Is the Philippines really as dangerous as it looks?

Mike Wootton

Mike Wootton

IN Palawan last week having a look in the craft shop, in which I always try to have a look when visiting Puerto Princesa, I spotted a crocodile’s skull. Being a collector of unusual things a crocodile’s skull is, of course, an absolute “must have.” After some negotiation a price was agreed representing what I thought was quite a good deal; but then the market for crocodile’s skulls in Puerto Princesa particularly at this time of year may be a bit depressed.

So in possession of my newly acquired skull wrapped in newspaper and in an environmentally unfriendly but very convenient plastic bag, I later arrived at the security check of Puerto Princesa airport. As with most provincial airports, there are two security screenings within about 10 or 15 paces of each other (a somewhat inefficient use of scarce resources).

I managed to get through the first one complete with my skull thanks to a bit of light-hearted banter with the security people. “What’s in the bag sir?” A crocodile’s skull, I said. “Ha, ha, sir.”

But in the second security screening, the banter was not particularly welcome. When I said “a crocodile’s skull” the disbelief on the face of a Mr. Lorrca was plain to see and he obviously thought it would be fun to give somebody claiming to be travelling with a crocodile’s skull a hard time. So I went back and forth through the metal detector, quite a number of times and each time forced to wear less on my person. To further add inconvenience, he tried to get me to check in the skull since it was a “hard object”—sort of like the laptop computer in my backpack.

Of course, security checks are necessary at airports. But everybody knows that they are a pain in the neck for the several million travelers a day who are not in fact intent on hijacking or blowing up planes.

The procedure can be done either in a nice way, or in a very unpleasant way. I must say that in the thousand of times that I have been subjected to the procedure, in the vast majority of cases it has been at best quite courteous and helpful and at worst neutral. Not too often are you given a deliberately difficult time and to be frank at least to my knowledge there are not too many cases recorded of people using crocodile skulls to hijack planes.

Moving on from the irritations of travelling by air and turning now to the theme that “a society that has no trust surely cannot survive” we can look at the other major security issue which seems to be peculiar to the Philippines, the ubiquitous identification card (ID).

You certainly can’t get too far without being asked to produce one of those—to enter an office building, a subdivision, to use a credit card, to withdraw money from a bank—any formal transaction or permission to enter almost anywhere requires an ID—no matter that to get one forged is easy. Why on earth should it be assumed that everybody is someone other than who they say they are?

The need for universal notarization is yet another example of guilty until proven innocent in action, or is it the manifestation of a reaction to the fact that many people claim, “I didn’t sign that.” Can it really be the case that dishonesty like corruption is an endemic characteristic?

Surely not, but the way in which things are done can certainly foster that idea in the mind of the visitor and it is not the sort of impression that a self-respecting nation should project. Every nation has its bad people but they don’t generally publicize a mistrust of all the people—ironic really when it is the lawmakers who seem to have profited most for themselves from the “cookie jar.” I wonder if politicians have to show IDs when they go into office buildings? Most likely not I should think.

Security is often a necessary thing but it bestows on the people responsible for it a degree of power that has to be used in an intelligent and “pakikisama”-like way. Alas, in so many cases it is not, there are just too many people involved in it in the Philippines and in a nation in which power is so difficult to come by it can be no great surprise that it is often misused. Worse is that the impression gained by the visitor is of a nation “on the edge” with crime in the street when in fact most of the crime is committed in rather more “comfortable” places.

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  1. Dustin,

    And how honest and trustworthy are the people from your own country?

    Let me guess, you can’t answer that too…

    So cut it with being too righteous for your own face man!

  2. I will tell you how in general foreigners think of filipinos. They think most are liars, thieves, corrupt, & will cheat anyone. At first when i got here i was so friendly with everyone but when people act friendly back its for another reason, its to get money out of you in any way, by fair means or foul. My filipino wife keeps telling me you cant trust filipinos. There you have it.
    My eldest stepsons wifes relatives were talking to me about me going into business with them & i told them straight i would nebver go into business with them. When they asked why i told them i dont trust them & they didnt like it. But there is good reason not to trust them. I wouldnt lend them money as they would never pay it back & once out of my sight who know what they would get up to, no i agree filipinos in general cant be trusted. Almost every maid we have had has stolen from us yet all claim to be very religious people & go to church regularly, im not religious & i never go to church but i would never steal from you. So you dont need to be a god fearing person to be honest.

    • You can not just generalized people by their race, you may have encountered several of them, but it is TOO MEAN to say that it is MOST OF THEM. You may be a very ARROGANT foreigner who look down on other people, that is why you were treated the way are. Remember, no matter how tiny an ant is, but when you try to haem them, they will surely bite you back.

      Some may resort to doing bad things due to poverty, but filipinos are still regarded as one of the most hospitable people there is.

    • dustin, it was all due deligence. not all filipino are like the people around you. usually those kind of people are living at slums called “iskwater”.

      things alike flock together.