Over the past few days, I have gotten a slew of emails from concerned foreigners. Americans, Canadians, Aussies and expats from many other countries. They are all worried about two things: safety, and whether they will be allowed to remain in the Philippines.
Safety? Yep, there is suddenly a lot of fear. Mostly because of some statements made by President Duterte. President Duterte said earlier this week that he wants US troops to leave Mindanao. In general, President Duterte is against foreign troops from any nation being stationed on Philippine soil. Seemingly expats and potential expats are worried that without foreign troops on Philippine soil we may not be safe here.
Welcome to stay? Yes, suddenly expats are worried whether they (we) are welcome in the Philippines at all. Again, this stems from some of the same statements that came from President Duterte. As he made these statements, some people are interpreting what he said as wanting all foreigners out of the Philippines. Not only military, but even people like retirees and such. People like you and I, the majority of the people who are reading this.
When reading this article it is important to remember that in the Philippines a “Kano” or “American” really means any foreigner.
Understanding President Duterte
I have lived in Davao for nearly 17 years. The current Philippine President was our local Mayor for the vast majority of those years. The only times when he was not our Mayor in the time that I lived here was at times when he was not allowed to run due to term limits. When he was unable to run, his daughter, Inday Sara Duterte was our Mayor. Now that Rodrigo Duterte is the President, of course he is no longer our Mayor, that job has again been taken by Inday Sara.
Understanding what President Duterte says, being able to decipher his words, is not an easy task. For people who have lived long term in Davao and had a lot of exposure to Duterte, we are able to have a better understanding of what he is saying, or what he means. This became evident during the Presidential campaign when a lot of Manila based reporters would come up with all kinds of wild ideas of what Duterte said.. later to be corrected by Davao based reporters who would give the proper perspective on what was actually meant by statements from Duterte.
Having lived in Davao for a while now, I feel that I have a fairly good understanding of President Duterte’s statements.
When President Duterte said recently that he wants American troops out of Mindanao, he went on ant talked at lenght and said he wants the Americans to go. Many people are interpreting this as two different statements.
- First that he wanted US troops to go.
- Second that he wanted all Americans to go.
I can assure you that this is not the case. Duterte can ramble on and on with his statements, and even though his statement about wanting Americans out came later, I can assure you that he was still talking about wanting the troops to leave. He did not say that he wants American retirees, expats, business people or tourists to leave. There is nothing to worry about. If you are a foreigner living in the Philippines – in Mindanao or any other part of the country – I can assure you that you are still welcome here, and as long as you follow Philippine law, you will continue to be welcome in the Philippines.
Why does Duterte want foreign troops out?
It is a nationalism thing. It is a sovereignty issue. Duterte is a strongly nationalistic person and proud to be a Filipino, as he should be. Remember, Mr. Duterte was elected as the President of the Philippines, not the President to look out for US interests. He is there to further the interests of the Philippines, not the interests of any other country. If this comes as a shock to anybody, it should not.
I have been hearing from other expats who email me that President Duterte hates foreigners and specially Americans. I do not believe that to be true. I have met Mr. Duterte, and I have never felt at any time that he mis-treated me, or that he did not like me. Whether it be Mr. Duterte or any person representing him, any time I have had dealings with these officials they have always treated me well.
American caused Explosion in Davao?
Back in 2002 there was an incident that happened in Davao. An American man named Michael Meiring was staying for a relatively long term here in Davao. at a place called the Evergreen Hotel. Supposedly Meiring was here doing gold mining. He used explosives as part of his gold mining work. Well, there was an explosion at the Evergreen Hotel where Meiring was staying. At first it was thought to be a bombing caused by some rebel group, but it turned out that Meiring was (supposedly) storing his mining explosives in his hotel room, and that caused an explosion. Meiring was injured when this happened.
With Meiring in the hospital here in Davao, he was under guard because he would likely be facing charged due to the incident at the hotel. A group of people were sent down from the US Embassy to “visit” Meiring, check on him and aid him. When this group came to visit the hospital, they were allowed into Meiring’s room. When they left, they snuck out Meiring with them. When the guards looked into the room, they saw that Meiring was gone.
The US Embassy personnel took Meiring back to Manila and then flew him back to the States. Most people here think that Meiring was likely a CIA agent. I do not believe that the US Government has ever verified who Meiring was or why they illegally took him out of Davao.
After this incicent, then Mayor Duterte sought for the USA to return Meiring to Davao to face trial for his actions, but Meiring was never returned. The USA never even offered an apology for sneaking him out of the city. Duterte considered this as a real slap in the face and that the US had interfered in Philippine (and Davao) affairs unjustly. Ever sine that happened Duterte has had negative feelings (in my opinion) against the US Government.
Let me make it clear that I have no first hand knowledge of these events. I was living in Davao at the time and I am only passing along what was locally reported at the time.
Even though Duterte harbored (perhaps justly) ill feelings against the US Government for these actions, I have never known Duterte to treat any individual American citizens in Davao badly in any way. In fact, every American I can think of who has lived in Davao has expressed to me that they like and admire Duterte for the fine job he did in Davao.
Are we safe if the troops are out?
Well, I feel that we are safe, at least as safe as we were while US troops were stationed on Mindanao. The truth is that there have never been very many US troops on Mindanao at all. Back before the early 90s when the US had bases in the Philippines, those bases were not in Mindanao anyway, they were on Luzon (the main bases). US troops came to Mindanao after the 9/11 attacks in 2001. When the US got active in the War on Terror a small “unofficial” base was set up in the Zamboanga area of Mindanao. While the US never really acknowledged the “base” or publicly stated how many troops were stationed there, it is locally believed that around 600 or 700 American troops were at this Joint Terrorism Task Force base. I have been to Zamboanga and would occasionally see US troops in the area, but I never saw any US forces on any other part of Mindanao at any time in the past 17 years. If any US personnel did go to other parts of the island they must have been very rare.
It is my understanding that currently there are only a fraction of the number of US troops still on Mindanao. I would be surprised if there were 100 or even more than 50 US troops on the Island of Mindanao any longer. So, for those troops to leave would really not, in my opinion, have any impact on the safety of foreigners living in Mindanao. Even when US forces were at their peak in Mindanao (unofficially of course), they were not really covering much of the island anyway, and really had no impact on the safety of foreigners in the vast majority of the island.
Based on all of this, I really do not think that the statements of President Duterte this past week should be a concern to any foreigners living here. I believe that you are welcome in the Philippines, and I also believe that your safety is no different than it was in the past. Now, understand.. there is no place on the earth that is perfectly safe! Terrorists can strike anywhere. We had a bombing here in Davao just 2 weeks ago, but I still feel safe and comfortable living here in Davao. I have no plans to move permanently or even temporarily. This is my home, and it would take something big to make me leave, and I don’t see that happening.
Some people have expressed worry about the Drug War that has been lead by the President. I have written an article about that, and I planned to publish it today, but due to great concern that I have been hearing from expats, I decided to publish this article instead. If you are interested in reading about he violence from the war on drugs, it will be coming here on LiP soon.. perhaps even tomorrow, I have yet to make a final decision on that.