Surviving manic Manila

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Phil police forcesThe Philippine capital of Manila has earned itself an unsavoury reputation as a hotbed of violence and criminality, often found festering between nightmarishly shoddy infrastructure. For foreigners doing business or moving to this sprawl of a city, some ground-up knowledge can be your most invaluable asset.

When a Filipino says they are from “Manila” they are actually speaking of Metro Manila, one of the world’s most populous urban agglomerations, consisting of 17 separate cities. On the same token, when a business traveler thinks of “Manila,” the overwhelming majority of the time they are speaking of Makati, the city that has become a byword for finance, haute restaurants and malls, as well as high-rise condominiums.

Stepping outside this cocoon – or that of the up-and-coming Fort Bonifacio – will bring visitors into the raw reality of this frenetic capital’s pulse, which can be often disheartening as it is invigorating. Having traipsed up and down Metro Manila for just under two months, there are a few societal norms that fresh-fish travelers jumping into the colourful capital should learn.

1.      Armed and ready

The nature of gun-loving culture in the Philippines so in sync with that of the US it is no wonder the US flag still appears on the 100-peso note. The Philippines affection for armed weapons, however, has a more sinister dimension. Beyond a proclivity for firing ranges, Filipinos prefer to carry personal guns on them for protection in lieu of an effective law enforcement system, especially outside of Manila where feudal families rule the roost over the central government because of the tenuous grasp the capital has on its many islands.

It is estimated that there are over 2 million unregistered firearms present in the Philippines today, with an increasing amount manufactured in make-shift warehouses or even family homes by hand out of spare engine and other metal parts. This reality is especially of considerable worry during an election year in a country where political-related deaths have been wont to occur.

For this reason, armed security guards strapped with automatic weapons and shotguns in front of shopping centers, banks and fast food restaurants (Yes, Jollibee needs protection too) are a norm in Philippine society. While as nerve-wracking as the omnipresence of guns may be, the visitor will be informed that those guards and military personal are a good thing – and still very necessary in a country with a soaring perceived poverty rate.

So iconic has the security situation in the Philippines become, it is common to see tourists pose with armed security guards, who, a local source has told me, are at times loaded with only blanks. Visitors should not be afraid of these guards as they are indeed considered a sign of order. Still, better not take any chances.

2.      Taxi rape at SOGO

Sexual assault against females by taxi drivers late at night is an ever-present dread and topic of discussion in Manila. The common story line goes that a woman enters into a taxi late at night – usually drunk – and falls asleep only to wake up and find out that she is either in a deserted place or a sleazy hotel.

The hotel in questions is invariably a SOGO, a ubiquitous yellow- and red-branded hotel in the Philippines that boasts “Absolutely no brownouts,” “Room and Massage Package – 500 pesos” and greets foreigners with attention signs such as “No Minors Allowed” and “Please register your weapons/firearms at the concierge.” Sickly ironic, the hotel chain’s motto is “So good… So clean” – yet the red light in the rooms and make-your-own-bed style – where bed sheets are wrapped for each guest – do not seem to denote such a reputation.

For women visitors to Manila, it is advised that when taking a taxi late at night you ensure that you are sober enough to not fall asleep. Additionally, it helps to make a phone call to let the driver know that someone is in touch with you and knows your whereabouts.

3.      Lost in traffic

Like many other major cities in Southeast Asia, traffic woes are a never-ending plague in Manila. The city’s infrastructure is extremely inadequate, earning itself a reputation for having Asia’s worst airport, and mobbed streets that are chocked with the country’s idiosyncratic mode of public transport – the jeepney.

Jeepneys are, according to many a Manila taxi driver, the bane of every motorist. “They are the kings of the road,” a driver once lamented. Jeepneys are known for stopping in the middle of traffic to load and unload passengers, taking up a huge among of road space with their overbearing and ornamental steel frames. Additionally, they are not the model of an organised system and are at times not even fully occupied, taking up precarious road but not making up for it with their passengers.

That being said, traffic in Manila can be on par with Bangkok, but is still more benign than Jakarta. Visitors should always give themselves extra time when traveling between the cities of Metro Manila, as the highways can get congested, which in turn will likely lead to further bottlenecks along the way. Good drivers will take you the long way around clogged streets and down narrow passes. With the right driver and directions, travel time won’t necessarily be reduced, but traffic can be avoided.

 

 

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Reading Time: 3 minutes

The Philippine capital of Manila has earned itself an unsavoury reputation as a hotbed of violence and criminality, often found festering between nightmarishly shoddy infrastructure. For foreigners doing business or moving to this sprawl of a city, some ground-up knowledge can be your most invaluable asset.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Phil police forcesThe Philippine capital of Manila has earned itself an unsavoury reputation as a hotbed of violence and criminality, often found festering between nightmarishly shoddy infrastructure. For foreigners doing business or moving to this sprawl of a city, some ground-up knowledge can be your most invaluable asset.

When a Filipino says they are from “Manila” they are actually speaking of Metro Manila, one of the world’s most populous urban agglomerations, consisting of 17 separate cities. On the same token, when a business traveler thinks of “Manila,” the overwhelming majority of the time they are speaking of Makati, the city that has become a byword for finance, haute restaurants and malls, as well as high-rise condominiums.

Stepping outside this cocoon – or that of the up-and-coming Fort Bonifacio – will bring visitors into the raw reality of this frenetic capital’s pulse, which can be often disheartening as it is invigorating. Having traipsed up and down Metro Manila for just under two months, there are a few societal norms that fresh-fish travelers jumping into the colourful capital should learn.

1.      Armed and ready

The nature of gun-loving culture in the Philippines so in sync with that of the US it is no wonder the US flag still appears on the 100-peso note. The Philippines affection for armed weapons, however, has a more sinister dimension. Beyond a proclivity for firing ranges, Filipinos prefer to carry personal guns on them for protection in lieu of an effective law enforcement system, especially outside of Manila where feudal families rule the roost over the central government because of the tenuous grasp the capital has on its many islands.

It is estimated that there are over 2 million unregistered firearms present in the Philippines today, with an increasing amount manufactured in make-shift warehouses or even family homes by hand out of spare engine and other metal parts. This reality is especially of considerable worry during an election year in a country where political-related deaths have been wont to occur.

For this reason, armed security guards strapped with automatic weapons and shotguns in front of shopping centers, banks and fast food restaurants (Yes, Jollibee needs protection too) are a norm in Philippine society. While as nerve-wracking as the omnipresence of guns may be, the visitor will be informed that those guards and military personal are a good thing – and still very necessary in a country with a soaring perceived poverty rate.

So iconic has the security situation in the Philippines become, it is common to see tourists pose with armed security guards, who, a local source has told me, are at times loaded with only blanks. Visitors should not be afraid of these guards as they are indeed considered a sign of order. Still, better not take any chances.

2.      Taxi rape at SOGO

Sexual assault against females by taxi drivers late at night is an ever-present dread and topic of discussion in Manila. The common story line goes that a woman enters into a taxi late at night – usually drunk – and falls asleep only to wake up and find out that she is either in a deserted place or a sleazy hotel.

The hotel in questions is invariably a SOGO, a ubiquitous yellow- and red-branded hotel in the Philippines that boasts “Absolutely no brownouts,” “Room and Massage Package – 500 pesos” and greets foreigners with attention signs such as “No Minors Allowed” and “Please register your weapons/firearms at the concierge.” Sickly ironic, the hotel chain’s motto is “So good… So clean” – yet the red light in the rooms and make-your-own-bed style – where bed sheets are wrapped for each guest – do not seem to denote such a reputation.

For women visitors to Manila, it is advised that when taking a taxi late at night you ensure that you are sober enough to not fall asleep. Additionally, it helps to make a phone call to let the driver know that someone is in touch with you and knows your whereabouts.

3.      Lost in traffic

Like many other major cities in Southeast Asia, traffic woes are a never-ending plague in Manila. The city’s infrastructure is extremely inadequate, earning itself a reputation for having Asia’s worst airport, and mobbed streets that are chocked with the country’s idiosyncratic mode of public transport – the jeepney.

Jeepneys are, according to many a Manila taxi driver, the bane of every motorist. “They are the kings of the road,” a driver once lamented. Jeepneys are known for stopping in the middle of traffic to load and unload passengers, taking up a huge among of road space with their overbearing and ornamental steel frames. Additionally, they are not the model of an organised system and are at times not even fully occupied, taking up precarious road but not making up for it with their passengers.

That being said, traffic in Manila can be on par with Bangkok, but is still more benign than Jakarta. Visitors should always give themselves extra time when traveling between the cities of Metro Manila, as the highways can get congested, which in turn will likely lead to further bottlenecks along the way. Good drivers will take you the long way around clogged streets and down narrow passes. With the right driver and directions, travel time won’t necessarily be reduced, but traffic can be avoided.

 

 

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