I am safe...?

I counted. Jeany and I have been friends for eight years now.

I wouldn't call it a trans-Atlantic friendship. She lives in New York, sure, but I don't live in London. I don't even live in Lisbon. I live in Manila, which is not even on the side of the Philippines that's near the Pacific Ocean. I just think of our friendship as one that spans half the world in either direction.

Throughout those eight years, maybe nine, Jeany and I have talked about whether we'll ever see each other in person. Most of the time it involves her chiding me. "Go to New York!" she'd usually say. "I'll bring you to gigs."

My answer is always the same. "Two things," I'd go. "One, I'll need money. Two, I'll need a visa."

"You need a visa?" she'd reply.

Truly, when you live with an American passport, you don't realize that not everybody gets to travel so freely.

I've only had two visas in my life. The first one was a Taiwanese visa, for my first trip to Taipei. The second one is a Korean visa, for my trip there over a year ago. It's not really much of a bother if you have the requirements, but you'll never know when embassy officials suspect you of being a guy who'll fly on a tourist visa and stay indefinitely. Apparently, we have a tendency to do that.

If money was no problem, honestly, I would have flown to New York. I've always wanted to go there. However, I may have all the money in the world, but my visa application can still be denied. Well, surely there's a better chance that I won't be denied if I'm super rich, but you know what I mean. (Also, I am saying you all are fucking lucky.)

Jeany and I almost met, though. She's Korean, and she did sketch out plans to meet me in Seoul when I went there. Somehow that did not pan out, so on chat windows we remain.

"Why don't you come to Manila?" I once asked her.

A few days later she got back to me. Friends have told her that she should not go to Manila, because it's not safe here.

"Well," I concede, "it's a charge that's hard to deny."

"How about we meet in Hong Kong or Singapore?" she asks.

"Again," I answer, "money."

That conversation happened a few more times. I would tell her about what there is to do here - there is little in Manila, unless you just want to eat stuff, but venture far enough and you might find something worth doing. But then she's a city girl, and she'll probably ask me to bring her at gigs. I imagined this scenario many times, and concluded that it would be awkward for me too, because I don't go to gigs myself. At least I'll have company - that's the whole "it's all a closed community" assumption partly sorted. It doesn't sort out the terrible urban planning that partially caused that closed-door nature in the first place. I will most definitely need a car. I will most definitely need parking. I have neither.

I remembered all this after our tourism secretary, Wanda Teo, begged the media to tone down its reporting on the campaign against illegal drugs, saying that it is harming tourist arrivals.

Well, I thought, foreigners always thought the Philippines is not safe. It's the reason why, for eight years, my friendship with Jeany remains constrained to chat windows.

And if this government thinks things are better just by the virtue of them assuming power (and them doing some things that they think are making us feel safe) - if this government thinks constantly shouting "we're safe!" will make people flock here in a heartbeat - well, they're delusional.

Granted, it's a complicated thing. Some will always wonder what they'll do here that they can't do in much more appealing places like, say, Malaysia or Thailand. Some will wonder if they can do anything at all, considering the Philippines can be a clusterfuck unless it tries hard to impress. But, let's face it, there is a long, long way to go. Nothing has changed yet. Nobody is against you but you alone.

Zaty and I have been friends for roughly three years. For the past few months we have been exchanging emails. She was planning to go to the Philippines with her boyfriend, part of a weeks-long jaunt across the region. ("Again," I told Jeany, "money.") I did my best to tell her what can be done here, but mostly referred her to the usual tourist spots (except Boracay - I think I told her to avoid it). For the past few months we have been exchanging emails without Shalla knowing - we went to Malaysia and all, and the only hint we gave is that she was considering going, when all along we both knew it was a matter of when, not if.

That when is in a couple of weeks. She's here in Manila for a night, and then she'll fly to Cebu. I hope she gets something done. It's Holy Week, after all.

Maybe she'll be safe. It's Holy Week, after all. "People are in a pious mood," I emailed her once. And then I clarified that it's all outward appearances. Do not piss the guy up there off, or something.

And your responses...

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