Last month, the expat community in the Bacolod area was shocked by the deaths of an American and his Filipina wife. They had lived in the area for some time and had an organic farm in Murcia, outside Bacolod City. Many of us knew the couple and some of us actually bought organic vegetables from their farm. A very sad and tragic story. The husband was reportedly found in a deep well on their property, with his head bashed in from a hammer. His wife was found later, murdered.
One of the most important issues concerning foreigners wishing to retire to the Philippines is their personal safety. There are no guarantees in life and any of us can be murdered no matter how safe the area. However, we can help prevent being a victim of a violent crime by choosing a safer area to live. Many parts of Manila are not it. The crime rate is high in Manila. Violent crime is on the rise there. More people are murdered in one week in Manila, most weeks, than are murdered in the Bacolod area over a 12 month period. I’ve seen the official crime statistics of the PNP to back up my statement.
Usually Someone You Know
As in the USA, most people murdered in the Philippines know their murderers either directly or indirectly. Business related, an act of revenge, a feud vendetta, relationship related, robbery and silencing are usually the motives for murder of foreigners in the Philippines,
In short order, the 4 suspects were arrested by the police in the murder of the couple I mentioned in Murcia. The victims knew them. The suspects worked for the couple on their farm. Their home was broken into, their home was ransacked, items were stolen and the couple was murdered. Just for the bounty of a few thousand US Dollars in loot. This is so tragic.
It can be very risky when you hire someone in the Philippines and give them access to your home. There have been cases when a live in helper allowed a boyfriend or a relative to enter the home after the midnight hour to rob, steal and sometimes even kill. A number of Filipinos see foreigners and the wives of foreigners as being rich and having a lot to take from them. Be careful who you hire as a domestic helper, driver, yard man or farm employee.
Statistics Are Shocking
If you do an online search, “US Citizens Deaths Overseas,” you will be directed to an official website of the US Dept of State. On the site, you can enter the country, Philippines, and the time period. Statistics for 2015 are incomplete but I recently checked for January 2014 to December 2014.
Last year, there were 4 reports of US citizens being homicide victims. There were 4 reports of US citizens being suicide victims. There was 1 report of a US citizen being a drowning victim. There were 4 reports of US citizens being killed in vehicle accidents-motorcycles. As I have said all along, your chances of being killed in a motorcycle accident in the Philippines is about the same as your chances of being a homicide victim.
What Can You Do?
Location, location, location is the first step. Learn about the area you intend to live in the Philippines. The internet is loaded with PNP crime statistics for every given area of the Philippines. They are broken down by the crime, such as rape, theft, murder, homicide, robbery, breaking and entering, etc.
Chose a residence which is safe. My wife, our son and I live in a gated subdivision with 24/7 armed security at the gate. Entering the subdivision is restricted unless you live here or unless the security has been informed to allow certain visitors in. The drivers license must be handed over to the security officers upon entering and will be returned upon departure.
Dogs. The bigger and louder, the better. Dogs are a deterrent to prevent anyone trying to breach your gate and wall. We don’t live behind a high concrete wall but there is a wall with iron bars and a locked gate on our property in the city. We don’t need those at our farmhouse in the province because we live on family owned land with 4 family houses nearby. There is also only one way in and one way out. We have a half dozen azkal dogs, who will greet any visitor with loud barking. If the dogs do not recognize the person, it’s on.
Guns. Only Philippine citizens are lawfully allowed to buy and own firearms. My wife has a 9mm and a 45 licensed handgun. At our farmhouse, my wife has a 12 gauge automatic tactical shotgun. However, as explained by police officials, the spouse of a Philippines citizen may use one of the licensed firearms if rules of engagement are present to justify the use of deadly force. Are these really needed to be safe in our area? Probably not. However, we collectively agree. It is best to have licensed firearms in the home and never need them than to need them and not have them.
This is the first installment on personal and home safety in the Philippines. I will soon have a follow up article. Take care and be safe.
Chris Harper says
Excellent advice and worth following . Foreigners are always a first target for the local bad elements …….you stand out and if you use tricycle drivers then EVERYONE in your local area will know who you are, what type of house you have , how often you shop , if you look prosperous etc etc. Always assume you are a target and act accordingly.
Gary McMurrain says
I have an advantage in that I am 5’4 and 132 lbs. My skin is tan, so I am not milky white. No one hardly gives me a 2nd look. Also our location is great. The Bacolod people are accustomed to seeing foreigners here. There are several thousand Western expats living in Metro Bacolod.
The guys who are tall and/or overweight, walking with a petite Filipina in public, are spotlighted immediately. Loud mouth and obnoxious foreigners also attract attention.
During the past 29 years in Luzon, Negros Occidental, Panay Island and Cebu, I have never been a crime victim in the Philippines. I don’t live in fear but I don’t put myself in potential dangerous situations.
~ Gary ~
Todd P says
This is important information – I will share it with asawa ko. We will be retiring to the P.I. sometime soon (late 2015 or in 2016). with our daughter, and are making decisions about where to live in Batangas. We do not own guns or dogs, but that may change. We would like to know if the PNP have a website that lets you look at crime statistics in certain cities – do you know what it is? After reading your post, we will NOT be hiring a helper, driver, or other employee to enter our home, and contractors must be licensed and reviewed. Thanks for the heads up.
Gary McMurrain says
Thank you, Todd.
The PNP has an official online website. They also publish quarterly reports. Do a Google or Yahoo search: “PNP Crime Statistics in Batangas 2015” and you should be able to find the information.
I wish you and your family a safe and happy time in the Philippines.
~ Gary ~
This is a great article on what to do! Thanks for sharing!
Gary McMurrain says
You are welcome, Tommy. I am glad you enjoyed my article and found it helpful.
~ Gary ~
eamon kelly says
wow youre very open like the way you think best forum for sure im eamon originally from west Ireland living In san fernado Cebu some change but having a ball keep up the good work happy xmas to you and family
Hi Gary, this is my second time to write to your good blog. Thank you again for your helpfulness and information. Frankly, I am very troubled by what I read in your post. But I am glad for your honesty in warning us about the dangers in the Philippines. Please tell us what subdivision life is like. Do Filipinos live there or is it mostly foreigners? My Filipina wife has said that she wants to live in a subdivision once we move to the Philippines, but to me the idea of living in a gated community seems very restricted. The life is with the common people. I already live with Americans here in the U.S. so why would I want to lock myself up in a subdivision with other Americans or white-skinned Europeans? But what choice do I have if I want to be safe? How could I live in the Philippine community if I need to watch my back every second? Even if we knew most of the people in the extended neighborhood, what is to prevent one of them from stalking me for robbery or murder? And if some Filipinos seek revenge for the simplest of slights, which could be completely unintentional, how could we avoid a beating or a knife in the back? Thank you for letting me air my concerns.
I have been to the Philippines seven times and always felt safe except for one time when I was alone in a park in the middle of the day and a few youths were eyeing me very suspiciously. They had evil intent in their eyes. Since many people were around, nothing happened. But my wife was always concerned for my safety, every moment of every visit. My extra white skin does not help matters. For many years I have dreamed of moving to the Philippines after retirement and I would still want that if I could be safe. Convince me of that safety, if it is possible. Thank you.
Gary McMurrain says
You are welcome, Bob. Thank you for finding RTTP helpful and interesting.
Living in the subdivision is not restrictive at all. It is safe. Only one other foreigner lives in the subdivision. We are not friends. We have many friends among Filipinos where we live. We are friends with our neighbors.
I’ve lived in Manila 2 times, have lived in the Bacolod area 6 years 3 months and have spent quality time over the past 29 years in the Philippines. I’ve never been a crime victim. We had 2 dogs stolen but were not at home at the time.
There is no guarantee for anyone that they will not become a crime victim, even if they lived next door to the Pope! Where I live and have lived, in the Philippines I don’t have a target on my back just because I am a foreigner.
The US Dept of State statistics indicated over 300,000 US citizens living in the Philippines. According to their other statistics, there were 4 US citizens who were victims of homicide last year in the Philippines. There were also 4 US citizens who were killed in motorcycle accidents last year. About the same with suicide victims in the Philippines among US citizens.
However, if you don’t feel safe here, only you can convince yourself otherwise.
~ Gary ~
Gary, thank you for that helpful info about life in subdivisions in the Philippines. I do feel a whole lot better about living in one now because I want to make friends and live with Filipinos, and especially know and love my neighbors. From the number of 300,000 Americans living in the Philippines, it sounds like the homicide of four is a very low percentage, though it is a shock and shame that any should be killed. Oh, one more question: do the subdivisions have roosters crowing all night, dogs barking, and loud karaoke blaring? Though I could become used to the noise after time, having peace and quiet would be better. Thank you also for your assurances of being safe in the P.I. from being careful. Have a good week, Bob.
Steve Fleming says
I’m glad you found Gary’s answer helpful Bob.
Regarding your question about noise in subdivisions; there’s no simple answer and all subdivisions are different and have different rules and regulations. There’s also discrepancies in how those rules are actually implemented. In my subdivision for example, the by-laws state that no resident is permitted to have roosters etc yet many do and nobody complains.
I’ve lived here for 11 years and in this subdivision for almost 10 of them. I’m not about to start rocking the boat and upsetting the status quo as I enjoy my peaceful life way too much.
My advice would be to come here with the full expectation that your neighbors may very well have roosters and the occasional Karaoke bash. If you happen to get lucky and end up living in a neighborhood where those things don’t exist, just count your blessings 🙂
Hope that helps and good luck with everything.
Great write up, as usual, Gary. I would caution to view any statistical report by the PNP with skepticism, however. Historically, the numbers most often were tainted by attempts to “look good” to superiors or officials. A culture of “bara-bara, kanya-kanya, and ningas-cogon” (guesswork, no coordination and sporadic action). The Aquino administration has targeted this, however, with computerization, audits, even live cameras in police stations. It will be interesting to see if the effort continues past 2016.
Gary great post, I have a few other questions about fire arm ownership in the PI, Since only Philippines citizens can only own firearms, , was does it take for a american to become a philippine citizen. Are Philippine citizens allow to carry or concealed firearms like when they go to market? And last you said automatic shot gun, did you mean semi auto , or full auto, Can people own full auto machine guns in the Philippines ? Thanks Cal
Steve Fleming says
I did a quick search on Google for you Cal and the first article that shows up is from USA Today.
This should answer all your questions about becoming a Philippine citizen.
As for what Gary meant when he said automatic shotgun, I can’t say for sure.
He’s the resident firearms expert at RTTP so I’ll leave that one for him.
Hope that helps.
Steve B says
Gary you write and I quote “However, as explained by police officials, the spouse of a Philippines citizen may use one of the licensed firearms if rules of engagement are present to justify the use of deadly force.”. This “advice” given by police officials is potentially both misleading and dangerous to a foreigner who relies on it. I am a retired barrister (criminal trial attorney) from the UK and without trawling through the Philippines Penal Code, I would think that there is a concept of self-defense if the perpetrator is claiming it was a justifiable homicide. I say that because much of the law in the Philippines is based on American law which of course is itself based on the original concepts of the English Common Law system.
Running self-defense in English criminal trials has at times been very controversial and has received plenty of publicity in recent years. For a foreigner in the Philippines to rely on such a piece of third hand or maybe fourth hand anecdotal “authority” would be folly in the extreme. I am sure that was not your intention when you wrote those words; thus this comment of mine will hopefully act as a caveat to those inclined not to question the legality of that “advice”.
I admire the RTTP site and indeed recommend it to foreigners I know who are thinking of retiring to Bacolod. It is a responsible and reputable site and I am sure you will not hesitate to add my thoughts on this topic.
Steve Fleming says
You’re absolutely correct Steve and I’m sure Gary didn’t intend for the reader to take his comments and opinions as Gospel. As with many things that are published on the web, they are merely opinions based on his experience and his knowledge.
For something as serious as murder and the legalities therein, it’s always wise to seek the counsel of a legal expert before pulling the trigger.
If Gary actually has some legal precedence that he can cite I’m sure he’ll be along shortly to post it for the benefit of the RTTP readers.
I certainly wouldn’t want to be the foreigner who decided to ‘bust a cap’ in someones ass and claim self-defense, only to later find out that I hadn’t covered all my bases.
Forewarned is forearmed as they say.
I must agree with Gary, the Philippines is no different than any other country as far as bad people looking for an easy way to get money. I had the misfortune of having my house broken into in Angeles City 3 weeks ago. It was done by someone that studied my habits because I was away from home only 15 mins.They broke down my back door and stole cellphones, wallets, cash, and my wife’s bags. The crazy part is that it was 2pm in the afternoon and raining like hell. I didn’t take my cellphone and wallet because I didn’t want them to get wet as I went to the store. I am sure the Trike drivers in the area had a hand in it. Angeles City is a Mecca for crimes committed against foreigners. I have lived there for years with no trouble, but trouble is always just a few steps behind you. After that I left Sin City and moved to Iloilo
Gary McMurrain says
Sorry hearing about your break in, Vernon. My wife told me early on that many break ins occur during he rainy season when it is raining hard. Especially at night because the heavy rain blocks out sound.
I’ve never been to Angeles City but have been to Iloilo many times over the years. Ilonggo is also spoken there, same as in Bacolod.
~ Gary ~
Ms. Bryant says
Hello Gary, Great information you got here. Thanks for sharing.
I’m a Naturalized US citizen. We planning to visit but most likely will be longer than 30 days. It will be 3 months, and I am just wondering how we can get approved for staying longer than 30 days. Do we apply in advance before our travel? or wait until we get to Manila during arrival and present to request the extended stay. Not sure how this works…..
Thank you in advance.
Steve Fleming says
Ms.Bryant – You would need to go to the the Bureau of Immigration. You can find more information on the main BI website.
We got married in ’88 and have been living in the USA since. She is an American citizen since ’93 or something.
I served there from 85-89 as a US Navy.
We are retiring soon. We’re looking at a $2000/month pension $500k in cash.
We’re coming home. I’m asking you for any good advice. I’m talking lawyers, real estate, fixers, etc….
I’m hip to the family scams and all that, They’ve beat me out of thousands over the years! HAHAHA.
I’d love any good advise for banking, lawyer, land, etc…
Steve Fleming says
Scott – I’m not sure what advice I can give you to be honest. You mentioned “lawyers, real estate, fixers etc…”… but that’s a bit vague. If you’re doing anything involving the law then for sure, get a lawyer. Make sure it’s one you can trust and is impartial. I made the mistake of using my ‘friends’ lawyer when doing a real estate deal, and it ended up biting me on the ass! Take care of your money and be careful who you trust and you’ll be OK.
Maybe some of our visitors will have more information for you but you should give some more specifics if you have them.
I have read that Negros island has the most active volcano – Mt. Kanloan – in the Philippines. I am wondering if I worry too much about that if I should move to stay in Negros. I am thinking of checking out a few properties along the road to Compuestohan. Any thoughts on this is appreciated.
Steve Fleming says
Ari – Thanks for your comment. Gary is no longer associated with RTTP but I can help you out. I’ve lived in Bacolod for 10 years and have never had an issue with volcanoes. There was an incident with Mt. Kanalon last November but as far as I’m aware, there were no casualties.
As long as you’re not planning on buying a house directly on Mt. Kanloan or it’s immediate surrounding area, I wouldn’t worry too much. You’ve got much more chance of being hit by one of the crazy Jeepney drivers or crackpot sugarcane truck drivers. Now that IS something for you to worry about 🙂
After reading all the comments, I’m once again reminded we’re all different. What works for one person is unacceptable to another. MY safety is all about common sense. Everything has a risk it’s up to each person to determine if that risk is acceptable.
I have found all of these comments quite helpful. I am moving just outside of the city of Tagbilaran in a couple of weeks. I am moving to a gated and guarded community. I am curious about crime in Tagbilaran. The web was pretty vague. I am trying to stay out of the big cities. Mostly for peace and quiet. My girlfriend always has roosters, mating cats and dogs in the background. She lives in Cebu. So what is the reason for all the roosters? Is good beef available over there? Any help would be appreciated.
Very useful information,thanks for sharing
Ross Theobald says
Hi, I gather that Gary is no longer associated with the website?
I have been living and am now resident in Sipalay City Negros Occidental.
I love it here and due to visa requirements I regularly visit Bacolod.
Life in the provinces of the Philippines is interesting and enjoyable.
I am not a big fan of Manila or Cebu but as they are the main entry points I am familiar with them.
I am keen to get involved with the local fishing scene and will certainly keep an eye on this site.
Very interesting read and as a relative newbie I will keep most of my opinions to myself.
Stephen Detez says
My name is Steve and I married my beautiful Filipina bride 18 months ago. She is from La Carlotta, near Bacolod, and is now living with me in Australia. We dream of spending a few years living in PI in a couple of years time when I retire. I would like to live in a tropical paradise and as a result of the searching I have done on the internet have set my heart on Sipalay. Tonight my wife told me about the npa (new people’s army) who apparently operate around the mountainous border between Occidental and Oriental. She said that people who travel to Sipalay should travel in large groups to minimise the risk of being kidnapped.
I’m interested to know whether you find that Sipalay is as beautiful as I believe it to be and how you assess the dangers of being kidnapped in your region, or any other part of the Philippines for that matter.
Ross Theobald says
Hi Steve, I have been told about the NPA but I am also very good friends with the chief of police via my partner and as I live in the community and keep a low profile, I have no concerns at all.
I don’t frequent bars and nightclubs so I suspect if
there is a threat it may be at the expensive resorts where the rich people are.
I can only comment on my area, Sipalay City Negros Occidental.
I find it my little piece of tropical paradise which is enjoyable and affordable.
In the three years I have been travelling here I have never felt threatened or uncomfortable.