Documentaries that talk of real experiences are a great way to prepare yourself for a visit to any new country.
The Philippines has a broad spectrum of documentaries on offer and many of them speak to negative experiences foreigners have had.
Reality is that any foreigner visiting the Philippines can be vulnerable if they are not careful. The law is selectively enforced, and when it is you are likely to come off second best in any dispute that involves a local.
If you do get into trouble with the law then do not expect much leniency there either.
This has always been the case, long before the headline inducing War on Drugs kicked off in recent years.
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When in a Foreign Land
There are a few documentaries that I came across early on in my stay here that helped me really wake up to the fact that I am in a foreign land and that the rules are very different.
I don’t just mean the local laws, but the whole interpretation of what is fair and just under the law.
Western logic will not apply here and being right about something, or innocent does not necessarily mean that you are ok.
You also have to adjust your expectations of how much help you will receive if you get into trouble.
Emergency services like the police, fire, and ambulance do not have the same response times, or accessibility that you may be used to.
That is if the service exists at all in the part of the country you find yourself in.
If you watch a lot of movies you may be expecting swat teams, hostage negotiators, emergency rescue teams if you were to get into trouble. Well, chances are you won’t get any of that.
It is better to go in with your eyes wide open so that you can try and minimize your exposure to any vulnerable situations that you may end up in unknowingly.
* Some of the clips below are full episodes, and some are just previews. Check out Nat Geo for more info.
Must Watch Philippines Documentaries
Banged up Abroad – Prisoner of Love
You really have to feel for this guy. Followed his heart across the world to meet what turned out to be a genuinely decent lady.
With no divorce law in the Philippines, it was the ex-husband who held all the power here.
Maybe he acted that way out of pride, vengeance, or maybe he was being opportunistic and wanted to make a few easy bucks.
Either way, if you take up with a married woman you are painting a big target on your forehead.
The tricky part here is that you may never know. I know a long list of people who are legally married and have moved on many years ago, are in healthy relationships now.
But on paper, they are married and technically committing a crime.
Makes no sense, but that’s the law here and you will have no recourse if you are caught out. Best case scenario it will likely end up being an expensive mistake.
Banged up abroad – Kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf
We have all heard of the rebel groups down south that are known for kidnapping foreigners. Visit these high risk areas at your own peril.
However, as you can see in this story they have ventured to some better known tourist spots in the past.
While these types of incidents are rare, they do happen.
With the declaration by President Duterte that they will wipe out these groups so far proving difficult you can expect these dangers to be around for some time.
The reason why I am including this video in the list of things to see is to also draw attention to the contempt the rescuers had for the safety of the hostages.
A rescue would be high risk no matter what, but the actions of the military points to this attitude that the end justifies the means and anyone who is hurt along the way is just collateral damage.
An attitude towards human life that has never been more prevalent than it is today with the countries leaders and many average Filipinos shrugging their shoulders at innocents being killed in the recent war on drugs.
The underlying message to take away from this documentary is that if you get in trouble, you are on your own.
Everything from the involvement of the negotiator, the media, the police chief, and let’s not forget that idiot who wanted hundreds of thousands of pesos to consider an administrative request.
The people who paid for this incompetence were those inside who lost their lives. An outcome that is just so unfair for the victims and families affected by this.
The SWAT team’s attempt to move in and resolve the situation would be comedic if it wasn’t so dangerous to them and to the hostages.
Another part of the story that defies belief.
Something that really shines through as this story is told is that I am certain that the decision makers that contributed to how the events unfolded to this day would not think they did anything wrong.
This should make every Filipino angry. It also reinforces that message again that if you get into trouble here you are on your own.
The clip below is not from the documentary (this has been taken offline) but will give you a sense of what happened:
None of these stories should scare you out of being adventurous in your Philippines journey.
They do serve as a reminder that you are out of your depth in many ways when visiting the Philippines and it is always wise to consider the risks of the places you travel to, and the people you meet along the way.
As long as you are not careless, and keep a relatively low profile then you should be fine.