Life and Death in the Philippines

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:
2000       2
2001       3
2002      6
2003       3
2004       7
2005       11
2006       15
2007       9
2008       16
2009       30
2010       44
2011        40
2012        5 
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.


  1. Ned, you as always have a good point.

    Rocel and I are pretty careful about home security and our end of this sub-division is effectively a family compound.

    Honestly, after living in the Middle East including interesting places like Kurdistan, I can manage the strictly residential risks well enough to be OK with the odds.

    I have a much harder time with driving. Kurdistan was brutal, much worse than here. Qatar uses driving as a low-level form of warfare. I’m happy driving here until I get into a situation that taxes my patience. Oops. I have a hard time dealing with driving in a culture where time has no value. My bad but it grates.

    We just lost a nephew coming home from work at 10pm in a trike. Rear ended by a pickup that didn’t stop. The poor guy was only 25.

    I use the car 10 to 1 over the bike. Since the beginning of April the car has 4000km and the bike has 400km. The car is just so much safer.

    The risks are still huge and in my opinion outweigh the risk of violence to your person in other situations.

    All the best
    George and Rocel

  2. Ned im trying to dismiss this but i just cant, thank you so much for the warning reports. I want the dream too but the reality is its dangerous for anyone in the Pi. I love my life there and want it to go on a long time , I suppose some precautions are in order for sure.

  3. Condolences on the death of your friend and please pass on my condolences to the family. I’ve enjoyed your videos and look forward to when you start back doing more.

  4. Ned sorry to hear the news of your friend. Certainly personal safety in the PH is never to be taken lightly. Coming from America a different mind set needs to be learned. From my many visits i have observed my relatives actions and see their awareness of potential danger. Wish you and yours all the best.

  5. Having just moved to Dumaguete yesterday I am a bit shocked. That being said there are killings Dailey in South Florida and we had no security on our windows. I chose a very secure compound in Banilad with a guard every night. I pay a lot more than many expats due to the security measures. I have followed you and Reekay for quite a while and I think you have both mentioned that keeping safe and remembering you are in a 3rd world country. Killings happen everywhere in the world. Compare numbers and you will find I am sure that this country is better than many. Thailand, China, Turkey, and many more have some pretty high numbers. I feel for your loss and I know that with time comes healing.

  6. I think it is definitely time to deliver the message to the Philippines people, there politicians, police and courts.
    EXPATS AND TOURISTS ARE NOT FAIR GAME FOR CRIMINALS AND SCAMMERS, if we are not at least treated as equals then at least we are to be treated as honoured guests of the the Philippines.
    65,000 expats spending over $1,000 a month equals more than $65,000,000 a month and at least $1,000,000,000 a year for the Philippines and 5,000,000 tourists averaging $2,000 on their holidays in the Philippines equals $10,000,000,000 a year and thats not even including airfares.
    Ask them how the Philippines people and their government would like it if they lost 11 or 12 billion dollars a year in income to the Philippines from tourists and expats let alone investment from foreign companies which could possibly amount to over $100,000,000,000 a year.
    Why invest in a country where your investment/business is not safe let alone your staff.
    The Philippines would very quickly fall off the list of Developing Countries and fall into the list of Third World Countries and they will never recover to become a Developing Country again.
    Last I heard Dumaguete and the surrounds has about a 1,000 expats living there, ask the Mayor of Dumaguete how he would like it if Dumaguete lost $1,000,000 a month in revenue and then see if he gives the police a kick up the back side and puts them on a Performance Improvement Program (PIP) to bust the drug suppliers, addicts and other scum who not only prey on foreigners but Filipinos as well.
    You know who the real culprits are? The Peoples Republic of China and its Government.
    All through Asia, Australia and New Zealand, Methamphetamine usage is increasing and the main supplier for the drug and its precursors chemicals is CHINA. The Chinese Government is using this as a deliberate policy to de-stabilise Asia and other surrounding nations and also to enrich officials of the Chinese Government.

    1. My guess is if there has been an increase in the murder rate it is probably related to an increase in drug use. It would be helpful if there were accurate statistics on the crime rate and the drug use, but it probably just comes down to addicts needing money for drugs. The new president seems to have a particular hatred for drug dealers, so maybe he will improve the situation.

      1. Duterte certainly did a good job in Davao. I am going there in September to retire. I am not one who will visit the bars, and being out late. This was a burglary, guess I will see if I can get some motion alarm sensors before I move out.

    2. In my opinion The Philippines is already a 4th world country. There are so-called Developed countries, developing countries, 3rd world countries that may or not someday start to develop and there are countries that are regressing every day, not advancing in any way. I refer to those countries as 4th world countries and The Philippines is on that list.

      I’m sorry for the loss of your friends, but I’m going to disagree with some aspects of how to be secure. When people live in gated, guarded communities it is an advertisement that they have something to protect/lose. In 2004 I lived for a short time in a gated townhouse community and saw way more crime, both violent and petty, than I saw in my other 12 years living in decent, but modest, non gated areas in Tagaytay, Dasmariñas and most peacefully in Malaybalay City, Bukidnon (Mindanao).

  7. Ned,
    Sorry for your loss.
    You are right that ” It’s not until you actually know one of the victims that it becomes something more than a statistic.”

    If I can offer advice to everyone, it is to develop and maintain “situational awareness”.
    Let’s face it life is different in the Philippines (the situation is different).
    This article may save you or your loved one’s’ life.

  8. our murder rate in any of our large cities in the US. is at a larger scale the any thing there,of places I’d rather be,The Philippines rates up on the number one chart,the people are wonderful,the weather,being from West Texas is easy to deal with,and the peso exchange makes me a rich man on a poor man pay check,I can’t wait to wrap things up here and catch a plane to the sunny beaches there

  9. Every time that we visit my wife has that same smile on her face! From the beginning of the visit all the way to the end. She lights up and it really makes me feel great. That’s one of the reasons I like it there so much.

    Security is a big issue. People don’t spend money putting bars on their windows and walls around their homes unless they feel it’s necessary. A lot to think about. This will be something that will be taken into account when our time comes to return to the Philippines.

    Thanks for the information and I am saddened for your loss of a friend. This is never easy.

      1. be aware that the IR or INFRA RED motion detectors do not work very well in the PHILIPPINES.
        BECAUSE being IR,,, those devices depend on a TEMPERATURE DIFFERENTIAL to work.
        the human body temp is normally about 95 degrees on the surface ,,,, and so is the typical ambient temp ,in the PHILIPPINES much of the time,
        therefore the detector cannot SEE the moving target and trip the alarm. BECAUSE the target and the air is about or the same temp.
        there are other devices on the market that work on a different principal similar to RADAR,
        they are also cheap and very effective and not effected by temperature,
        this also applies to MOTION activated LIGHTS, of which most of those are also IR,
        when you buy one of these devices ,,,, look carefully at the label.
        EBAY has several to choose from.

          1. MOST motion detectors operate on the principal of INFRA RED tech,
            ALL must operate on some means of detection,
            All IR based detectors have the same problem
            they simply cant tell the difference in temp between the body temp and the ambient if the AMBIENT is close to body temp.
            IR detection devices for motion detection,,,,, outnumber other means by at least 10 to 1
            IR is used because its CHEAP and it works fairly well in cooler climates than the PHILIPPINES,
            YOU will also notice that IR devices have a problem with a person walking STRAIGHT at the device,
            you can walk ACROSS its path and it will work most of the time,
            but if you walk straight at it, the results are not dependable.

  10. Ned do you believe this is trend and that ‘Ex-Pats’ are being targeted? Or is this just an increase in violence across PI?


    1. Either it is something that is trending upward or the data for Expat and Tourist murders apart from total murders in the Philippines is actually being mined and made available or it ain’t being hushed up no more.
      I would love to see a percentage comparison of Filipino murders against total population and then compare that to Expat murders as compared to total Expat population (including expats Filipino families/partners in the Expat list because if Expats are being targeted then surely their families/partners must be being targeted) and compare this to other countries where Expats are attracted throughout the world and then maybe we can have an Expat safety rating for the different countries in the world.

  11. It’s really disheartening to hear stories of killing/murder specially in our country, but it’s more gruesome to hear more than 50 people brutally murdered and injuring another more than 50 innocent people by just one deranged man I.e., in the U.S.

  12. Hey Ned may be an idea for an article: “Home Security, Personal Security and Personnel Security (partners) for Expats and Tourists”, (bars/grills on windows, solid core doors – exterior and interior, safe rooms, alarms, places to avoid and at night or even during the day, etc).
    What to do and not do when things happen.
    I know a lot of it is common sense but somethings don’t occur to people who are not living in the Philippines and a ‘Ned on the spot’ point of view may help others.
    I know Henry did a video on things to consider when choosing a place to live but that didn’t cover everything that should be considered when deciding to live in the Philippines.
    I’m sorry this has happened to the man and his family and to the Expat community in general because he was loved by his family and valued as a friend by you and Michel, but rather than getting into a funk over it may be it can be used to help prevent it happening to others by the passage of useful information and advise.

  13. Hey Ned. Just to give an opinion from the other side of the looking glass. I am from Detroit City, you know the murder capital of the world. I would lay in bed there and hear gun shots all night long. Any body killed? Who knows and who cares. It’s a way of life there. I have lived in the Philippines almost 10 years this November. I have not heard one shot. Oh a few people have been killed but not around my residence. I have only had one problem and that was with another American. We westerners seem to have this better than thou attitude when we visit 3rd World Countries, and it gets us into trouble at times. I live just outside Dipolog City on Mindanao Island. When people asked me in Manila where I was going they would say, “oh no sir don’t go down there it is unsafe”. Safe or not I been having a great time here for the last 10 years of my life and loving every minute of it…..Pastor Bud.

    1. I too lived in the inner city – the murder center of Boston. There was killings there as well but only if you were buying drugs or selling drugs. The US has much better law enforcement (police actually go out and patrol) and you generally don’t get killed for as little as you do here. Personally, I wouldn’t live in your area. The Italian ex-priest was lucky that someone paid off his ransom. And don’t forget the barangay captain and coast guard guys that were kidnapped and killed in your area as well. Thanks, Pastor Bud!

  14. I will say it again brother

    Get out while you still can. Many better places. Many. Your dream dies with you. So don’t.

  15. As far as security at home goes I can make the following advice. Firstly, security works cost money. You can reduce this by creating a safe room (usually the master bedroom) that you can retreat to in times of trouble. Securing one room instead of the whole property is much cheaper. Secondly plant trees and shrubs with thorns at the border of the property. Thirdly, keep a dog. They are a deterrent and with their superior hearing can alert you early to the presence of a stranger. Keep them indoors at night lest they be neutralised with a drug or poison.

  16. Sorry to hear this news Ned, you two be safe…and keep your powder dry…things are not so wonderful back home either.

  17. The murder in Zamboanguita is quite troubling in that there is no mention of it in the media. Which begs the question, why?

  18. Ned; Obvious to me you have taken security steps, for you and Michell. Also obvious after rereading this post and a few earlier posts, you are in pain from a senseless death of a true friend of yours. My condolences to you, Michell, and the family of the victim, as well as your community. Take the time you need to heal, make whatever choice you need to. As but only 1 loyal subscriber with perhaps hopefully the general consensus in mind, I wish you the best and a life with a peaceful reality, whether it is in the Philippines or the USA. And I fully take your point ” It is Different There “. Again be safe.

  19. sorry for the loss of your friend. it’s sad when anyone is killed and especially because of the way this happened.
    robbing someone for whatever reason, killing someone and then leaving the property behind. Senseless and cruel. My prayers for your friend and his wife and all those that loved them.

    i will keep you all in my prayers.


  20. Until I ventured away myself I had no idea just how dangerous the Phil’s really is. If I were to ever go back to the US I sure as he’ll wouldn’t looking for a place in East St Louis.

    Get out and look around. The perspective you gain will be invaluable. It was for me.

  21. When was the last time you heard of a burglary stabbing a person 28 times, and leaving money in his wallet remember its a robbery, the wife was in another room and a couple from Bohol were in another room, 28 times is a “Hate Crime” Ted was a large man he would have put up a fight, I was told there were no defensive wounds? The Philippines is a great country to murder someone, how many murders get solved??

  22. Hi, I have just started reading your site recently and before I begin its most interesting because it focuses on everyday living. For my experience I am Aussie 47 ex mil like yourself met a filo girl in Aus 50 about 4 years ago. She has been Aussie citizen for about 20 years. She is just as you described in other articles left from a poor family to Hong Kong to be a nanny ( not good ) spend the last 25 years buying a bit of farm land building houses, paying ed fees, buying motorcycle taxis, cars, fish farms. Yep all for family. So to refer to this article, we went some to see all the family in Isabela province not too far from Magat dam. Beautiful country side, her family all lovely people. I did not see another white man in the 2 weeks. The partner wants us to return there to live when we are finished setting up. But now I am finally getting to your article, my danger antenna was up the whole time there. I had done no research it was just my feeling of white man turns up after partner has spent years building the two nicest houses in the suburb. Maybe just over cautious, but I am not sure if I could live there and relax. Anyway great site thanks.

  23. No probs, It looks like my danger antennae is coming true. Mr President has a long road ahead. The military is even up in Isabela now chasing most wanteds. Martial law nation wide shortly.

  24. My wife is a Filipina and we have two great kids.The UK may have many rules & regulations,but here most people respect the law.Homes are NOT barricaded like a fortress.Nobody carries guns.people treat each other with respect.
    I lived and worked many years in Asia,being Singapore based.
    In my opinion the Philippines is now too far gone to recover.
    Most filipinos are born LIARS.NEVER get involved in business.You will loose.The Chinese control the Phils economy.ANY Family will look upon you as a means to suck your blood.
    NEVER lend money.You won’t get it back.The police/military/government/colleges etc are a joke & so are the “qualifications”..ok for a visit and that’s it,but,stay safe.

  25. I am recently retired and my wife is from the Philippines. I decided to retire in Virginia mainly for safety reasons. We have supported my wife’s family off and on for the past 38 years…even bought a house over there for them. But I’m staying put here in Virginia, thank you.

  26. Per the United Nations Office of Crime and Drugs report dated 2012 , The Philippines had the most number of murders in S.E. Asia, number 4 in all of Asia behind India, Pakistan and China.

    Interesting side note: The Philippines (85% Catholic) has over five times the murders then Indonesia (largest Muslim population in the world) , and Indonesia is over twice the population then the Philippines.

  27. Hello Mr. Pastor,

    My wife is originally from Dipolog. We are thinking of retiring there. Can you tell me how nany foreigners live there and

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