I am a guy with a lot of experience of Ermita and Malate in Manila, as it was ten years ago on my very first visit to the Philippines that I had my very first night on Philippines soil at a hotel in Ermita. Of course the poverty and the dishevelled looks of the place were hard for me to grasp after landing from the UK. No matter though, I spent ten days walking around and apart from beggars and sellers I really never felt threatened at all.
Move on several years to now and that is not the same. I now have lived in Ermita for two years and I have to say that in the last year the place is becoming very risky for foreigners. I have probably been attacked five or six times in the last year. An attack could be someone coming up to you and putting their hands in my pockets, or a host of distraction methods including can I hold a cute puppy. The moment you hold the puppy (which I did not) your pockets are stripped and you are left only with a cute dog.
These are part of living as a foreigner of living in parts of Manila. It comes with the territory and mostly with common sense and a little street wise thinking it can be avoided, or at least the theft can be avoided.
However, when you are attacked by several people at once and you cannot fight them all off it becomes very dangerous. I was telling my UK friend about the street we were walking down was safe and had a nice Chinese restaurant. We never got to the restaurant as a flock of street people popped up from behind the cars and without saying anything jumped us and did their very best to pull us down to the ground. I am a big guy and I managed to stay upright, but my friend was in trouble.
He was holding his pockets in order to try and save his wallet and phone, but this of course meant he was unable to avoid the relentless bodies pressing him down to the ground. With super hero strength I jumped back in and pulled them off and got my friend to safety. The real worrying thing was that they had no remorse; they did not run off, they just looked at us. They even started to move forward again. We walked off shocked.
I have incidents every week. Most are petty, but all are designed to remove your money as soon as possible. Mostly though there is no violence, just a snatch and run operation.
The day before writing this I came out of Robinson Place Mall at 1pm and a tricycle rider asked if I need a tricycle, I replied no and continued to walk along the main perimeter of the Mall. Suddenly as I stepped on to a road, the same tricycle driver blocked my path and asked me again if I wanted to have a ride. Before I could say no my shopping bag moved. I know now it had been slashed with the intention of all the shopping falling on the floor, but a cereal box blocked the hole. The moment this happened I felt a push on my back and a hand zipped into my pocket and grabs my wallet. I swung round and though a punch to the persons stomach. The hand was quickly removed and I was stunned to see it was a woman of the street.
She was not shocked or shouting. Her eyes just looked at me with absolute hate. The tricycle driver now started shouting and I made a gesture of come on if you want to. I was waiting for the security guards from twenty yards away to assist, but they just looked. After a few seconds the would be thieves decided I was not worth another go and left smiling. Really smiling.
Jeff Harvie is an Australian Registered Migration Agent (MARN 0959797) who has given up the quiet life in Australia a few years back for one more adventurous with his Filipina wife and kids in Manila, Philippines. He runsDown Under Visa, which specialises in Australian partner visas for those Aussie men who fall madly in love with the local girls and want to bring them to Australia.