A Word about Safety

IJsselstein, Thursday, 27 April 2017 23:01:51

The Philippines sometimes receives negative press regarding the safety of foreigners. We believe this is not always deserved, and certainly does not apply to Bohol. In this article we will give some advice about the safety situation in the Philippines, and some tips to stay out of trouble.

Although terrorism always gets a disproportionate level of attention in the press, the change you will be affected by it is very low. Don't let it distract from taking some common-sense precautions against events you are more likely to encounter.

Dangers from Natural Causes

The biggest risk is probably attracting a severe sun-burn. Always protect yourself when exposed to direct sunlight. Either wear covering clothing, or use high-factor sunblock on the beach. Be aware that near water, your exposure doubles due to reflected sunlight, while at the same time, the cooling effect of water can make you unaware of the fact you are developing a severe sunburn before it is too late. When snorkeling it is wise to wear a short wet-suit.

Dangerous Animals

In Bohol you can encounter a number of dangerous animals.

Mosquitoes can be highly irritating, especially during dawn and dusk. To protect yourself, use an insect repellent lotion that includes DEET, and cover your arms and legs. It is best to sleep under a mosquito-net (Kulambu), especially when staying in nipa-hut like facilities that allow insects easy access. Malaria is not present in Bohol, but dengue does occur.

The most deadly dangerous animal on Bohol is the cobra (banakon). These snakes are both aggressive and deadly poisonous. Avoid walking in or near long grasses and growth, and when you see them, keep your distance and alert bystanders.

The black-and-white sea-snake walo-walo you can commonly see near the coast is also extremely poisonous, but not aggressive will only bite if provoked.

Near many beaches you can find sea urchins with extremely long spines. Just avoid stepping on them, and if you still step on them, carefully remove all parts of the spines, and disinfect the wounds (or better, have a doctor do this). You can also encounter jelly fish, various types of poisonous fish and shells. As a general rule, do not touch any creature you encounter in the sea. It is better for them and for you.

Natural Disasters

Tropical storms reach the Philippines with some regularity. The storm season is roughly from June to November, but that doesn't mean it is constantly storming during that period, nor that storms cannot occur on other times. Since Bohol is surrounded by other islands, Bohol will not be hit with the full force of storms arriving from the Pacific ocean.

In October 2013, a 7.3 magnitude earthquake hit Bohol, causing about 200 causalities, and significant damage. However, no tourists were effected. Earthquakes are very hard to predict, and when they occur, it is best to leave buildings as fast as reasonably possible, and stay outside, away from buildings and other things that can collapse.

Again, since Bohol is surrounded by other islands, the chance a large Tsunami will hit it is small. Still, in those areas that have some risk of tsunamis (the south-eastern coast between Baclayon and Anda), you will find signs pointing out evacuation routs.

When you go swimming near one of the many waterfalls in the inland streams and rivers, be aware of the danger of flash-floods. A heavy tropical rain can turn a gentle stream into a dangerous torrent of water in a matter of minutes. When the strength of a stream starts to increase, get out.

Dangers from Human Causes

Theft and Robberies

Just as much as in your hometown, thefts and robberies can happen in the Philippines, especially in the larger cities (of which Bohol has none: Tagbilaran, the largest city has slightly over hundred twenty thousand inhabitants). Unlike in your hometown, you are probably a stranger, unknown with local conditions and customs, and because of that more easily attract the attention of criminals. However, if you take some simple precautions, most of the Philippines is perfectly safe for travel.

Follow the following do's and dont's.

Crooks can be very creative in thinking out con-schemes. Be very critical of every odd story and money making scheme. A very common trick is too tell you that somebody has just snatched your wallet, hoping that in your response you will give away the place you hide it. The old wisdom is: if it is too good to be true, it probably isn't true.

However, don't let these precautions spoil your frame of mind, just be alert when needed, and enjoy your stay.

Terrorism and Kidnappings

For years already, the Philippines has a lot of negative press regarding the safety of foreigners. Reports of tourists being kidnapped by terrorists from Malaysia, Sulu, Basilan, and Mindanao, and Palawan aren't a comfortable read. However, we don't believe there is any reason for concern, and assure you Bohol is safe.

Most of the trouble with so-called Muslim separatists and the infamous Abu Sayyaf group takes place in Southern Mindanao and on the Southern islands of Basilan and Jolo. Bohol is roughly 700 kilometers away from those areas, and when using boats, potential kidnappers will have to travel at least double that distance. The small map below will clarify the situation. As you can see, the distance from Palawan to Basilan is roughly the same as to Palawan, however, unlike Palawan, where kidnappers can go across open sea, to get to Bohol they have to get into water surrounded by islands on all sides, which is much more difficult to enter or leave unnoticed. Besides that since the events, the Philippine Navy and Police are on high alert for attacks like this. The conclusion is that it is extremely unlikely you will be confronted with kidnapping attempts on Bohol.

Nevertheless, in April 2017, in the wake of an ASEAN summit in Panglao, eleven heavily armed members of Abu Sayyaf, including their (Bohol-born but converted to Islam) guide, managed to land with their pump-boats in Inabangga on the west coast of Bohol (some 80 kms from Panglao, and 45 from the Chocolate Hills). Fortunately, they quickly attracted the attention of local residents, because of their uncommon boats and display of heavy weapons, who immediately warned the authorities. After two bouts of heavy fighting with the Philippine Armed Forces, most of the intruders where killed, and the attempt to kidnap foreigners or otherwise wreak havoc was thwarted. The terrorists never even got near the tourist destinations, and has demonstrated that both the population and the authorities are on a high alert.

Further Reading

The following links can provide some more information:

Jeroen Hellingman