it again recently because it was already looking very bad. The wall itself was already a big expense, but maintaining it is turning out to be an ongoing burden. Now they have had to construct huge buttresses against the columns because the wall is very massive and had sunk in some places and was beginning to fall outward. They are lucky that they own the land around the wall otherwise those buttresses would need to be built on the neighbor's land - which would make for an interesting negotiation.

Update 5-2-2020

Most people who get to this article from a search engine were looking for information on steel mat fencing. One thing that I wanted to add just so you know is that if I had it to do over again I might frame the mesh with 1/2" steel tube instead of the square bar that I used. Just something to consider. Also make sure you get that matting primed and painted quickly or you might be fighting rust forever no matter what you do. The painting issue actually makes me rethink the use of steel mat altogether, but I cannot think of a better solution right off hand. There will be pros and cons with just about any solution that you decide to go with and many of them you will not realize until after you are done with the project.

Windows And Doors


Security for windows and doors is straightforward. Bars are a necessity.

As with fences/walls, we are not trying to make the house an impenetrable fortress. The goal is to make it not worth the time for people to bother with breaking in; to slow them down if they decide to try to break in; and to make it necessary for them to make a lot of noise and to be seen and heard when they attempt breaking in. Everyone knows each other around here and everyone minds each other's business - which has its good points and its bad points.

Below is an example of the bars that we currently have installed on all of our windows: 


The grill is 10mm square bar and it is bolted to the concrete frame on the inside of the widow glass.


We are currently upgrading this to a 12mm hinged design.

My wife wanted the grills on the inside of the glass because it looks better from the outside:


Placing the grills on the inside also protects them from the elements.

We have security doors on the front and back entrances to the house.

The back security doors are 12mm square bar framed to 1/2" steel tube and then that is framed with 2" angle bar with also 2" angle bar fixed between the two doors where they lock:


From the outside you can see the aluminum screen with its aluminum frame and mesh guard:


In the photo above you can see the aluminum sheeting above the doors. Behind that is the same steel grill the comprises the doors.

The two doors, grilling above the doors and the screen cost approximately 25,000PHP for labor and material.

We have cut resistant chains and shrouded padlocks that we use to secure the doors.

For window screens and screen doors aluminum screening is an absolute must. Steel screen or any alleged galvanized variant will not last and you will find yourself replacing it in a year or two.

I will close this section with a confession. We installed these security doors and windows, but we did not do the most important thing once upon a time. We did not lock our door. It was movie day and we were all in the family room with the AC and TV blasting. I heard what sounded like a door close outside of the room, but I brushed it off. Everyone was in the room and because I put my trust in the steel security doors we had installed a couple of months earlier I told myself that it had to be nothing. I was not aware that someone had left the security doors opened.

At some point I needed something in the kitchen and on may way I found a puddle of water on the floor. I yelled to my wife about it, as I noticed that the puddle was actually a trail. I followed the trail back to our stock room. I opened the door and turned on the light and there in the center of the room stood a woman. She was soaking wet and she was wearing multiple layers of clothing. We called the Barangay guards and they came to get her. I always suspected that she was sent by other people to case our house and perhaps wait until nightfall to come out of hiding and unlock the doors for others. They tried it again a few months later, but that time they used kids. We caught them hiding out in our yard. There were a lot of other places near us that were not lucky and people did lose money and valuables to this gang. They hide out near the place they intend to burglarize and wait for everyone to go to sleep. They would use any opportunity or excuse to hang out near the place to figure out who was living there, what their habits were and what they might have worth taking.

Lock your doors and windows. Never go to bed without checking them.

Dogs


A modest fence will eliminate 99% of the opportunistic trespassers and coupled with a good dog the percentage inches closer to 100%.

Be careful with your dog - I know of cases where people who were angered by a barking dog threw meat with needles and pins into the yard. The dogs ate the meat and died soon after.

Be sure to keep up rabies shots for your dogs because, "the Philippines ranks among the highest in the world in terms of rabies prevalence" and also have them spayed or neutered.

Lighting


Our entire property is fairly well lit at night. The front is illuminated by Barangay street lamps. In the back we have a 20 watt CFL on the house that goes on when the sun goes down. We are in the process of installing motion sensing security lighting and a high power floodlight that can light up the entire back yard when we require it.

Home Business


One reason I have been reluctant to open a business is the "public factor." When you have a business you are giving people a good reason to linger around your place and study your comings and goings and to learn your routines. The Hyrons were abducted from their own resort and it has been reported that at least two of the abductors had actually checked in to the resort. The abductors had the perfect opportunity to case the facility and grounds; to learn what security was in place; to learn the routines of the owners and others. The resort was right by the sea, providing the perfect escape route.

PROTECTING PERSONAL INFORMATION AND DATA


Disposal Of Sensitive Papers


Take care with trash at home and elsewhere. Do not throw out papers containing personal information. Cross-cut shred and or burn all documents containing personal information. Burning is not fire and forget. Readable information can be gleaned from carbonized paper so make sure that all burned papers are thoroughly destroyed.

Electronics


Take care of your electronics at home and out in public. Criminals would love nothing more than the chance to swipe your phone or laptop and with it the treasure trove of personal information that I know you have stored in them. Don't be like the oblivious selfie idiots on YouTube who have their phones snatched right out of their hands by persons on motorcycles.

Don't sell or give away a laptops or other devices that have storage capability without removing sensitive personal data first. Norton explains how to properly sanitize a hard drive. Thumb drives can be wiped with the Windows format utility - just make sure to uncheck "quick format." Android and IOS phones have built in capability to wipe themselves. If a drive or other device dies, then you must physically destroy the drive/device.

You may consider encrypting hard drives because if your laptop is stolen it is very easy to access your data on an unencrypted drive. The downside is that if you lose your password or the operating system is corrupted you may lose all data on the encrypted drive.

If you go to a mall or elsewhere and you have a backpack with a laptop or other such items in it do not allow it to be checked in to the baggage area. Usually, when you show the guard that your bag contains a laptop, other valuable items or important papers they will allow you to keep it on your person. If they do not, then leave.

It is a good idea to keep your personal and private papers as private as possible. To that end it is imperative to have your own printer/scanner/copier. You do not want to be taking your sensitive documents to the local printer for copying/printing - although there may be occasions when you have no choice. The best choice for a printer IMO is something like the Epson L120, like the one I have. Ink tank printers are more economical than cartridge printers. The L120 is a printer only, but you can find variants that include the copier and scanner in one machine.

WIFI


If you set up wifi at your home, then make sure that you enable security on your home network. WPA2 with AES encryption is the recommended standard at this time. Disable WPS if it is available on your router. Disabling SSID broadcast and enabling MAC filtering are both easily defeated by someone with the know-how, but depending on your situation you may want to use one or both.

Snail Mail


Even deep in to the Internet age snail mail continues to be a hole in almost everyone's personal security. This can be compounded by living in the Philippines. All financial accounts, government services and all other parties that you transact with that send out information of a sensitive nature should be set to paperless delivery. I do not recommend ever sending anything of a sensitive nature through physical mail to the Philippines. This is not always possible. If your sensitive documents disappear on their way to the Philippines there will be no clue as to what happened or at what point it happened.

I have addressed mail forwarding services (MFS) in several articles and these can also play a role in helping to safeguard your personal data. Maintaining a MFS that provides you with a US address can be of some help in preventing your information from falling in to the wrong hands. There is still risk, but at least you have a lead to draw on with the MFS and there is a modicum of accountability. A mail forwarding service is my preferred option when I need to send a very important item, like a credit card, to the Philippines. The MFS can use UPS or FEDEX with tracking to ship the item.

Protecting Your Credit And Identity 


Remember that if people have your name then it may be possible for them to find additional information about you on the internet. They may even be able to obtain your identification if they capture your image with a smart phone and have access to a facial recognition database - this is a real possibility. Clearview is used by law enforcement in the US and has a reported accuracy of 99.6%. The plan is to make the app publicly available in some form. Similar technology is used all over the world, including in the Philippines. We trust that those in government and law enforcement who have access to facial recognition software will not abuse it, but you have to be very naive to believe that the world works that way.

You may also wish to view these articles on protecting your credit and identity.

GOVERNMENT AGENCIES


Always Get An Official Receipt


Never give any money for any fee or service without getting an official receipt for the precise amount that you paid. Never accept a hand written receipt. If any reason is given for not being able to provide an official receipt, then do not leave any money or paperwork with that office.

Never Use Fixers


When you use a fixer you have no guarantee that you will ever get what you paid for. You also have no insight into how the system really works. The fixer can disappear with your money and your documents and you have little or no recourse.

Know The Process


Always make certain that you understand the system and the process for what you are trying to process. Be sure to carefully fulfill all requirements. You have the right to ask questions and the workflow should be posted in a conspicuous location in ever office. This workflow will show how papers are processed and how long the process takes.

If you go to a government office to process papers or for some other purpose and you are not prepared this makes you a nuisance and in the worst case it makes you a target for being taken advantage of. So be alert, be aware and know what you are doing.

Be Careful About Notaries


You may see people outside of some government buildings offering notarial services. Never use the services of these people. In the Philippines all notaries are required to be licensed attorneys and all licensed attorneys are required to have a fixed location for doing business. More information about notaries.

 Control Your Emotions And Your Mouth


In ten years of living in the Philippines I have seen locals and foreigners lose their cool in various places. Doing so will not help you to accomplish your goals and it might hurt you.

Never become belligerent even if you are in the right. Remain calm and note details in case further action is required.

It is a good idea to have others with you when you process papers.

Taking someone with you when you process papers at any government office is a good policy to live by. The other person can help you keep track of you documents and can also serve as moral support and a second or third set of eyes and ears.

Recording Audio And Video In Government Buildings


Recording or listening in on private conversations is outlawed under the half century old RA 4200, also known as the Anti-Wiretapping Law.

The Philippine Supreme Court ruled in favor of the public in Sarmiento v. Morato, G.R. No. 92541 (1991), with a decision stating that a government official executing their official duties on behalf of a member of the public has no privacy interest in that transaction:
The right to privacy belongs to the individual acting in his private capacity and not to a governmental agency or officers tasked with, and acting in, the discharge of public duties (See Valmonte v. Belmonte, Jr., supra.) There can be no invasion of privacy in the case at bar since what is sought to be divulged is a product of action undertaken in the course of performing official functions. To declare otherwise would be to clothe every public official with an impregnable mantle of protection against public scrutiny for their official acts.
What it ultimately boils down to is what is considered a "private" communication and whose privacy is involved. The above excerpt from Sarmiento v. Morato may seem to present a clear cut answer that you have the right to record a conversation with a government official who is providing service to you in the course of their official duties. This is not a certainty by any means. You can get in to trouble even if you are right.

Guns


This subject is very simple. Foreigners in the Philippines should have no dealings with guns. You cannot legally own one and it is a bad idea to allow them into your house. I would not allow a firearm to be brought into my house or onto our property nor would I touch another person's firearm with the only exception being on the premises of an official firing range. View our dedicated post on guns.

Spotting concealed weapons on others is a useful skill. Being able to spot a concealed weapon is a function of your ability to notice the characteristics of a person who is carrying one and the ability of that person to not give off these signals:
  • security checking: constantly touching the location on the body where the weapon is concealed
  • awkward gait: unusual walking style due to presence of weapon
  • printing: you can actually see the outline of weapon under their clothing
  • protecting or blocking the side of the body where the weapon is located

Parties


We do not have parties at our residence. It is a huge hassle to prepare for the party and an even bigger headache to clean up afterward. And then there are the security concerns. If we did have a party the only guests would be people who I know personally. No friends of friends or others. There have been too many cases of homes burglarized during a party or cased during the party and robbed or burglarized at some later time.

If we were going to have a party of some sort that includes a wider array of quests, then it would be at some other location such as a resort venue.

Bars/Clubs


We do not have any use for bars and clubs, but these do happen to be some of the most popular spots for expats. If you go, then you should go with a spouse or well trusted significant other or another person who is well versed in the local culture and in whom you have every reason to trust with your life. Things that you can say in jest and jokingly could be taken the wrong way and lead to violence. Be careful how much you drink so you can maintain control of your tongue and your judgement.

The Bottom Line


I know it sounds like a broken record, but I want this to ring in your mind: do not be confrontational towards people. This may create a problem where there was not one and it may lethally escalate a situation that could have been solved by a soft word and a wise retreat. Of course this does not mean be passive in a situation where self defense is immediately required. Use diplomacy and retreat until these are no longer an option.

Remember that you are a guest in the Philippines.

There is much that needs to be added to this post and will be.

If you notice a problem with this post or if you have a suggestion, then leave a comment and I will give you credit if I use your idea.

Some of the material in this post is adapted from government documents that are not subject copyright.

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