Driving down the boulevard the other afternoon, I noticed yet again the number of unsolicited smiles sent my way. From the folks in our neighborhood to strangers out on the street, that big Filipino smile is something to behold – a blazing ray of sunshine that seems to light up their whole face. At one point, I passed two women who were working on their stalled scooter. Although I wouldn’t be in a good mood under similar circumstances, they took a second to look up and smile at me as I blasted on by. Again, that blazing ray of sunshine.
Arriving at my destination, I asked a few other foreigners there, “Is it me, or do Filipinos seem to smile all the time?”
A rhetorical question at best.
And then, I received a text notifying that a friend of ours had been murdered.
And with that, the dark cloud of reality smothered all that sunshine.
So much for all those smiles….
I won’t get into any sort of detail until the victim’s American spouse has successfully returned home. Suffice to say that Michell and I spent a good amount of time with them breaking bread, having drinks and talking about everything and nothing under the tropical sun. We even welcomed in the New Year with them. An American couple who had retired here a bit over a year ago, I can objectively state that they were the most decent foreigners living in Dumaguete – and probably the rest of the Southeast Asia for that matter. Just good, decent folks living a good, decent life here. The videos you have seen of us cooling off in the evening at Silliman beach were always taken in their company.
It’s always the good ones…
As to the crime, I will add only this: They were housesitting for someone. There were not security grates over some of the windows. An unknown person entered through one of the windows at night and proceeded to burglarize the house. The American husband must have woken up and investigated. A confrontation ensued and he was stabbed to death. The burglar took a bag of items from the house but – probably realizing he had just killed someone – he ditched the bag down the road. The investigation is still ongoing and no suspects are in custody at this time.
There have been a number of foreigners murdered on just this island alone in the past year. A foreigner and his Filipina wife were killed by their helpers and dumped in a well up near Bacolod, Phil Prins was beaten to death outside of Zanzibar, and another foreigner was murdered down in Zamboanguita. Add to that the murder of a French environmentalist and his family up in Palawan and the decapitations of foreigners kidnapped on Samal Island, and one gets the sense that the veneer of civilization in the Philippines can sometimes run rather thin.
I put my “rose tinted glasses” in my sock drawer quite a while ago. The knowledge that living the reality day to day life here (as opposed to the Dream) tends to have that effect. But with this latest event…. Well, let’s just say that I am having a very hard time in maintaining objectivity. The murder of our friend has simply hit too close to home.
The Philippines is a Third World Country. Many Filipinos are poor – a good number of them are desperately poor. Drugs – specifically methamphetamine (“shabu”) – are a real problem here. In my experience, meth is the worst when it comes to the obsessive nature of addiction and lengths that people will go to get it. And remember that shabu is the drug of choice in the Philippines.
Something else to keep in mind is the fact that you can have someone murdered in the Philippines for very little money – reportedly for “only” 10-20,000 pesos (230-460 US dollars). Yes, life is cheap in the Philippines. As in literally cheap.
For those who are interested, a gentleman named Don Rua compiled a list of foreigners who were killed in the Philippines between 2000 and 2012. (You can see that list on his Facebook page.) According to his list, there were a total of 204 foreigners murdered in that twelve year period. (For some reason, he stopped keeping track in early 2012.) I broke them down by year and came up with the following:
Keep in mind that during those twelve years, tourism roughly doubled – from 2 million visitors per year to 4 million. In 2015, the Philippines reported 5 million tourists visiting its sunny shores.
But enough of the numbers. I leave you to draw your own conclusions. It’s not until you actually know one of the victims that it becomes something more than a statistic.
In closing, I will simply say this: Don’t ever forget where you are. There’s a reason why Filipino homes have concrete walls and iron grates; and why most businesses have armed guards.
You’re not in Kansas anymore.