Cebu is one of the safest places in the Philippines. People often  ask “How safe is Cebu Philippines?” I can’t promise you that you will be safe in Cebu or any other place in the world. I feel safer in Cebu than I did in Memphis. Sure there are some scary places and scary people in Cebu, especially in Cebu City. The further I get away from Cebu City, the safer I think I am.

Yet, I don’t find Cebu City to be unsafe.  How safe is Cebu depends partly on you. Perhaps mostly on you. If you’re going to the mall, you are not very likely to run into trouble. If you go to a nightclub, well the risk of trouble always goes up when there are pretty Filipina and people with alcohol on board. Go to a bikini bar and your risk factor goes up.

How Safe is Cebu City?

Last year, a Philippines policing authority said Cebu was the safest province in all of the Philippines. I believe it was the Philippines National Bureau  of Investigation (NBI). A big part of this safest rating in the Philippines for Cebu province is because there is very little political or civil unrest in the province.

I know of one exception to the lack of political stress in Cebu. There is a lot of political stress in Bogo City, where I live. It isn’t uncommon for someone close to a politician to be arrested for having a grenade! They seem to be common. My guess is that they are homemade or IEDs. I do know of one case where one was used near Bogo but it was out in a corn field. I used the words “political stress” because these issues have never spilled over into the general population. Mostly it is just talk. However, sometimes shots are fired. I know of only one case where someone was actually shot in this kind of situation.  There may be other localities with problems like Bogo City has but I don’t hear of them.

I don’t recall ever hearing of any action by political groups such as the New People’s Army (NPA), a communist group, How Safe is Cebu Philippines Questionoperating inside of Cebu.

Probably some of the more risk prone areas are Mandaue, Lapu Lapu, Colon Street and the Carbon Market. I have not been to Carbon Market but I intend to. Those kinds of places are not Jessie’s favorite so she never mentioned it. You need to be on high alert and take precautions to deal with “purse snatchers” and pickpockets.  Purse snatchers include those that will cut the watch band on your watch then wait for it to fall off your arm or cut a chain from your neck. Both events can occur without you ever knowing it.  The same holds true for Colon Street.

I’m going to take my DSLR camera with me when I go to Carbon Market. That isn’t the safest thing to do. I would be hesitant to take a Canon 7D because of its cost. I don’t have one but if I did, I’d still take the ancient Canon Rebel XT.

Mandaue and Lapu Lapu are known for their gang activity. Most crimes involve only Filipino but foreigners do become victims too. I don’t usually hear of those unless the victim fights back and gets shot. I’m sure there are many more incidences that never make it to my attention.  When the news involves a foreigner, it generally gets a higher coverage rate and featured in the media. This is true with both the foreigner is a victim or the alleged culprit. Most of the time, when I hear about foreigners being a victim of a crime, it is Mandaue.

There are things in Cebu City that you do not want to do. Walking down the street with your cell phone out is not a wise move. Someone is likely to tell me that “I do it all the time, I’ve never had a problem”. I have heard that before. In fact, the last time I wrote on this topic, someone that thought they were a professional traveler of the Philippines told me that.  Sure you won’t have a problem most times when you do that. However, you don’t see Filipinos doing that very often. It was Filipinos that taught me how to be safer in the city.  Wearing jewelry, real or imitation will draw attention from criminals too. Don’t walk around Cebu City wearing a Rolex.

In Bogo City, I can do that at any time of the day. I don’t know for how much longer that will be true but it is true now. Bogo City is growing so I think we can expect the problems that go along with that. However, the mayor runs a tight ship and anyone doing that here, isn’t likely to be doing it for long.

Are Foreigners Targeted in Cebu?

Security in Cebu PhilippinesThat seems logical doesn’t it? That we would be targeted by criminals. I don’t know the answer to that. Overall, violent crime is lower in the Philippines than in the USA and many other Western nations. Lesser crimes often go unreported as Filipinos don’t have a lot of trust for law enforcement.

There are likely many more pickpockets operating per capita in Cebu City than most Western Cities. Violence against foreigners though is not as high. Today, I read an article by someone in Thailand that an agency there claimed Cebu was a hotbed for kidnapping of foreigners. Wow, that is dead wrong.

I do not recall hearing of a single kidnapping in Cebu in more than five years that I have lived here. I have researched this issue a bit. What I found out was that more than 70% of kidnappings in the Philippines have a middle class Filipino victim. Many kidnappings go unreported here. The families pays the ransom and the victim is set free. They do not normally kidnap foreigners or even upper class Filipino. That brings a lot of coverage in the press and a cry for the police to do something about it. Most kidnapping for ransom groups that do operate in the Philippines don’t want that kind of attention. I know of no such groups in Cebu. They are likely here but they don’t go after high profile targets usually.

What we hear about in the press is when Abu Sayyaf and other terrorist organizations kidnap someone.  When I do hear of a kidnapping in the Philippines, it is a terrorist organization. They operate mostly in Southwest Mindanao. Those groups do want press coverage and they will kidnap anyone in the Philippines that they believe will benefit them. Money is not their only goal. Terror is part of it. They often kidnap Filipino teachers as they make easy targets. However, one to four times a year, I do hear of a foreigner being kidnapped in that part of the Philippines.

If I was a thief though, I think I would be more likely to go after a foreigner than a local. That doesn’t mean that is the way Police in Cebu Philippinesit is. I’ve researched it trying to find the answer but never had any luck in doing so. Foreigners are more likely to have high dollar valuables on them than most Filipinos are.

I had my pockets picked at the Sinulog Festival a couple of years ago. I didn’t have any money in my wallet and I actually got that back. I had a cell phone I had paid about p3000 for and they did get that. That’s about $75, perhaps a bit more. I made some serious blunders for that to happen.

Pickpockets and armed robberies are the biggest crime that happens here. Often, two men on a motorcycle will pull up besides a pedestrian and demand their wallet and cell phone. Unlike the USA, a Filipino is not likely to shoot you just to keep you from identifying them. For one, they are often wearing a motorcycle helmet making identification nearly impossible.  If you cooperate, it highly unlikely that you will be hurt.

I’ve told you about some of the dangers in Cebu. Hopefully, you’ll be a bit safer when you are in Cebu because of that. I wish to stress though that I feel safe in Cebu. When I am asked the question “How safe is it in Cebu?” I almost always say, “I feel much safer in Cebu than I did back in Memphis, Tn.”

There is a lot more I could say on this topic but the article is getting long so I will bring it to an end. If you have been to Cebu, how safe did you feel while you were here? Did you have a bad incident?  Let me know what your impression was about your safety in Cebu. Also, if you have any questions, please use the comment section below. I love to hear from you.

By Rusty Ferguson

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