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Life Philippines

Running Foul Of Philippines Law

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Know What You Can Expect When You Run Foul Of Philippines Law

We can all get caught out by minor infringements of the law, such as jaywalking, illegal parking or speeding. We usually pay our fine and quickly forget and life goes on, because the consequences are only short term.

However, Canadians running foul of Philippines law in serious criminal matters may face widely different experiences through the system.

Arrest in the Philippines usually means detention, and while the Philippines has signed up to numerous UN treaties and conventions to protect the human rights of both citizens and residents, that doesn’t always result in uniform treatment or outcomes.

This is more evident when you live away from the larger population centres and further from the capital Manila.

Unless you are caught with the smoking gun at the scene of a crime, usually considered a sign of guilt. The process of coming to a decision to arrest and detain is a lot slower than in many countries. Don’t mistake this for laziness or even laid-backness, as it is a combination of less sophisticated forensic equipment and a commitment to being thorough.

Foreigners do still get some leeway from local police as they are often unsure about how to treat us.

Do not take advantage of that to decry the country, the PNP or the system, as it will come back in spades, once they get their instructions to “treat you as any other suspect” from their superiors.

Pre Arrest

If you know you are likely to be arrested you have several courses of action you can take.

  1. Contact an attorney you have worked with before. Even if his/her practice does not handle criminal law, at least they may have contacts they respect and trust and you will know someone in the system you can refer to, as the process proceeds.
  2. Peruse the list of attorney’s provided by the Embassy
  3. You could decide to defend yourself if necessary. This course of action is not advised, but it is legal.

After Your Arrest

Waiting to be arrested and detained before taking the above action, is possible but foolish, as it is much harder to get things done from a detention cell or charge room than from your own place. But for some things, this is all you can do. For example:

  • You cannot ask for the embassy to be informed of your arrest until it happens.
  • You cannot access legal aid, until you are arrested.

As soon as you are arrested and detained you should ask the arresting authorities, usually the PNP, Armed forces, officers from the Bureau of Immigration, Customs, or the Coastguard. to inform the Canadian Embassy or Consulate that you have been arrested.

What Consular Staff Can Do


An embassy staff member will visit you as soon as possible after they are informed of your arrest. There are a range of things that they can do for you including:

  • Ensuring they have regular access to you.
  • If you agree, notify your family or friends of the situation and let them know how you think they can help.
  • If you are not in a position to make that decision, make the decision to inform someone close to you of your situation.
  • Help you communicate with someone you choose as your representative, family or friends if direct communication is not possible or the need is urgent.
  • Contact people you know who may be in a position to provide you with funds.


  • Advise you to hire a lawyer.
  • Approach local legal aid sources if you can’t afford to pay, or are not offered one when charged. The issues you will face are:
    • The level of income when given is very low.
    • Where income levels are not quoted the criteria for qualifying are often not stated.
  • Provide an up-to-date and accurate list of local lawyers and legal translation service providers.
  • Give you and your family information on the local legal and prison system and approximate times for court actions.
  • Obtain up to date information about the status of your case and encourage authorities to process it as quickly as possible.
  • Advocate with local authorities for appropriate treatment and services under Philippines law.

Your Wellbeing

  • Make sure that the authorities are aware of your health status is maintained, including basic nutrition, medical and dental care.
  • Relay concerns through official channels about any treatment that could affect your health and well-being to local officials and prison representatives.
  • Arrange for the purchase, at your expense, and if permitted, of necessary food supplements, essential clothing and other basic items not available through the prison system.
  • In circumstances where you cannot receive mail or permitted reading material, arrange to deliver them by alternate means.
  • Intercede for clemency if you are charged or convicted of a crime punishable by death. Not applicable in the Philippines but on the current administrations to do list
  • Inform you of transfer of offender options – either by treaty or by administrative arrangement with the country where you are imprisoned – that may allow you to serve your sentence in a Canadian prison and provide you with the documents to apply for a transfer if you are eligible.

What They Cannot Do


It is important to understand that there are limitations to what the consular officials are able to do.
Asking is the best way to find out the true scope of them, but here are some that the embassy lists:

  • If you are a dual citizen, it is recognised in Canada, but may not be in the country of your second citizenship. This is fine until you are arrested in that other country. In those circumstances you may find that the other country refuses to let the Canadian consular official have access to you under the Vienna Convention On Consular Relations. You should still request access to Canadian consular officials, who aim to assist all Canadian passport holders.
    If you hold dual citizenship check here to see if your other country of citizenship recognises it.
  • Canadian officials cannot intervene in ongoing legal proceedings in other countries or regions unless it is requested to do so by local authorities.These requests are rare.

Specific Issues

  • Consular officials cannot provide you with money for:
    • Fines
    • Bail
  • Get you out of jail
  • A consular official cannot make travel and accommodation arrangements for your family and friends to visit you
  • They cannot forward or deliver parcels entering or leaving the country, or clear them through customs
  • They have no power to bypass prison rules on what can and cannot be brought into or taken out of the detention facility
  • try to obtain preferential treatment for you or exempt you from the due process of local law
  • Consular Officials cannot:
    • Interfere or intervene in a police investigation
    • Run or facilitate a parallel investigation into a crime or death
  • Consular officials cannot
    • Provide legal advice
    • Interpret local laws
    • Interfere in legal matters
    • Advocate in criminal defence cases
    • Be involved in judicial affairs
  • A Consular official cannot:
    • Recommend lawyers
    • Guarantee their reliability
    • Guarantee competence in the matter at hand
  • Consular officials cannot become involved in matters between you and your lawyer

    Neither list is definitive and as was said earlier ask if you want to know.

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