“My friend did not feel it was safe to give me a ride to Mama’s House, because it is in a poor neighborhood”, my wife explained as she got out of the trike that had returned her from a lunch date with a repatriate friend of ours. We had met this lady in the USA, who was from Bohol, which is where my wife hails from. The lady had met a US Naval officer over 20 years previous. They had fallen in love, got married and lived their lives in many different parts of the world. After not living in her home country for 20 years, she decided to move back to Bohol. Her husband decided to stay in the USA for a few years until he could fully retire from his civilian job he now worked. I was a bit annoyed that she did not give my wife a ride in her vehicle back to Mama’s House. I had assumed when planning our vacation that she would come to Mama’s House and break rice with my wife’s family, but since the family was poor and from a poor neighborhood that was considered unsafe by this lady. Is she right are poor neighborhoods and poor people in the Philippines unsafe?
I have visited Bohol in the Philippines several times and each time has started with my wife and me throwing a large party where many people from her home village feel free to come for food, fun and games. The only reason I am bringing this up is to say that our presence is widely known after we arrive. I suspect a lot of people know we are coming before we arrive, because my Filipino family talks about our visit. My wife and I go for walks around the neighborhood almost every morning. The only dangerous situation I encountered was when I spied a lovely young lady who was making her way from a shower house to her family’s main house covering herself only with a towel that was inadequate in size. My wife almost noticed me noticing her. I ride jeepneys, trikes, walk around, and shoot baskets with my kids at local outdoor courts, etc. I have not felt uncomfortable since my third visit.
When I first arrived in the Philippines, I met the lady who would be my wife in Cebu. We traveled to her hometown in Bohol together by boat and by taxi. She asked if I wanted to stay in a hotel or with family in her village. I chose her village and honestly I felt at the time I was taking a risk. The neighborhood looked a lot different than the one I had grew up in or any I had lived in. There were chickens, goats and pigs all around. The houses were very close to each other. There did not seem to be much privacy. Lots of people would live in the same house and people would visit anytime they felt like it. Doors and windows were open all day. Many windows had no glass anyway. I was excited to get to know my pen-pal, her family, and their culture, so I really was too busy to be too anxious and it was a short visit.
On our first trip back to my wife’s village a couple years later, I admit I was concerned for the safety of our son who at the time was 1 years old. In truth, I don’t know that there was any reason for my concern, but I understand how others feel. A poor neighborhood in the Philippines looks very different than what most foreigners are used to. I was concerned that someone might kidnap our son. I tried to keep our son in sight at all times and became quite anxious on one occasion when one of my wife’s nephews took him to visit a neighbor without telling me. Another incident happened at the BQ Mall in Tagbilaran City, my wife’s older sister was carrying our son and somehow we became separated for 5 or 10 minutes. I was in a panic. I think on my second visit I was paranoid, because, I was a new father. I did not feel safe on our second visit, because I was worried for our son.
On my third trip to the Philippines, something changed in the way I looked at the neighborhood. I started to understand that the lack of privacy was actually a sense of community. Everybody knew their neighbors and not just superficially. Well there were exceptions; some houses had walls around them. The people in the neighborhood knew loosely who these people were, but they were not really part of the community. These people were well-to-do. I know it sounds strange, but I actually grew to pity the well-to-do, because they were not really part of the community. They seemed isolated and lonely behind the walls to me. I now feel as safe in the poor neighborhood my wife grew up in as the middle-class one I grew up in here in the USA. It feels like home.
Who lives in poor neighborhoods in the Philippines?
In the poor neighborhood my wife grew up in the neighbors are: fishermen, store clerks, construction workers, Sari Sari store operators, trike drivers, jeepney drivers, farmers, teachers, seamstresses, security guards, retired folk, unemployed, etc. For me these are not dangerous people. Are there criminals in the neighborhood? I guess there are pick pockets and prostitutes, although I don’t know any. My belief is criminals tend to do well, go to prison or die in the Philippines, but not stay poor. A reality in the Philippines is that there is a chance, although I don’t think it is a large chance that 6 to 10 men in body armor with AK 47’s may kidnap you, a foreigner, for ransom. These professional kidnappers are not poor. The poor cannot afford body armor or AK 47’s. Some people are targets for criminals. These people like: politicians, money lenders, owners of businesses, companies, doctors and lawyers do not usually live in poor neighborhoods.
Security in the Philippines
I know some who feel they need security to be safe in the Philippines. It is my belief that very few can afford enough security to make any difference with a true threat. I do not believe or expect a security guard with a pistol will try to stop 6 to 10 well-armed men. If I were a security guard facing 6 to 10 well-armed men, I would turn to my employer and say, “I resign; you are on your own, Kemo Sabe.” then I would leave, go home and polish up on my resume’. Where are kidnap for ransom gangs more likely to look for victims that they can ramson a poor neighborhood or a gated community or a resort? In spite of these facts many consider a poor neighborhood dangerous. I am not sure why.
War on Drugs in the Philippines:
There is an ongoing “War on Drugs” in the Philippines. For me as a foreigner it is a lot more important for me to understand the fact that this is occurring than to express an opinion on it. I strongly recommend anyone reading my words to avoid being present anywhere in the Philippines where illegal drugs are being used, sold, grown, produced, or stored. If you know illegal drugs are near where you are, I advise you to get somewhere else real fast. I personally feel that I, non-Filipinos who has interests in the Philippines, should not make any statement for or against the “War on Drugs”, so like I did on my article about Abortion I will not be expressing my personal opinion in this article or in the comment section.
Questions of the Day
As always feel free to answer one both or none of my questions.
- Where would you feel safer the house of a poor Filipino fisherman or the house of a wealthy Filipino mayor?
- What precautions would you recommend to keep safe from violence?