The Philippines, is well-known for its natural beauty, from white sand beaches and rich coral reefs, to lush mountains, volcanoes and brightly-colored rice terraces that attracted over 6,620,908 foreign tourists, in 2018.
On the other hand, in April 2016, the U.S. Department of State issued a travel warning for some parts of the Philippines. And then there was the anti-drug violence launched since President Rodrigo Duterte came to office on June 30, 2016, that had resulted in more than 1,900 deaths (about 36 per day, according to Reuters) as of August 23. How worried should tourists be? Here's our review of the data.
Global Peace Index Rating
The Global Peace Index, compiled by the Institute for Economics and Peace, is a measure of the relative peacefulness of 162 nations worldwide (representing more than 99% of the world’s population). The Index measures peace based on 22 qualitative and quantitative indicators including ongoing domestic and international conflict; societal safety and security (including crime rates); and militarization. For the 2018 study, the Philippines ranked 137 out of 163 countries.
Depending on its rank, each country is assigned a color that corresponds to a state of peace “range,” with dark green-blue meaning very high, red meaning very low and yellow falling in the middle. The Philippines is in the orange range between yellow and red, indicating a "low" state of peace.
U.S. Department of State Assessment
The U.S. Department of State issues travel alerts and warnings on an ongoing basis, and travelers to any region should check for notices before leaving home and while abroad, if possible. Some areas of the Philippines pose a higher risk than normal because of continued violence linked to insurgency and terrorism.
On April 21, 2016, the U.S. Department of State issued an updated travel warning for the Philippines, specifically citing the Sulu Archipelago, the island of Mindanao, and the southern Sulu Sea area. In addition, a “Security Message for U.S. Citizens: Security Reminder,” dated August 17, 2016, and released by the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines, cautioned: “Extremists have targeted sporting events, theaters, markets, mass transportation systems – including airlines, and other public venues where large crowds gather. Crowded nightclubs, shopping malls, buses and popular restaurants have also been targets.” It directed Americans to review the information in the travel warning and did not mention the drug killings.
It can be helpful to cross-reference any travel alerts and warnings with a map of the country to determine whether your planned itinerary takes you into or near any of the named troubled regions. If so, either change your travel plans or acknowledge that you may be taking unnecessary risks by traveling to these regions.
Keep in mind that travel warnings issued by the U.S. Department of State remain in place until the situation changes, and it’s possible for a warning to be in effect for years.
Current Travel Warnings
Most recently, there have been travel warnings advising tourists to avoid areas such as the Sulu Archipelago, including the southern Sulu Sea, and Marawi City in Mindanao, due to crime, terrorism, and civil unrest. Further, it is recommended that you reconsider travel to other areas of Mindanao, for the same reasons.
The Bottom Line
Like many other countries, the Philippines has pockets where more violence tends to occurs and areas that are generally considered safe. While it is important to be aware of threats, it can be inaccurate to label an entire country as dangerous because it has known trouble spots.
To illustrate, it would be misleading to label the entire United States as dangerous because of the violent crime statistics of Detroit and East St. Louis.
It’s always difficult to use the word "safe" about travel because the word implies you will be protected from – or not exposed to – any danger or risk. This is never the case, no matter where you travel.
It’s better to think of "safe” in relative terms. There is an active travel warning for the Philippines, but only for some regions. Most other parts of the nation are generally considered as safe as other places in Southeast Asia.
Only you know your own risk tolerance. It's prudent to avoid known areas of danger and build your itinerary around popular (and populated) tourist destinations. And use common sense, just as you would at home.
Note: U.S. citizens traveling to – or residing in – the Philippines are encouraged to enroll in the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which provides security updates and makes it easier for the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate to contact you and/or your family in case of an emergency.
And if you fall in love with the Philippines enough to want to move to or retire there, read How to Plan Your Retirement in the Philippines, Find the Top Retirement Cities in the Philippines and Buy a Beach Condo in the Philippines.