Is Manila Safe for Americans?

Manila Crime Rate Numbers

Many tourists and potential expats ask ‘how safe is Manila?’. Let’s start off with the official numbers. The popular statistics website Numbeo gives Manila a crime level score of 67.98 which is designated as ‘high’. In addition, the US Embassy designated the city as a HIGH threat location for US Citizens. The Manila Police District reported a total of 54,689 incidents of crime for 2010-2015 with a 38.7% decrease in crime in 2016. The city is one of the most dangerous in South East Asia with a murder rate of 1 murder per 6,000 residents or 7.6 people killed per square mile.

In 2014, The Philippines had a murder rate of 9.84 per 100,000 people, with a number of 9,784 recorded cases. The country also had the highest rate of murder cases in Southeast Asia in 2013, with a rate of 8.8, followed by Thailand. Global Finance Magazine declared The Philippines the world’s most dangerous countries giving the country an index score of 17.70.

What the Numbers Don’t Say

If you talk to expats and foreigners living in Manila they will exclaim that the city is no dangerous than other large cities in the US. Most expats and foreigners feel perfectly safe in the city. How can this be? How is it that Manila can have some of the highest crime rates in SE Asia yet expats will insist it’s safe? It’s because the crime is concentrated in areas where few, if any, expats live.

Most expats live in the wealthier areas of the city such as Makati, BGC, and Ortigas. But the crime is mostly concentrated in the impoverished areas of the city. That being said, 92% of the baranguys are affected by the illegal drug trade according to Rappler. In addition, many police departments are notorious for under reporting crimes.

Crime Down in Manila? Not so fast…

You will see many government sources brag about the decrease in crime in Manila. While it is true that overall reported crime in Manila decreased by 22% in 2017, the homicide rate increased by 15% with over 2000 murders reported in that same period, according to the independent news agency Rappler. That’s 1 murder per 6,000 residents. Seeing as Manila is the world’s most densely populated city with over 46,000 people per square mile that means it has a murder rate of 7.6 people per square mile.

Is Manila Really Safer than US Cities?

Most expats in Manila will parrot the line that Manila is safer than many US cities. But what do the data say? Detroit takes the top spot in Forbes Magazine of America’s most dangerous city. According to the FBI, the city of 673,104 had 267 murders which equates to 1 murder per 2,520 residents.

New York, by contrast, had a murder rate of 1 per 29,734 residents. Chicago had a murder rate of 1 murder per 4,178 residents.

Compared to America’s most economically depressed large cities Manila may have a lower murder rate but compared to most cities it has a much higher murder rate.

Why Do We Hear of More Foreigners Being Killed in The Provinces?

This is a valid question. If we look at the various news sources when we mostly hear about an expat getting whacked it’s in the provinces rather than the cities. Why is that? Again, poverty. According to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), Manila accounted for a whopping 38% of the country’s GDP which is more than double the closest rival, Calabarzon, which has 14% of the Gross Domestic Product. It’s important to note that Calabarzon is actually just the southern suburbs of Manila.

One of the main causes of death for expats in The Philippines is murder for hire and that tends to happen in areas where its cheap to hire a murderer, ie the provinces.

Related: Why Expats Get Killed in Manila

The actual data, however, show that the provinces are much safer than Manila. Most of the crime is concentrated in Manila, Cebu, Davao, and Cagayan de Oro. For example, the provincial city of Iloilo has a crime index of 48 while Manila has a crime index of 59 according to Numbeo.

While no hard data was readily available overall the country is very safe for Americans and most of the Americans who were killed had a hand in their own demise.

American Killed by Tricycle Driver in Manila

In May of 2017 tricycle driver Romeo DeLuna Jr. stabbed a gay American James Rinaldo Boudreaux in his apartment in Caloocan City (Metro Manila).  Mr. Bourdreaux was heard crying for help when his landlord came to check on him. Upon entering his home she found him dead from apparent stab wounds.

DeLuna claims that Bourdreaux tried to force himself on him and acted in self-defense. However, DeLuna was caught on CCTV fleeing the residence with his shirt off. It is widely suspected it was a prostitution deal gone wrong as Boudreaux was well liked in his community.

British Man Tied Up & Kidnapped by Business Partner

In the neighborhood of Bel-Air Gareth Roberts was abducted, tied up, and gagged by his own business partner, Randy Domingo. Police allege that Domingo tied up, gagged, and threatened the Briton with a knife and pellet gun unless he handed over his ATM card and bank details. At which point the local attempted to withdraw over 600,000 pesos but was blocked by bank security. Domingo denies ever robbing the suspect however police apparently caught him in the act. Domingo & Roberts co-owned a bar in Makati.

Confidence Gangs

James Soriano, 54; Michelle Wenceslao, 34; Analyn Castro, 39; and Elma Mataa, 39, were reportedly setting up a Swedish woman at a restaurant when Senior Police Officer 1 Marlon Santos and PO2 John Teody Siguen collared them at around 7 p.m.
Credit: PhilStar News

Lei Wi Yang was a tourist in Intramuros who was set up in a restaurant by a confidence gang. The 4 innocent looking locals won her confidence and convinced her to take them to her hotel room. At which point they drugged and robbed her. She told police that the gang took her cell phone, 400,000 pesos and $1,376.

These 4 are part of a large crime syndicate that targets tourists by winning their trust with non-menacing looking gang members.

The Reality

While no hard data is readily available, the murder rate of expats and foreigners in Manila is quite low. It’s far more likely that you’ll be the victim of some sort of petty theft, such as pickpocketing, or your home being burglarized than getting killed.

Tips to Stay Safe in Manila

  • Avoid becoming highly inebriated outside of your home
  • Avoid hiring hookers
  • Be careful who you go into business with
  • Live in a safe area BGC, Makati, and Ortigas are the usual area of choice for expats
  • Keep a low profile
  • Consider a self defense weapon
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