Though the Philippines continues to experience significant growth as a tourist destination every year the country still struggles with its reputation compared to other destinations in the region. Political instability, natural disasters and high crime rate are factors that may withhold people from traveling to the Philippines. In this travel update we will clarify some of these issues and hope to give you a good idea of how safe (or unsafe) the Philippines really are to travel around or spend your holiday.
You will notice more armed guards and security personnel in front of banks, at the entrance of shopping malls and in other public places than in other countries in South East Asia. The Philippine government is very security conscious. The armed security presence should only give you the feeling that authorities are on alert and care about the public’s (and your) safety.
In 2016 the people of the Philippines elected Rodrigo Duterte to be their president for the next six years. Duterte’s campaign was elected on a law and order agenda. He gained his reputation as mayor of the city Davao on Mindanao.
Since his inauguration Duterte has been making headlines by his international and domestic policies. His war on drugs has been widely criticized in the press worldwide. It is claimed that police and so-called death squads have killed thousands of people because of their alleged involvement in the drugs trade. Despite this his approval rating in the Philippines is still very high though according to nationwide polls. Duterte has made many friends as well as many enemies. To say he is controversial is an understatement. Politics in the Philippines always has been turbulent and Duterte is no exception.
How will this impact your holiday? The violence related to Duterte’s war on drugs takes place in neighborhoods of the big cities, notably Metro Manila, where tourists usually would not go. Unless you go to these neighborhoods there is little chance that you will be confronted with any violence related to the war on drugs. Needless to say: stay away from any drugs during your stay in the Philippines. The Philippines has more freedom of speech and press than any other Southeast Asian nation so you can easily talk with local people about Duterte and what they think of their president.
You can also just avoid politics altogether and just enjoy yourself.
Petty crime and theft
Crime is a concern in urban areas throughout the Philippines. The crime rate in general is higher than other countries in Southeast Asia. Theft, physical assault, and robbery were the most common crimes reported to local authorities in 2016. Other common criminal acts include pickpocketing, confidence schemes, and credit card fraud. It is advised to use credit cards at major retail facilities/banks and always check bills or statements for suspicious charges. Date-rape drug use has also been reported, and, just as in any other country, travelers should never leave a drink unattended or accept drinks from a stranger. Be vigilant at all times. We advise you not being out and about in the wee hours. Don’t get drunk or do things that you would not do in your hometown.
The Philippines is an island nation. There are now officially 7641 islands in the country. This means that the Philippines is also a country of ferry boats. When traveling in the Philippines it is almost impossible (and in our opinion, inadvisable) to avoid taking ferries from one island to another. Besides, it is a great way to see the country and meet the local people. Who doesn’t enjoy a boat trip with the wind breezing through your hair, inhaling the fresh air of the sea and seeing tropical islands glide past? Unfortunately the country still has a dubious reputation as far as safety of ferries is concerned. Once you have such a reputation it is very hard to shake it off. Quite a few travel advices of foreign embassies warn against traveling on ferries. We consider this advice to be inaccurate and outdated.
The ferries between the main islands are big modern vessels with air conditioning and comfortable chairs. Some show movies and have catering. Like with all modes of transportation, there have been accidents with ferries. The last accident with loss of life happened in 2015 when a ferry from Ormoc to the Camotes Island capsized. There were not tourists on board. When you board a ferry always use common sense. Look at the vessel and the weather. If you stick to the modern ferries on major routes there is really not much reason to be concerned. Enjoy the ride.
Terrorism is defined as “the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.” Terrorism in the Philippines is a result of two insurgencies: the Moro conflict and a communist insurgency.
The island Samar is the base of the communist insurgency. It is unlikely you will come across communist rebels on other islands. Aside from that these rebels don’t target tourists.
The conflict between the Philippine government and Islamic rebels/bandits on Mindanao is more threatening. There are different rebel groups active of which the Abu Sayaf is the most well-known. They have kidnapped people and among those were foreign nationals. In April 2017 Philippine security forces intercepted an Abu Sayaf group who tried to land on the island Bohol. The group was eliminated albeit with loss of life. No tourists were harmed.
In May the US embassy warned of possible terrorist activity on the island of Palawan. In the same month a major battle between government forces and Islamic rebels claiming allegiance to ISIS broke out in Marawi on Mindanao. President Duterte declared martial law on the island. There was a fear that the fighting would lead to more armed incursions on the Visayas. Fortunately this has not happened.
The Philippines is located in the so-called Ring of Fire. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) monitors volcanic and seismic activity in the country. In the Philippines earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur.
You can find a full list of earthquakes that took place in the country here. Light earthquakes happen very frequently across the country but are in general harmless. If you are interested there is a website monitoring these quakes.
The most recent devastating earthquake took place four years ago on October 15, 2013. The epicenter was on the island Bohol. The tremor was felt throughout the Visayas. The earthquake caused widespread damage and loss of life. Many Spanish era churches were heavily damaged. More than 200 people died, mostly on Bohol. Read more here. This is the most devastating earthquake since the Luzon earthquake of 1990.
It lists 23 active volcanoes in the country. In recent years Mount Kanlaon on Negros and Mount Mayon on Luzon have been active. The eruption of Mount Pinatubo on June 25, 1991, was a cataclysmic eruption with far-reaching consequences. We include some volcanoes like Taal volcano and Mount Pinatubo in our tours. Volcanoes are frightening on one hand and awesomely beautiful on the other hand.
We follow the updates of PHIVOLCS on a daily basis and will inform you when seismic or volcanic activity might affect your tour.
The Philippines is prone to extreme weather. The Philippines has been called the most exposed country in the world to tropical storms but we are not sure if that is really looking at the disastous typhoons that battered Florida and the Caribbean earlier this year. Looking at the recent history most deadly typhoons have struck in the months September until January. Weather seems to have become more unpredictable so typhoons can occur anytime between June and January. The areas usually afflicted are North Luzon, Eastern Visayas (Leyte and Samar) and Bicol (Legazpi City and Mount Mayon). Typhoon Hai Yan was the last really destructive typhoon in November, 2013.
We monitor the weather forecast on a daily basis but when a typhoon occurs you probably will already be in the country. We will do our best to find the best solution in that case.
There are no safety concerns for Luzon apart from the usual ones such as petty crime and theft. There were no incidents involving tourists that we know of. The UK government website states: “Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in the Philippines, including in Manila. Terrorist groups continue to plan attacks and have the capacity and the intent to carry out attacks at any time and anywhere in the country, including in places visited by foreigners, like airports, shopping malls, public transport, including the metro system, and places of worship.”
As far as we are concerned there is no ground for this statement. It has been on the UK site for quite some time without any updates of facts. Of course nowadays terrorists can strike at any time and anywhere as we’ve seen in some major cities in Europe in recent years.
Our advice: Luzon is safe to travel as far as we are concerned. No security issues.
We consider Palawan safe to travel. In May the US Embassy warned that terrorists were planning attacks in Puerto Princesa and the Underground River. Thankfully, these attacks did not take place.
Some government websites advise against “non-essential” travel to
the south of the island but haven’t provided facts to bolster this.
There have been no incidents since then that we know of.
Our advice: Palawan is safe to travel as far as we are concerned. No security issues.
Since the Bohol incident in April security forces have been on high alert. There were no incidents since then that we know of. Our office is in Cebu City.
Our advice: Cebu is safe to travel as far as we are concerned. No security issues.
Since the Bohol incident in April security forces have been on high alert. We have been in regular contact with our friends on Siquijor. It has been peaceful this entire year.
There were no incidents since then that we know of.
Our advice: Siquijor is safe to travel as far as we are concerned. No security issues.
Since the Bohol incident in April security forces have been on high alert. There were since then no incidents that we know of. Everyone is preparing for the coming high season.
Our advice: Bohol is safe to travel as far as we are concerned. No security issues.
Since the Bohol incident in April security forces have been on high alert. There have been several incidents involving NPA rebels this year. In July seven local people were killed in an ambush in Negros Oriental. In the beginning of this month two tourists and their driver were injured when they got caught in a shootout between police and bandits. We are investigating what Negros authorities are doing to avoid a repeat of these incidents.
Our advice: stick to urban areas like Bacolod, Dumaguete, San Carlos and Silay City for the time being. Contact us for more information.
Since the Bohol incident in April security forces have been on high alert. There have been no incidents involving tourists that we know of. There is no reason not to travel to Panay and Boracay as far as we are concerned.
Our advice: Both Panay and Boracay are fine to travel as far as we are concerned. No security issues.
At this moment we don’t offer tours to Mindanao. That might change in the future.
The good news about Mindanao is that the Philippine armed forces have won the battle of Marawi. After a struggle that lasted for months the city is now in the hands of the army. Regrettably the hostilities resulted in major loss of life and much of the city was destroyed unfortunately.
Based on our information we would consider the following provinces safe to travel:
Agusan del Sur, Agusan del Norte, Davao del Sur, Davao del Norte, Camiguin, Davao Occidental, Davao Oriental, Surigao del Sur, Surigao del Norte and Dinagat Islands. The popular destination Siargao is part of Surigao del Norte. We don’t see any problem going there.
You will have to be aware that in most areas there will be security forces present, roadblocks in place and other manifestations of an island that still is under martial law. President Rodrigo Duterte hasdeclared martial law in all 27 provinces of Mindanao.
Our advice: don’t travel outside the above mentioned provinces.