The Maximizing Personal Safety Guide is gleaned from station house memoranda a major form of communication within the PNP. In addition I have been privileged to spend many hours with local PNP officers, who are constantly refining the policy regarding protecting Expats in critical areas, part of which includes giving advice on maximizing personal safety.
Maximizing Personal Safety
These tips are aimed at those living here permanently but also those who are regular visitors to the Philippines. They cover a range of situations where personal security could be an issue.
Just like any other part of the world there are places where your security is under more threat than others. Think of the US Australia or the UK. If you live in certain areas you are more likely to think about your security than in others.
Also take into account that we are people, as varied as snowflakes or fingerprints. What might raise red flags regarding our personal security and the way you would handle any threat you felt is very individual.
Many of the article and other publications referred to in writing this post were talking about threats in westernised countries. So don’t think this makes the Philippines any more risky to live in than those other countries.
So take as much or as little out of the post as you need to feel secure.
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If you Own Or Rent A Home
Security Of Your Home
When purchasing or renting a home long term; within your capacity it is best to choose with the worst case scenario in mind. Following this premise you need a home capable of being secured on three levels.
Choosing A High Security Area
Hugo Cox writing in the Financial Times says this “Typically, owners choose the main bedroom, reinforcing it with a steel door and strengthened walls; if the home hasn’t got one already, buyers will commonly fit one before they move in…..”
Others suggest that the home office should also be be part of this secure area. It should include the provision of a panic room, say others. A little over the top for most of us, but could be useful if you live in an area with the potential to quickly become critical. Suffice to say that the building of any type of secret room, creates all kinds of issues around keeping it secret.
The purpose of the highly secure part of a home for most is to have a place of safety, that is not readily accessible to intruders. Where those who may seek to do you harm can be delayed while you would hope to be able to inform others and seek assistance.
The Security Conscious Mindset
- Limit access to immediate family.
- Your partner or yourself will undertake the cleaning and maintenance, or have direct oversight of anyone with that task.
Improve The Strength Of Boundaries
- You will fit deadbolts on all doors and windows with access to the area.
- That you will consider electronic roller door type metal blinds on all access windows.
- You will ensure that the door/s into the area are in a solid frame, preferably metal.
- Consider Strengthening walls surrounding the area.
Small Valuables And Important Papers
- Keep the majority of your personal valuables such as expensive jewellery, watches, heirlooms and collectables secure in a bank safety deposit box.
- Fit a fire and waterproof safe, secure it by bolting into a floor joist or attaching to a rebar and setting in concrete. Store items here that you access or may have to access frequently.
- All documents you need to meet your obligations at tax time. Most countries require you keep such documents for five to seven years after you complete your return. So they can audit you if required. Most of the time they are just taking up space, until the time you need them. Then you need them! So keep them out of sight for the required period.
- Title Deeds, ownership papers, deeds of sale, bank statements, dividend notices and your will should be stored securely, preferably off property, but minimally once again in fireproof and waterproof storage
- Many expats like to keep a cash float on hand, or a stash in case of emergencies, and most keep that stash under the mattress, it’s true. But is it the best or are these alternatives worth thinking about. Some of the suggestions could be good for those important documents
Art And Collectables
- Are items that you want to see and enjoy as much as possible. So don’t lock them away in a vault, unless your only reason for purchasing was the investment.
- Don’t make as great fuss about them, to staff or friends, just display them as trinkets and they will be accepted as such.
- Additional precautions you can take to protect valuable or precious collectables:
- Lock display cabinets
- Clean items yourself, if they are breakable
- Have storage boxes designed to enable fast and safe storage of your collections. Maybe utilize one of the secret places in the article we referenced above.
- Additional precautions you can take to protect valuable or precious artwork:
- You will need cheap prints of a similar size to those being replaced.
- Take your precious pictures down and hang a cheapie in it’s place, so the evidence of a picture having been hung there is covered.
- The original can be rolled or left flat and stored in one of those secret places we referred to previously.
- Secure any weapons owned by your spouse to ensure they cannot be stolen, or if they are they cannot be used. The source of most guns in criminal hands is those stolen from legal gun owners. This is best achieved by separating bolts from weapons and ammunition from both.
- Ways to secure weapons without their firing pins:
- Weapons without their firing pins should be stored in a lockable and bolted to the floor gun cabinet.
- The bolts should be stored in the safe
- Ammunition which still retains great value, even without the weapons, should be stored in a place that reflects their value. Crawl spaces, behind kickboards or as I once witnessed in the innards of a karaoke machine.
- In the event of a home invasion, this renders all your long weapons inoperable and means less likelihood of you being injured by one of them.
- Many expats have prescription drugs some quite expensive. Keep the majority in a secure place, maybe in one of the hiding places mentioned above, or in the safe. A week’s supply can be kept in a pill organiser. Keep the pill organiser in your laptop bag or in an empty tray of your desktop computer.
- This has two positive outcomes:
- Visitors invited or otherwise don’t get to use your medication for a high.
- Your children don’t get to accidentally overdose on your medication because it was too accessible.
Now before anyone starts to say this doesn’t sound like we trust Filipino’s, nothing could be further from the truth.
My experience of Filipino honesty has been overwhelmingly positive. Once involving over 10,000 US dollars and comprising over thirty incidents where a lack of honesty on the part of a Filipino, would have involved little or no risk of detection and could have been very inconvenient for me.
Remember these are not my suggestions but those of the PNP. They recognise the impossible situation that a Filipino working for a foreigner can find themselves in. Where innocent disclosures of something at work can alert a criminally minded person to the possibility of worthwhile pickings. Where a person can be persuaded to assist in acting against their employer, by threats against themselves or their loved ones.
So their position is that they should discourage expats from giving or allowing access to too much information to those who keep their houses, which is congruent with with the advice above.
Securing The Rest Of The Home
The areas to concentrate on are:
- Put well attached grills over all windows. Do not skimp on CR and pantry or garage windows.
- Get deadlocks for all windows that open.
- Put blinds or curtains over windows of rooms that have high value items
- Single Inward or Outward Opening Doors should be deadlocked at the very least. If possible attach a substantial security screen to each one.
- Double Doors are harder to secure, but not impossible. The most secure doors of this type have:
- Metal frames.
- Thick and solid wood.
- strong hinges, with 2-3 inches of active thread.
- Three point locking of the two doors:
- Deadbolts with at least 1″ penetration into the frame both top and bottom
- A mortice lock in the centre.
- A Security Bar
- Sliding Doors are also much more vulnerable than single inward or outward opening doors. You can improve security in the following ways:
- Apply a protective film to increase the strength of your glass. Though it is quite thin it can withstand tremendous pressure, and stops the glass shattering.
- Use a piece of wooden broom handle or similar size dowel, cut to fit snugly into the track on which the door slides when opened.
- Fitting curtains or blinds hides what is in the room.
- If the back wall of the garage is made of internal wall materials, it will need reinforcing:
- Place heavy gauge sheet metal over your existing wall and then cover that again with fibre board or gib board.
- Is access to the house through the garage, that door should be as well secured as your other external doors
- The wonderful garage door opener, take it with you when you leave your car, maybe attach to your keyring.
Under The House
- If you have crawl space or more under your house, not securing it weakens all the security you have installed elsewhere.
- Enclose the area with a barrier of solid material, wood or metal:
- This should be anchored into the ground using concrete pillars.
- Attached to the house structure using bolts rather than screws or nails.
- Regularly maintained.
Securing The Perimeter Of Your Home
It is virtually impossible to stop someone who wants to access your property from doing so.
To slow them down you can:
- Put glass, metal spikes or razor wire on top of your walls.
- Post trespassers will be prosecuted or shot notices, in English and the local dialect.
- Include heavy duty plate gates, with biggest steel hinges you can find and bolts that go 12″ into reinforced concrete.
That is all it will do, slow them down. There are too many points of entry on the perimeter of your property to defend.
A Little Candlelight
You best course of action is to employ 1 million candle power sensor lights so you can cover the all areas around the house.
When these sense movement they go on, and unless movement is back the way they came, everywhere they go they will be triggering sensors. Making it relatively easy for you to identify you intruder, or cause him or her to rethink their activity for the night.
If the intruder continues to approach, you have a serious problem, but also you have bought time to alert authorities.
While it is never a good idea to be to predictable, routines can still be useful. So while you may not do things at the same time you always do them the same way.
So at whatever time you close the gate:
- You always turn the perimeter lights on.
- Let the dogs loose.
- make sure your vehicle is garaged.
- Ensure that the garage is secure.
- Lock screen doors.
- Deadbolt and secure external doors and windows.
- Set alarm.
This will cut down on the occurrence of self made security breaches, by instilling the routines in the whole household.
Planning To Employ Staff
- Always insist that every prospective staff member, even family members, have both a Barangay and Police clearance.
- The most common crimes committed by household employees in the Philippines are:
- Theft, accessory to theft.
- Conspiracy to steal.
- Fraud, accessory to fraud, conspiracy to defraud.
- Actual or attempted blackmail.
- Conspiracy to abduct.
At interview, not on the first day of employment, outline what is considered criminal activity and ensure prospective hires are aware of the action you will take if they are thought to be involved in such activity. This will help you gauge their attitude to criminal activity, before you commit to employng them.
Distinguish between criminal behavior and other unacceptable behavior. We all have standards that we expect those in our household will adhere to. Insubordination, not following instructions, or laziness are not criminal offences, but could be a warning or even firing offences.
A friend allows leftovers to be taken home by live out staff, provided they check with he or his wife, contravening that rule would be more a warning than a criminal matter and constant violations could result in having to terminate the offender’s employment.
Another friend had rice fields and after each harvest allocates a number of sacks to his three household staff. It varies from year to year depending on yield. In any event it is quite a substantial boost to their income. However each staff person knows that stealing rice from him will be considered a criminal offence.
Do inform police of criminal offenses, even if you choose not to pursue the matter any further.
On engagement give the new employee a document that outlines:
- Duty hours.
- Duty days.
- Time off and days off.
- Notice required to vary any of the above.
- List of duties. Including situation specific ones such as: office only to be cleaned when employer present or car to be cleaned on Wednesday or the next day it is available. Try not to use the phrase and any other duties as required. It can be abused.
- Wages and Benefits:
- Monthly payment.
- Payment days. eg 15 & 30 of the month.
- Wage increases and when they will take place
- Probation period, if any.
- Benefits by law such as Phil Health, Social Security and 13th month pay.
- Paid leave.
- Unpaid leave.
- Any other benefits. Free toiletries, personal hygiene items, coffee, allocation of rice for personal use. etc.
- Unacceptable Behaviors:
- List and explain all behaviors you will not accept and the sanctions for first and subsequent violations.
- Get them to sign it, you sign it and get a witness to sign to say the signatures are genuine. Copy the document and give them the copy.
On Day One
- Introduce a new staff member to other workers, outline and reinforce their duties.
- Introduce them to other family members. Be careful to give the family members a clear outline of their duties. They are not the personal servant of a titas, or a son, or even a lola. You, your spouse and maybe a senior stasff member are the only ones to give orders.
- Tour of the house and grounds, emphasising where they are not required to go.
- Show them the standards you have for washing, cleaning etc.
- Encourage them to ask questions, without fear of ridicule.
Employing Contract Staff
Always insist that every contractor have both a Barangay and Police clearance.
Common contractor crimes are:
- Theft of materials. Count your supplies onto the property and monitor their use.
- Common theft. Restrict tradesmen to their work and common service areas.
There are two things to look for in contract workers.
- Competence: The best way to gauge competence is to view the contractor’s previous work. Take the contractor with you when you view such work and ensure that this is the person who actually did it.
- Honesty. The police and barangay clearances cover some of this, but with issues such as punctuality at the worksite and meeting completion dates the opinion of other expats who have had work done is a good guide.
The best way to get what you are paying for is to draw up a contract for the services to be provided.
This document details the following:
- Labor and Materials means the contractor contracts with you to provide both the materials and the labor, including sub contractors, to construct, refurbish or repair.
To avoid pitfalls associated with this option, you need to be able to specify the:
- Quality of the materials to be used. For example nails will be galvanised or plain steel; what will be the strength of the concrete blocks or will the mosquito netting be aluminum or cloth based.
- Specifications of the materials to be used. The gauge of roofing iron or the type of timber for the joists, or the thickness of the cement floors, for example.
- Quantity of materials to be used i.e. bags of cement, board feet of timber, number of rebars of each thickness
- These figures should be relatively painless if you employed an architect for you plans. The architect should have had a Bill of Quantities and Cost Estimates, based on your discussions concerning the quality of materials you wanted. If not you could employ a cost surveyor to do this based on your plans.
- Expect to be charged for the time it takes to source and arrange for delivery of materials.
- Labor only, means almost just that! Your contractor provides the labor only required to complete the job, including the hiring and payment of sub-contractor’s.
- Your contract for labor only will include:
- The contractor getting barangay and police clearance for each of his or her employees, and the sub-contractor and their employees who will be on the property. Payment for those should be included in the contract.
- The cost of any equipment, that the contractor or any of his sub-contractors can provide that you would normally hire or own. Cement mixer, mechanical float or vibrators for finish concrete pours, power saws etc. Rates per day or per week should be clearly stated and require daily sign-off.
- The rate for the job, or the hourly rate, with upper or lower limits.
- Your contract for labor only will include:
- Both Types Of Contract will require agreement to the following:
- Hours of work.
- Date of completion.
- Any stage payments and the conditions for receiving these.
- Any Penalties For late completion.
- The process for dealing with unsatisfactory work by any party.
- Where on the property the contract labor should be
- Access to CR facilities.
- Maintaining smoking area and smoke breaks.
- What meals and at what times they will be provided.
Don’t threaten a contractor with the police over a competence or quality issue they won’t get involved as these are civil matters.
Do not get into physical altercations over such disputes as you could be arrested and the result could be fines and compensation payments.
- Do not divulge your home address to people you don’t know well.
- Do not divulge your landline number, either ask for their number or provide a mobile number.
- Do not arrange to meet casual acquaintances at your home.
- Don’t go to the home of a casual acquaintance alone, always take a local you trust.
- If they are unhappy with you going to an address or an area arrange for a meeting in a public place, or at the office of an attorney.
- After such a meeting do not go directly home, or if this is unavoidable check to make sure you are not followed.
- Do not make deals for cash. Cash purchases of vehicles, houses, land, business premises, machinery, bulk or very high end computer systems, or franchises are the biggest business scams on expats.
- Caveat Emptor (buyer beware). It is essential that you undertake due diligence on any large purchase or deal. Take advice from professionals, but make your own decision.
- Pay for purchases using a means that creates a paper trail such as check drawn on a Philippines Bank or even better an international bankers draft, if you are out of the country. These generally require the recipient to have a bank account into which the check is placed. Bank managers checks are another avenue that you can explore.
- Do not buy anything without getting a receipt, for large items a bill of sale, notarised by an attorney of your choice not theirs.
- You may be asked to sign two receipts for the purchase of an item. One for the purchase price you paid and another for the amount that the seller will declare to the BRI. Your response to that is your own business, but be aware that immediately you do that you are complicit in fraud. Likelihood of detection, low. However if your seller gets caught you are in serious trouble as an expat.
Warranties that are not honored will not be enforced by police.
Complaints over cash deals that didn’t meet your expectation are hard for police to resolve in your favor.
If you become upset and disturb the peace over a deal gone bad you may face the possibility of being a double victim.
- Do Not Drink And Drive
- Do not exceed the speed limit.
- Make sure your car or van or motorcycle is mechanically sound.
We all know you are unlikely to be stopped for these offenses randomly, but are you aware that if you are involved in a serious accident the highway patrol group will be activated. In that event you will be:
- Drug and drink tested.
- Your speed at the time of the accident will become a factor in assigning culpability.
- The mechanical and structural state of your vehicle will be assessed.
If you are found to be culpable, the fines and imprisonment provided for by the law can come into play.