Someone recently asked me about freedom in the Philippines. He had been given some information from a friend that visited here. The information was not incorrect but perhaps a bit incomplete. His friend had told him that the people in the USA were brainwashed into thinking they were free compared to the Philippines. Now that I disagree with. Mostly because the degree to which American’s enjoy freedom of speech seems to be unequaled to the rest of the world. His question  gave me the idea to write this article.

Soon after I arrived, I realized that in day to day life the Philippines does have more freedom in some areas than the USA does. I think of it is that one can be “legally stupid” in the Philippines. Okay, I made that term up. What I mean is that the Philippines isn’t as likely to arrest you for doing things that could harm you and your family.

You should keep in mind, I’m not a lawyer and I’m shooting from the hip. It is based on what I see everyday or read about. Just because something happens on a regular basis doesn’t mean its legal. In the Philippines, or most of it, even drunk driving laws are not generally enforced. It is still illegal to drive drunk, or so I’m told.

The biggest place you might notice this is in driving. It is not uncommon to see four  or more hot Filipina piled on a motorcycle with Freedome in the Philippinestheir beautiful long hair flying in the wing. Even more disturbing to me in the beginning and before I thought about it is that you’ll see a whole family on a motorcycle. This often includes two ore more young children without helmets.

If you did that in the USA, I suspect child protective services would be at your door soon and probably take your kids away from you. It is a lot different here.

Jessie once took a young woman to the police station because her husband was beating her. It turned out that he was beating her because she was abusing their baby. Hitting the infant. The police called the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) a couple of times. They didn’t get an answer so they sent the family home. Nothing more happened.

This is just one example. I’ve seen many others but don’t recall the specifics where I can’t believe people are allowed to do that in the Philippines. I can only compare to these things to the USA as that is the only other country I lived in.

Freedom of Speech in the Philippines

Foreigners, absolutely do not have freedom of speech in the Philippines. There are three areas that can get you into criminal legal problems in the Philippines. Two that applies specifically to foreigners. The three danger areas are:

  • You May Not Insult a Filipino
  • You May Not Engage in Political Protest
  • Oral Defamation Is both Criminal and Civil

You may insult a Filipino and get away with it but you can also be deported for it. I have never seen an instance where someone was deported for doing this. I have seen people in trouble.

Where I learned about the issue was when an American manager of a hotel in Cebu got tired of a group of Filipino trying to get discounts from the hotel. They had held some kind of event there. After it was over, this group of Filipino, who were also city politicians were trying to get the price reduced on some items. The manager got upset and expressed it.  The next day he was “invited to the Bureau of Immigration (BI) to explain his actions. I don’t think he was deported unless he was really stupid once at BI.

Pretty Girls in the PhilippinesI know of another fellow that got irate about a rooster waking him up.  He throw something at the neighbors car and as I recall broke the windshield. When the owner went to confront him about it, he called her an idiot. He was arrested for that. The official charge was oral defamation. I don’t know what the outcome of that case was. He probably also had to answer to BI for insulting a Filipino. This guy had been warned by police in the past for similar situations. I suspect that had a lot to do with even the arrest this time. He was well know for getting into confrontations with his neighbors.

Last year Jimmy Sieczka was part of a film about why the 20 reasons he disliked the Philippines. Jimmy is sarcastic and displays a superior attitude in the video. The video went viral because it enraged Filipinos. The Philippines Department of Tourism (DOT), Cebu City Officials and even the president of the Philippines took notice and were considering taking action. Cebu City was on the verge of declaring him Persona Non Grata which carries no real legal punishment. There was much talk of deportation which caused Jimmy to issue what appeared to be a heart felt apology.  In typical Filipino fashion, the president said something like all is forgiven and it soon died down afterwards.

So, in other words, you really have to work at it to get the police to act on these things. I’m sure they don’t want to arrest people for being idiots. It isn’t something you need to be paranoid about but I think I am.

It is rare, but sometimes a Filipino will insult me for something I’ve said on this website or YouTube. Most of the time, I just delete it. Sometimes I defend myself. A few times, I have insulted them back. It is risky to do that. Usually though they are not in the Philippines and never have been in the Philippines. Instead they are usually from the USA. Such behavior is very atypical in Filipino culture. I found an article tonight discussing that.

There have been several times when BI warned foreigners about participating in demonstrations or protest. They gave press releases warning that they would even have plain clothes officers at some of these looking for foreigners participating in these. You might want to go in support of your girlfriend or others you know in the Philippines, don’t do it. I doubt that such a casual thing could get you actually jailed for long or deported but that would be at the discretion of BI and I don’t like putting myself in those situations.

Insulting a Filipino can also get you dead.  Like many other Asian cultures, Filipinos have a “saving face” aspect in their culture. Filipinos are rather tolerant and forgiving up to a point. If you cross the line they often end the problem in a final way.  I’ve read of cases where they did this and they turned themselves into police. Do not insult a Filipino!

Human Rights in the Philippines

In some areas, mayors are rumored to support “death squads.” These death squads usually operate unofficially.  Davao City gets the most talk in the press about this. The UN has investigated this twice and issued highly unfavorable findings. I’ve seen pictures of billboards that appeared to be by the death squads. Advertising their existence. The former mayor of Davao never admitted to them but I noticed he carefully chose words to leave open the possibility that they do exist. Leaving open the possibility, even if not true, might be a deterrent to crime.

In Davao, it is claimed by some that these squads would visit them and warn them to change their criminal ways. Usually teens reported this. I know a lot of expats that like this. I won’t say what I think because I am a foreigner. However, I will say that it affects my opinion of just how free living in the Philippines is.

Police Action in the Philippines

It appears to me that it is harder for police to investigate you here. From my reading, they can’t follow someone around in most cases. I know someone that was accused of making adult movies in the Philippines. He was on a beach at the time. They couldn’t search his home. I don’t believe that in the USA it would have been hard for police to get a search warrant for his home and get their hands on the computer. This restriction had something to do with his being arrested outside of his home. There was no evidence that there was anything in the home. It seems to me that definition of reasonable cause is harder to reach here than in the USA. To me, this is a measure of additional freedoms in the Philippines.

Something else that caught my attention was when the Philippines Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) chief openly admitted in aDrug Bust in the Philippines published interview that they sometimes plant drugs on individuals that they know are dealers but have been unable to catch them in the act. I discussed this with several Filipinos and none of them had a problem with it.


I’ve written about this before and people told me “I have insulted a Filipino and I did it in front of a police man” or other such things. Okay, so that doesn’t make it legal. That Filipino didn’t decide to make an issue out of it. It was a cab driver he was talking too. If I recall correctly he called the guy a thief. In an defamation case in the Philippines, the truth is not always a defense. I’m sure the cab driver had better things to do than make an issue out of it for the visitor.

To me, for most of us there is more freedom in the Philippines. If you mind your own business and act in a reasonable grownup manner, we are not going to run into the issues that are here. However there are some ways that there is less freedom and those ways could get you into serious trouble.

Please tell me about your impressions on freedom in the Philippines in the comments. Please don’t forget to hit those Twitter, FaceBook,  Google+ and Pinterest buttons for me  if you think this article is worthy of being shared.

By Rusty Ferguson

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