Philippine Graffiti Revisited

More than 4 years ago, I wrote an article about Graffiti in the Philippines.  I noted that I was starting to see graffiti around Davao, and it concerned me.  And, to be clear, I was talking about gang type graffiti.

To be honest, I had not thought much more about the topic over the years, but recently it came back to my mind.  As I have been riding jeepneys a lot in the past 6 to 8 months, it has given me more of an opportunity to view my surroundings.  When you are driving, especially with the style of driving here in the Philippines, you have to keep your eyes on the road, and don’t necessarily get the opportunity to view your surroundings so much.  But, while riding the jeepney, you have plenty of opportunity to watch the scenery while riding.

Graffiti dirtying up the neighborhood
Graffiti dirtying up the neighborhood

Due to riding the jeepneys, I have been noticing that the graffiti situation around Davao has gotten much worse indeed.  Frankly, it worries me.

Basically, you can not go to any part of town without seeing graffiti on the fences, buildings, bridges or anything else.  The amount of graffiti is probably at least 20 times what it was back in 2008 when I wrote my original article.

Frankly, I hope that Davao residents and the City Government will take action to put a stop to Graffiti on our streets.  It is getting out of hand, and to me it indicates gang activity around town.  To be honest, I have not heard much about gangs around Davao, but this type of graffiti would seem to indicate that it is a problem, or could be.

Article continues below images.  Click on the image for a larger view.

It is possible, I suppose, that the graffiti that I am seeing is more “copycat” type stuff.  People might see US gang graffiti on TV and copy it here.  I can’t say for sure if that is what is happening.  Either way, it is not good to see the streets of Davao defaced with this graffiti that is popping up all over the place.

I have heard of gang problems in places like Manila and a few other big cities in the Philippines.  I just hope we are not starting to see that kind of activity spread to Davao.  We don’t need it!

Post Author: MindanaoBob (1353 Posts)

Bob Martin is the Publisher & Editor in Chief of the Live in the Philippines Web Magazine. Bob is an Internet Entrepreneur who is based in Davao. Bob is an American who has lived permanently in Mindanao since May 2000. Here in Mindanao, Bob has resided in General Santos City, and now in Davao City. Bob is the owner of this website and many others.

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  1. says

    Just as a side-note.. I kinda like the one with the smiley-face. :)

    But that aside, there is a way to stop the graffiti and Singapore does it very well. Catch the graffiti-‘artist’ and give them a public caning. Then send them to clean it up off the wall. Anybody watching 3 lashes with a bamboo cord will definitely think long and hard before reaching for a spray-can.

    “Graffiti.. it’s less fun in Singapore!” :)

    • says

      Good morning, Henry. Nice to hear from you.

      Yeah, they do that in Singapore… but this is not Singapore, though! 😉

      Truth is, on the graffiti front, from what I have seen, most people don’t seem to care about it. That’s sad to me, and if the graffiti signifies gang activity, to not care about it could be a big mistake!

  2. Bob says

    I had seen graffiti in Iligan city…”Crips” and “Bloods”…I was also wondering if it might just be the copycat thing..because I have never seen anything that resembles a street gang (as far as colors) there. But, it definitely makes you wonder.

    • says

      Hi Bob – Thanks for commenting. I have seen markings of “crips and bloods” here too. I think that’s copycat stuff, though, as I don’t think those gangs are in Davao. I hope so anyway!

  3. says

    Interesting observations Bob. Sure is a problem everywhere.

    Graffiti is certainly not confined to the Philippines. Like dogs marking their territory in the park, gangs do the same with graffiti all over the world. graffiti removal or treatments is big business, especially in some countries in Europe and America. Concrete surfaces, paints and coating have been developed to cover areas proven to be frequently covered with graffiti like highway overpasses.

    Something you probably didn’t know: A front page story in New York Times mentions that graffiti artist David Choe took Facebook stock instead of cash for painting the walls of Facebook’s first headquarters and that his shares are expected to be worth about $200 million when Facebook stock trades publicly.

  4. scott h says

    Interesting Bob. I would be interested if you knew the areas where the graffiti was. For example the SP with a crown. If it was in a baragay lets say of “Santo Paulo” for example it would probably stand for a gang named “Santo Paulo Kings”. Several of the drawings are faded, real street gangs keep their “marks” fresh like dogs whizzing on a tree. To let the marks fade shows that they don’t really care who encrouches on their territory. HOWEVER, i would be very concerned if you saw a “tag” that had been crossed out (a single spray paint line over the drawing). That means another gang has declared war and is seeking to take over the territory. I really really really hope that the gang mentality is not one of the things that Filipinos try to emulate from the states. :(

    • says

      Hi scott h – All of the graffiti pictured was in or near Juna Subdivision, but can be found anywhere in town.

      I agree with you, this is not something that needs to be imported to the Philippines from the US!

  5. Robert says

    I like Henry V’s idea ! I saw a video clip of a guy in Singapore who was charged
    (and apparently found guilty) with driving while being drunk and was given
    10 lashes with a bamboo cane and after the 3rd or 4th whack his flesh
    opened up and it was painful to watch – appeared to me that the guy
    doing the whacking was aiming for the cuts he already caused, ouch !!!
    Hopefully though that this graffiti thing dies down on it’s own AND soon.

  6. AmericanLola says

    I have noticed this too. I also know that Filipino kids in the US have their own gangs, especially in California, and that they are often kids living in middle to upper class areas with two parents working more than full-time. When the family wakes up and realizes the kid had gotten into bad company, they ship him to family in the Philippines to straighten out. Have you seen those kids? I have. While there is probably a lot of copy-cat wall painting that goes with hip-hop gang culture promoted in the media, there are also Filipino young men who are maintaining (and promoting?) their gang loyalties while in exile.

    • says

      Hi AmericanLola – Good morning! You know, that “sending the gang kid back to the Philippines” thing is something I knew about, but failed to include in my article. You sure are right on target with that, though. That is worrisome.

    • John Miele says

      Bob: American Lola is pretty much spot on in her statement. I read something in the paper here not too long ago that was essentially corroborating her comment… Adding that the gangs in the States looked at it as a loyal supply source.

      One other graffiti source: Political. Quite a lot is politically-themed. You see it often near the government buildings here in Diliman, or in areas when squatters are being evicted, roads being built (like C5 here), etc.

    • Opus says

      It isn’t something I’m proud to say, but I have relatives who are members of gangs both in California and in the Philippines. They originally were part of gangs in the States. When they got in trouble, their parents shipped them to the barrio in the Philippines. Unfortunately, they set up shop there and began recruiting other boys in the barrio.

  7. says

    Well I would say by the 3 point crown with 13 under it would be Mara_Salvatrucha
    Or better known as MS 13. Now where it says ease in red and crossed out and says B’s down that would be disrespect bloods for bloods down. But again the S looks like a upside down 5 another form of disrespect.

  8. Paul Thompson says

    I’ve never paid any attention to it, but yesterday I was in the Makati section of Manila and there was none, but as we left and headed through other sections it increased until it was a blight. I have know idea as to what they said as it looks like sand script to me. Tagging was not part of my generation, as we couldn’t afford the spray paint, and never thought about it even if we could. It’s the scribbling of very small minds!

  9. Gary Wigle says

    While in church in Davao City a couple of Sundays ago the pastor remarked that Davao City isn’t as SAFE as it once was. Gangs are a product of drug use and who sells it. I too have seen graffiti increase in Davao City. It is getting more like CDO and my in-laws live there and they know how unsafe it is to live there now.

    More expats have been killed in Davao City in the past year than any other place in the Philippines. It is all about drugs and money no matter where you live. :-(

      • Gary Wigle says

        Newspaper reports and the morning TV news. Meriam know of 5 killed last year in Davao and I know of 2. One expat was killed in his hotel room in Dec. of 2011 and one expat (from America) was killed in his CR. Both men were robbed of all of their money. The guy from the USA was living in a fancy place in MA-A. He was beat to death with a hammer.

        • says

          Hi Gary – OK, I had forgotten about the fellow in Woodridge (Maa). Yes indeed, he was killed. But, I am not aware of the others, and I personally doubt there have been 5 or 7 or however many you are saying. If you can point me to hard news sources, I’d like to see those.

          While nobody deserves to be killed, being stupid can lead to these kinds of problems, and the guy in Maa had some stupidity involved, IMHO, or at least from the things I have heard. Admittedly, my knowledge is second hand, though.

  10. says

    Growing up between Milwaukee and Chicago you have to learn fast what things mean. It looks like wannabes but sometimes they are the most dangerous ones to deal with. They always have something to prove.its sad I go to the Philippines to get away from that stuff . I told my wife before, it will get much worse with that meth being so big of a money maker there. People will start killing over the prime spots to sell Meth. Mark my words Meth will bring in some Chinese,Korean,Japanese killers to take control of the market.

  11. says

    Well.. I can only repeat that it’s a shame. A shame that the kids are getting into this. And a shame that it doesn’t seem to be in the culture to take a hard line of enforcement.

    Last time I was in Tecate, Mexico it was not just “a lot” of graffiti.. without exaggeration EVERY flat surface no matter how high or seemingly inaccessible had graffiti on it there. NOTHING was spared.. not businesses, homes, all delivery trucks, signs, walls, sidewalk.. I mean in the most literal sense it was full-coverage graffiti in Tecate.

    I would hate to see it get to that point in RP.

  12. Mel says

    Hi Bob, it is sad if graffiti starts to take a hold in the philippines, in Australia especially in Melbourne it has just got out of hand, punishment that is given in Singapore won’t happen in Australia, and here all they get is a smack on the hand and possibly a good behaviour bond..pathetic laws..

  13. says

    I come from a graffiti background and in my opinion, these are probably not gang related. Graffiti crews are often mistaken for “gangs”. It’s pretty much a contest between crews to see who could “get up” more. I lived in Manila (Pasig area) around 1996 when it pretty much started and there was an element of gang tags being copied. I remember some of my friends using 187. The reason your seeing more graffiti is because there’s been a rise in the street art scene. Yeah, I know this isn’t art and is ugly but it’s a learning process where some graduate to legitimate gigs as graphic designers and etc. In Manila, there are a few galleries that strictly showcase street art. I myself started out spray painting walls and moved on to becoming an artist/teacher/promoter of the pre-Filipino script, Baybayin.

  14. jonathan says


    Growing up in Malate, Manila I saw all kinds of graffiti especially from local gangs! I say good parenting is the first defense to avoid those activities. I should know because all of us 3 broods never ventured into that kind of stuff because of our “fear” from our parents. Hopefully, Davao won’t follow Manila on that thread. Singapore-type of caning or punishment is good for Singaporeans, but not for Filipinos, it’s a cultural thing, words are not enough to explain it….

    • says

      Hi Jonathan – I fully agree with you, especially on the cultural aspect me the punishment.

      I fully agree that I hope Davao does not follow in the path me Manila.

      • PapaDuck says


        I agree with Christain above. Alot of it is just artists expressing there thoughts. Here in Sarasota every year the whats called a Chalk Art Festival where they do all kinds of Art on sidewalks with chalk. It’s really becoming really popular here. Also they are alowing artists to paint tasteful murals and buildings in certain neighborhoods as part of a revitalization of the area. I just think right now with the graffitti there it’s just wannabe/copycat gang members. We have a problem here with alot of Gangs (i e., Sur 13, Latin Kings, East side Crypts, Nightshift). Law enforcement here has used the Rico Law to convict alot of the gang members and give them stiff sentences of 20 years or more. I work in the intake area of our County Jail and i deal with alot of these gang members when they are first arrested. We have to photograph all there tatoos when they get there Mugshot taken. So you can see all the different gang tatoos, so you know what gangs they belong in. They really like having there tatoos photographed. We also photograph tattoos of all other arrestee’s too. So i’ve see just about any type of tatoo there is. I wonder of the gang members there get tatoos to represent there gangs. Thanks alot for the good info about the graffitti, its good info too know. Take care and be safe.

  15. Jim Hannah says

    Yeah Bob, I noticed quite a lot of graffiti that I don’t remember seeing before. I’m not sure what any of it means, and suspect it doesn’t mean anything other than places that sell cans of spray paint are suffering more shrinkage than they used to. As someone mentioned, it’s a bit more acceptable if there is some artistic value to it, but this just seems to be dim-witted scrawls. It’s a shame, especially, as you say, that people don’t seem to care about it, and I hope that some local politicians get a bee in their bonnet about it and start making some noises and taking some action.

  16. brian says

    Hope it gets nipped in the bud Bob….seems everyday when I pick up the Cebu news some gang related crime is reported….on a positive note was in Davao earlier this week for a day..was impressed as to how clean the city is..Cebu could certainly take a lesson from the Davao Mayor regarding this !!

  17. Charlie Tuna says

    Seems like the same old story, Pete and Re-Pete. Where are the parents ? For any kid under 18 hold the parents responsible with fines and related costs to remove the graffiti. Have the kids and the parents out there doing the removal work themselves plus more community service.
    I see and read of far too many parents shipping the kids off instead of taking the responsibility on themselves, and buying them cell phones so the poor little things will not have to walk home from school or whatever. Poor little babies. Hogwash !
    The tail is wagging the dog in far too many families.
    I read an article just yesterday the 12 year girl chewed out the parents because they and or the aunt got their signals mixed up and forgot to pick poor little “Susiebelle” up fom school. So they bought her and all the kids cell phones ! What ? Take her butt out behind the wood shed. How about teach them to get off their lazy spoiled rears and take a jeepney, trike, or maybe something really novel like walking.
    Wake up so called parents and do some parenting. You cannot hire a cell phone as a baby sitter. It’s “your” job.
    As I mention hold the parents responsible, jail them if you have to along with the little brat.
    No accountability seems to be all too common in todays world.
    Must be someone else’s fault.

  18. Charlie Tuna says

    Hi Bob,
    I am proud of you for raising your children right. It looks like you do and have done a great job. I hope it spreads to others. I doubt your kids are spoiled from what I have seen. Bravo to you and the other good parents out there.
    Have a fantastic day.

  19. Doc says

    I hate to be too pessimistic here, but, things like graffiti will NEVER change, only get worse! It’s cultural, granted the parents are to blame for not instilling self pride and responsibility to society as a whole (I recall a phrase from the old Star Trek series: “….the good of the many outweighs the good of the one!” I’ve noticed in the last 10 years a “me, me, me” attitude and “the hell with anybody else”! Just something as simple as my neighbors waking up at 4am and blasting their “thump, thump, thump, disco music” and when I asked for a little peace and quiet was told to “go home if I didn’t like it”, I AM HOME!!!!
    Forget the Barangay Councils and Police, they “don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings” and are too worried about not getting re-elected to do what is “right”!
    The police where I live are “non-existent”, they do no patrolling and spend most their time with the Mayor and watching DVD’s at the police station, it’s a “boy’s club” not a police force! The last time my house was burglarized (the third time, by the way) they arrived 2 days later at noon, saying that it was not safe for them to come into my Purok after sunset!!! HELLO!?! DO YOU KNOW WHAT THE POLICE ARE FOR?
    So if the parents are not going to do their part to protect society, and obviously the police will not do their part, then obviously, it will never change! Sad as it is to say!

    • says

      Well, Doc… in some ways you say one thing then contradict yourself. Firstly you said it’s a “me, me, me” culture, but then you said “the good of the many outweighs the good of the few”. Those two things are pretty much exactly opposite of each other.

      When you were told that if you don’t like it you can go home.. unfortunately, that is true. You can be asked to leave any time, because you (and I) are not a citizen here. We are guests here, and in my opinion, we should not really expect the 90 Million people to live their lives to please us. We are the ones who have to either decide to adapt, or leave. That’s how I see it anyway.

  20. Naiintriga Ako says

    Something like this is appearing in southern Cebu province. A graffiti with a distinctive appearance: an arrow pointing up or down, a number with two decimal places and a plus sign before it, and the letters “RRW” or “RROW”. Anyone know what this graffiti means?

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