Saturday, September 4, 2010
Philippines: Australian Government Travel Warnings
We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in the Philippines because of the high threat of terrorist attack and high level of serious crime. Pay close attention to your personal security at all times and monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security risks.
Terrorist attacks, including bombings, are possible any time, anywhere in the Philippines, including in Manila. We continue to receive credible reports indicating terrorists are planning attacks against a range of targets, including places frequented by foreigners.
In planning your activities, consider the kind of places known to be terrorist targets and the level of security provided. Possible targets include places frequented by foreigners such as shopping malls, including mega malls, markets, embassies, expatriate housing complexes, hostels, guest houses, clubs, hotels, restaurants, fast food outlets, bars, pubs, cinemas, places of worship, public transport including buses and bus terminals, ferries and trains, schools, tourist areas, festivals, outdoor recreation and major sporting events. Infrastructure associated with the Philippines Government such as airports, airfields, sea ports, railways, roads, military facilities, oil depots, power and telecommunications facilities and public buildings are also potential terrorist targets.
Mindanao, including mainland Mindanao, the Zamboanga Peninsula and the Sulu Archipelago: We strongly advise you not to travel to mainland Mindanao, the Zamboanga Peninsula and the Sulu Archipelago regions of Mindanao, including Basilan, Jolo and Tawi-Tawi (see map) due to the very high threat of terrorist attack, including kidnapping and related counter-terrorism operations.
Armed clashes between Philippine security forces and insurgent groups, including the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), could occur without warning, particularly in central Mindanao. A ceasefire and peace talks were announced in late July 2009, but further intermittent clashes could occur. A major armed clash occurred in Basilan in August 2009. There is also a continuing high threat of terrorist attack and a high threat of kidnappings against westerners in towns and cities in North Cotabato Province, Sarangani Province, South Cotabato Province, including General Santos City, Sultan Kudarat Province, Lanao del Sur Province and Lanao del Norte Province, including Iligan City. Attacks occurred throughout central Mindanao in late 2008 and again in mid-2009 against military and civilian targets. Further attacks cannot be ruled out. If you are in these areas you should consider leaving.
Credible information indicates terrorists may be in the advanced stages of planning attacks. Attacks may be imminent and could occur at any time, anywhere in Mindanao. Attacks could occur in the lead up to and following religious celebrations.
On 5 August 2010, a bomb exploded at Zamboanga City International Airport killing two and injuring a number of people, including a foreigner. On 13 April 2010 attacks targeting a church and sporting centre in Isabela City in the southern island province of Basilan killed 15 people and injured a number of others. In July 2009, a bomb exploded opposite a cathedral in Cotabato City, which killed six people and injured 40. The same month, a bombing near a church in Sulu killed two people and injured 40 others. Bansalan, Cagayan de Oro City, Cotabato City, Davao City, Digos City, General Santos City, Isulan, Jolo Town, Kidapawan, Kauswagan, Koronadal City, Maganoy, Maliklala, Pagadian, Tacurong, South Cotabato and Zamboanga City have been targeted in the past. These attacks underline the ongoing terrorist threat in the region. Further attacks are likely.
There is a danger of kidnapping in the Philippines. While the risk is higher in the south, particularly the Sulu Archipelago and the Zamboanga Peninsula, terrorists targeting foreigners can operate across a wide area. Numerous local residents have been kidnapped in Central Mindanao, the Zamboanga Peninsula and the Sulu Archipelago. Kidnap victims have also been killed by their captors, most recently in June 2010. There has also been a number of high profile kidnapping incidents in recent years. On 16 July 2010, a Japanese citizen was kidnapped on Pangutaran Island in the Sulu Archipelago. He remains in captivity. A Swiss national was kidnapped from Zamboanga City in April 2010 (and subsequently released in June). In October 2009, an Irish priest was kidnapped from a missionary compound in Pagadian City, Zamboanga Del Sur and held for two months. . In January 2009, three Red Cross aid workers were kidnapped from Patikul, Jolo (all were later released following protracted negotiations). In June 2008, a television crew was kidnapped in Jolo and released ten days later after complex negotiations involving demands for a large ransom. Tourists were also kidnapped from a coastal resort in Palawan in 2001. Many of these kidnappings involved the deliberate targeting of foreign nationals and highlight the seriousness of this continuing threat to Westerners, particularly in Mindanao, the Zamboanga Peninsula and the Sulu Archipelago. Tourists and local residents have also been kidnapped from coastal areas in nearby Malaysia.
Civil Unrest/Political Tension
You should avoid any large gatherings, demonstrations, protests, rallies or other public and political events as they may turn violent. You should monitor the media for information about any protests or political rallies and follow the advice of authorities.
On 23 November 2009, at least 57 people were abducted and killed in the province of Maguindanao on the island of Mindanao in what appears to have been a politically-motivated attack.
A state of emergency remains in effect in Cotabato City and the provinces of Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat.
Violent crime is a significant problem in the Philippines. Criminal gangs that drug and rob or assault unsuspecting tourists are active in Manila, including the Makati central business district, and in provincial resort towns.
Random acts of violence occur frequently in the Philippines. Recently, two separate grenade attacks, the result of domestic grievances, occurred in parts of Metro Manila frequented by foreigners.
As in many other big cities, street crime is of concern particularly in crowded shopping malls and other public places. Pickpocketing, bag snatching and a range of scams, including those involving credit cards and automated teller machines, are common.
Gun ownership is widespread and poorly regulated, contributing to a higher incidence of violent crime.
Taxis sourced from hotels are more reliable than those hailed on the street.
Avoid travel on public buses, light rail and jeepneys where possible as opportunistic crime may occur. Armed hold-ups have occurred and in some cases have led to fatalities.
Insurgent groups operate in rural areas and are involved in violent criminal activities. Extortion activities involving violence occur regularly and are often aimed at business interests, including mining projects. In October 2007, a large group of armed men attacked an Australian-controlled mining operation in Camarines Norte, about 200km south-east of Manila. Valuables were seized and property destroyed. Similar attacks have occurred around the Australian-controlled Tampakan mine site in South Cotabato, Mindanao, the most recent in January 2009.
Sea travel in the Philippines is hazardous. You should not travel on ferries unless no other means of travel is available. Ferries are often overloaded, lack necessary lifesaving equipment and are not adequately maintained. Storms can develop quickly. More than 900 people were rescued and there were a number of fatalities when a ferry sank while travelling from General Santos City to Iloilo in September 2009. In June 2008, a ferry travelling between Manila and Cebu capsized during a typhoon. Around 800 passengers and crew died.
See our bulletin on Overseas Road Safety.
Standards maintained by search and rescue services, transport services and tour operators, including adventure activities such as scuba diving, may not be comparable to those in Australia. Check operators' credentials and safety equipment beforehand and ensure your travel insurance policy covers your planned activities.
Piracy occurs in the coastal areas of the Philippines. See our travel advice on Travelling by Sea for more information. The International Maritime Bureau issues weekly piracy reports on its website.
Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) assesses the safety of all aircraft flying within, to and from Australia. CASA has certified Philippine Airlines to operate flights between Australia and the Philippines. CASA cannot assess the safety of any Philippine carriers operating within the Philippines or to other countries. On 30 March 2010 the European Union imposed an operating ban on all carriers licensed in the Philippines. The European Union (EU) website has a list of airlines that are subject to operating bans or restrictions within the EU.
The United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) through its foreign assessment program focuses on a country's ability, not the individual airline, to adhere to international standards and recommended practices for aircraft operations and maintenance established by ICAO. The FAA has determined that the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) is not in compliance with ICAO safety standards for the oversight of Philippine air carrier operations. For more information, visit the FAA website.
The US Embassy in Manila has advised US citizens travelling to and from the Philippines to fly directly to their destination on international carriers whenever possible.
For further information, please refer to our Aviation Safety and Security travel bulletin.
Natural Disasters, Severe Weather and Climate
Typhoons: Typhoons usually occur in the Philippines between late May and early December and can result in substantial loss of life. This is also the wet season when tropical storms, flooding and landslides are common.
Australians are encouraged to monitor bulletins issued by the Philippine National Disaster Coordinating Council and the Philippines Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration and to take appropriate safety measures. You can also check the weather updates at www.typhoon2000.ph. Telephone and internet communications, services and transport may be disrupted in affected areas.
If you are travelling during typhoon season, you should contact your tour operator to check whether tourist services at your planned destination have been affected.
The direction and strength of typhoons can change with little warning. You can check the latest typhoon information from the World Meteorological Organisation Severe Weather Information Centre and Asia Pacific Disaster Alerts. For typhoon and other weather alerts in the Philippines, visit the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) website or call its hotline on +63 2 4338526.
In the event of an approaching typhoon, you should identify your local shelter. Flights and ferry services in and out of affected areas can be unsafe and could be delayed or suspended. Available flights may fill quickly. You should contact your airline or ferry operator for the latest information. The typhoon could also affect access to sea ports in the region. In some areas, adequate shelter from a severe typhoon may not be available to all who may choose to stay. You should review and follow hotel or cruise ship evacuation plans. You should carry your travel documents at all times (i.e. passport, photo identification) or secure them in a safe, waterproof location. We also suggest that you contact friends and family in Australia with updates about your welfare and whereabouts. For further information, see our Travel Bulletin: Severe Weather – Cyclones, Hurricanes and Typhoons.
Earthquakes and volcanoes: Parts of the Philippines are subject to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
The Mayon, Taal and Bulusan volcanoes have a permanent danger zone (PDZ) established around their summits by the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS). Mayon volcano in Albay Province has a PDZ of six kilometres, Bulusan volcano has four kilometre PDZ and the entire Volcano Island of Taal is a PDZ. You should avoid areas surrounding these volcanoes and monitor warnings issued by PHIVOLCS.
Tsunamis: All oceanic regions of the world can experience tsunamis, but in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, there is a more frequent occurrence of large, destructive tsunamis because of the many large earthquakes along major tectonic plate boundaries and ocean trenches. See the Tsunami Awareness brochure.
If a natural disaster occurs, you should monitor the media and other local sources of information closely and follow the advice of local authorities.
Australians are advised to respect wildlife laws and to maintain a safe and legal distance when observing wildlife, including marine animals and birds. You should only use reputable and professional guides or tour operators and closely follow park regulations and wardens' advice.
Money and Valuables
Before you go, organise a variety of ways to access your money overseas, such as credit cards, travellers' cheques, cash, debit cards or cash cards. Australian currency and travellers' cheques are not accepted in many countries. Consult with your bank to find out which is the most appropriate currency to carry and whether your ATM card will work overseas.
Make two photocopies of valuables such as your passport, tickets, visas and travellers' cheques. Keep one copy with you in a separate place to the original and leave another copy with someone at home.
While travelling, don't carry too much cash and remember that expensive watches, jewellery and cameras may be tempting targets for thieves.
As a sensible precaution against luggage tampering, including theft, lock your luggage. Information on luggage safety is available from Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority.
Your passport is a valuable document that is attractive to criminals who may try to use your identity to commit crimes. It should always be kept in a safe place. You are required by Australian law to report a lost or stolen passport. If your passport is lost or stolen overseas, report it online or contact the nearest Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate as soon as possible.
You are required to pay an additional fee to have a lost or stolen passport replaced. In some cases, the Government may also restrict the length of validity or type of replacement passports.
For general information and tips on travelling with children see our Travelling Parents brochure.
If you are planning on placing your children in schools or childcare facilities overseas we encourage you to research the standards of security, care and staff training within those establishments. You should exercise the same precautions you would take before placing children into schools or childcare facilities in Australia.
Ideas on how to select childcare providers are available from the smartraveller Children's Issues page, Child Wise and the National Childcare Accreditation Council.
When you are in the Philippines, be aware that local laws and penalties, including ones that appear harsh by Australian standards, do apply to you. If you are arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you but we can't get you out of trouble or out of jail.
Information on what Australian consular officers can and cannot do to help Australians in trouble overseas is available from the Consular Services Charter.
Penalties for drug offences are severe. Possession of even small amounts of so-called 'soft drugs' attracts mandatory jail sentences.
It is illegal to take photographs of official buildings for publication.
Some Australian criminal laws, such as those relating to money laundering, bribery of foreign public officials, terrorism and child sex tourism, apply to Australians overseas. Australians who commit these offences while overseas may be prosecuted in Australia.
Australian authorities are committed to combating sexual exploitation of children by Australians overseas. Australians may be prosecuted at home under Australian child sex tourism laws. These laws provide severe penalties of up to 17 years imprisonment for Australians who engage in sexual activity with children under 16 while outside of Australia.
Information for Dual Nationals
Our Travel Information for Dual Nationals brochure provides further information for dual nationals.
Entry and Exit Requirements
Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) change regularly. Contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of the Philippines for the most up-to-date information.
The Philippine Government strongly enforces immigration and entry laws. You should ensure you have proper and valid visas and remain aware of your visa status while in the Philippines. Immigration authorities may require travellers to show proof of an onward or return ticket. Your passport must be valid for at least six months beyond the date of entry into the Philippines. You should carry copies of a recent passport photo with you in case you need a replacement passport while overseas.
Australians have been detained for having improper visas or violating immigration laws. Offenders can expect jail sentences, fines, and/or deportation and may also be prohibited from entering the Philippines in the future. If you have any concerns about the status of your Philippine visa or if you want to extend your visa, you should refer to the Philippine Bureau of Immigration website.
A terminal fee is payable at the airport on departure from the Philippines.
Children under 15 unaccompanied by a parent or coming to meet a parent or parents in the Philippines must present a Waiver of Exclusion Ground (WEG). Contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of the Philippines for more details.
Pandemic (H1N1) 2009 has spread throughout the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) provides useful information for individuals and travellers on its website. For further information and advice to Australians, including on possible quarantine measures overseas, see our travel bulletin on Pandemic (H1N1) 2009.
We strongly recommend that you take out comprehensive travel insurance that will cover any overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation, before you depart. Confirm that your insurance covers you for the whole time you'll be away and check what circumstances and activities are not included in your policy. Remember, regardless of how healthy and fit you are, if you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. The Australian Government will not pay for a traveller's medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs.
Your doctor or travel clinic is the best source of information about preventive measures, immunisations (including booster doses of childhood vaccinations) and disease outbreaks overseas. The World Health Organization (WHO) provides information for travellers and our Travelling Well brochure also provides useful tips for staying healthy while travelling overseas.
Medical facilities in the Philippines are adequate in major cities but are very limited in provincial regions and remote islands. Major private hospitals, particularly in Metro Manila, are well equipped and internationally accredited. Most hospitals will require up-front payment or guarantee of payment prior to commencing treatment, which can be expensive. In the event of a serious illness or accident, medical evacuation to a destination with the required facilities may be necessary. Medical evacuation costs are considerable.
Malaria is endemic in many provincial regions of the Philippines but does not affect the capital Manila. Dengue fever has been on the rise in Manila and neighbouring provinces along with outbreaks of other mosquito-borne diseases (including Japanese encephalitis and filariasis) in many areas particularly during the rainy season between June and November. We encourage you to take prophylaxis against malaria where necessary and take precautions against being bitten by mosquitoes, including using insect repellent at all times.
The mosquito-borne disease Japanese encephalitis is found throughout many regions of North, South and South-East Asia and Papua New Guinea. A Japanese encephalitis vaccine is registered for use and is currently available in Australia. For further details please consult your travel health doctor.
Water-borne, food-borne, parasitic and other infectious diseases (including HIV/AIDS, cholera, typhoid, hepatitis, tuberculosis, measles, meningitis and rabies) are prevalent with more serious outbreaks occurring from time to time. We advise you to boil all drinking water or drink bottled water, and avoid ice cubes and raw and undercooked food. Do not swim in fresh water to avoid exposure to certain water-borne diseases such as bilharzia (schistosomiasis) and leptospirosis. Seek medical advice if you have a fever or are suffering from diarrhoea. Ciguatera poisoning from eating reef fish can be a hazard. For more information on ciguatera poisoning see Queensland Health's fact sheet (pdf).
Decompression chambers are located in Manila, Cebu, Batangas, Subic and Palawan.
Avoid temporary 'black henna' tattoos as they often contain a dye which can cause serious skin reactions. For further information, see the Australasian College of Dermatologists' website.
Avian influenza: The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) has confirmed cases of avian influenza in birds in a number of countries throughout the world, including some in south-east Asia. For a list of these countries, visit the OIE website.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed deaths from avian influenza in the region. The Department of Health and Ageing advises Australians who reside in the Philippines for an extended period to consider, as a precautionary measure, having access to influenza antiviral medicine for treatment. Long term residents are at a greater risk of exposure to avian influenza over time. You should seek medical advice before taking antiviral medicines. Australians intending to travel to the Philippines for shorter periods are at much lower risk of infection but should discuss the risk of avian influenza with their doctor as part of their routine pre-travel health checks.
If the avian influenza virus mutates to a form where efficient human-to-human transmission occurs, it may spread quickly and local authorities could move quickly to impose restrictions on travel. Australian travellers and long-term residents in the Philippines should be prepared to take personal responsibility for their own safety and well-being, including deciding when to leave an affected area and ensuring they have appropriate contingency plans in place. Australians in the Philippines should monitor the travel advice and bulletin for updated information and advice, and ensure that their travel documents, including passports and visas for any non-Australian family members, are up-to-date in case they need to depart at short notice.
Where to Get Help
In the Philippines, you can obtain consular assistance from the:
6819 Ayala Avenue
Makati City, 1200 PHILIPPINES
Telephone: (63 2) 7578 100
Facsimile: (63 2) 7578 344
If you are travelling to the Philippines, whatever the reason and however long you'll be there, we encourage you to register with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. You can register online or in person at any Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate. The information you provide will help us to contact you in an emergency – whether it is a natural disaster, civil disturbance or a family issue.
In a consular emergency if you are unable to contact the Embassy you can contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305 or 1300 555 135 within Australia.
In Australia, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra may be contacted on (02) 6261 3305.
This Advice was issued on Wednesday, 18 August 2010, 16:39:32, EST.