By now most people who keep an eye on the Philippines will have come across sensationalist headlines of blood in the streets and a growing body count since the election of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Naturally, this causes many people concern, and some may be wondering if it's still safe to retire in the Philippines.
So, are the rumors true?
Yes, to a large extent the rumors in the newspapers are true. People are definitely dying and there is a lot of killing in the streets. However, what newspapers eager to sell copies and run by vested interests won't tell you is that there is absolutely zero evidence to show it is actually Duterte who is responsible for any of it.
It's true that he hasn't exactly discouraged the idea, and at times has crossed the line and actually encouraged it, but the killings could just as easily be the work of panic-stricken drug lords who realize the game is over and who are trying to tie up loose ends.
While there have been failed attempts to link the president to death squads, there is no smoking gun, and until there is, I will stick by the principle of innocent until proven guilty (I know there's some irony in this, but that's life).
The second thing that isn't reported is that in most of the country nothing violent or terrifying is happening at all. Think about how big the Philippines is, and how many towns, cities and provinces there are. Yes, 1 or 2 people involved with drugs are being bumped off every few days, and undoubtedly some of them are innocent, but in the grand scheme it really isn't that many and like everywhere in the world, if you stay out of it, you generally don't have anything to fear.
My insight into this is largely due to the fact that I grew up in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and I'm aware of how most of what qualifies as ‘reporting' is exaggeration and propaganda. I used to walk along the very same streets which I'd seen utterly destroyed on TV the night before, and not notice much of a difference. It's pretty much the same here – there's a war going on alright, but there's absolutely no sign of it, at least from my vantage point.
I will say, however, that I have noticed several positive changes since the election of Duterte. Just yesterday a brand new trash truck pulled up outside my house and emptied the bins, white lines have magically appeared in the middle of the roads, people are actually stopping to let me cross the road, and new electrical pylons are being erected as I write this.
I'm not sure I can connect the two in a direct cause and effect relationship, but change is in the air and it is palpable. From what I can see, it's largely positive, being that I neither take nor sell drugs and have nothing whatsoever to fear.
I'm not trying to paint the Duterte administration as some angelic Godsend, nor is it really my place to comment on the politics of a country in which I am not a citizen. I will reserve judgment, as it is both polite and prudent to do so, until the results are in and history is written.
For now, let me answer the question this article set out to address – yes, it's still very safe to retire in the Philippines, and if things keep improving gradually as they have been, it will continue to remain so, long into the future.