A New Scam To Watch Out For! Part 1.
I have been coming to Manila a couple of times a year for nearly twenty years and for the last three years I have been living permanently in the Philippines, albeit in Cebu. Returning recently to Manila full time for work has brought back memories but it has also given me some new ones to file away. I thought I had seen pretty much most of the scams in regular use against foreigners, either first hand or from a safe distance. The one I will relate here was not only a new one for me, but also a new one for one or two long term expats of my acquaintance.
One Saturday I find myself at the end of a jeepney route, in this case it was Harrison Plaza, a salubrious shopping center at the end of Malate near Manila Bay. It is a major sleaze pit and pick up joint for hookers, even in the middle of the day as when I arrived. I was in search of some refreshment before I intended to walk down to Malate Park and do some research for a story on the area. (Philippine Dreams December 2004,Manila Meanderings)
I was approached on the mezzanine level by a scabby looking Bakla with padded bra and broken teeth, dirty hair in a pony tail and a home made tattoo on his arm. He asked if I wanted chicks and I declined. He ignored me and called over a young woman and said I could have her for eight hours for P1500. I repeated my refusal and started to walk away. Apart from the fact I am married, Harrison Plaza is known as a place where the girls you buy are either underage or thieves or both, with or without STDs. The pimp followed and told me the price was now only P1000. Forget it, bugger off, go away, Hindi Alis! Walang na pera! (go away, I have no more money)
He persisted a little longer but I kept walking and went on my merry way. I wandered around Malate, along the BayWalk and up to the Manila Yacht Club, then headed back to the Plaza for a bite and a jeepney home. As I wandered past the area he had accosted me in before, this pimp materialises at my arm and is agitated and very upset. He whines that the one thousand peso note you paid me for the girl was fake, now I am in trouble.
I asked him to repeat what he just said and he did! At that point another person appeared out of thin air, this one looking quite neat in a Barong type shirt and slacks, short hair and a semi-automatic in a belt holster on his right hip, under the shirt. He also had hand cuffs under the shirt on the left hip and a cell phone around his neck. I ignored him and the pimp and turned on my heel and made a rapid bee line for the exit where the taxis wait. I walked fast and didn’t look back, just kept moving as I smelt a rat, something was going down and it had me plastered all over it!
As I was about to get into the cab the pimp and his mate arrived, said something in rapid Tagalog and the neatly dressed gun toter grabbed my arm and told me he was a cop and not to move. He flashed a wallet which I grabbed hold of and studied carefully. On one side was a PNP badge and on the other an ID card that looked pretty genuine. He had a death grip on his wallet and only later I realised his thumb was over the photo.
He mumbled the obligatory we sort this out and then I call Immigration as if that would scare me into complying. I told him there were a lot of fake cops around Manila and I wasn’t sure he was genuine. I had no doubts about the gun which I had felt up as he showed me the wallet and it was a large frame Colt 1911A1 .45 ACP style handgun. By now a crowd had formed and there was no way I was making it into a cab and getting away.
The pimp repeated his allegation that I had given him a fake one thousand peso bill and when he went to spend it he was arrested or stopped, depending on which version he was saying. It was all very upsetting to the poor thing and he was looking good for a Filipino Oscar. The cop said we had to sort this out and I would go with him. He asked for ID and I told him I didn’t have any and he accepted that. Hmmm!
He said we had to go to the security office. I didn’t want to go anywhere as I figured if we went to the police station it would get more expensive. I asked what the problem was and if the bakla got another P1000 would that be the end of it? I had no intention of paying a peso if I could help it but I wanted to feel out the situation. The cop muttered something vague and unheard and I got the gist there may be more to this. I figured he was going to try and pin solicitation on me and then the bakla would produce a 15 year old who would swear I did the deed and the girls mother would chip in that she helped clean away the soiled sheets and saw the whole thing etc.
Next thing we were walking inside and heading for the security office. I was behind the cop and the bakla and could have turned and ran anytime. Of course I would have been the slowest waddling foreigner Bear in Manila and it is very hard for Bears like me to blend in with the crowd here! No, I would have to brazen this out and see where it was going. I was prepared if necessary to pay the thousand pesos if I had to, anything was better than trying to beat a trumped up sex charge. Even if you beat it you are still tainted and plenty of people would be less than convinced of your innocence. Try explaining your appearance on TV in an orange t-shirt marked PNP DETAINEE, as one of mistaken identity and see how many will give you the benefit of the doubt!
A New Scam To Watch Out For! Part 2.
In the security office I was surrounded by uniformed and plain clothes security officers. The cop spoke into his cell phone a second time and I wondered how come they don’t give Manila cops two way radios? They do but I wasn’t 100% sure of this at the time! I pressured the cop and said either produce this fake note or I am going. Then I told him even if he shows me the fake note he can’t prove it belonged to me or that I gave it to the bakla. At this he said we had to go to where the money was!
OK, so now we are out on the street, heading away from the mall! I am behind the cop and the bakla, who is berating me and begging me to admit I paid him the funny money and lets get this over with. We get to the traffic lights at the road that runs along the mall. I ask where are we going and the cop says we have to go to the Barangay Captain’s office where the money is being held. Hmmm?
I repeat that it is my word against the bakla, I have denied giving him anything and there is no way he could prove anything anyway, even if I had given him funny money. I then said there is no way I was going any further with him or the bakla and I was leaving. At this I turned on my heel and strode off back towards the mall.
The cop stayed standing there but the bakla went off his brain, poked me in the arm and yelled at me. I warned him not to poke me again or I would defend myself. I tried to get into a cab as I figured if I hopped a jeepney he could keep up, even incite the passengers somehow against me. I had my camera and a magazine in one hand as I opened the cab door with the other. The bakla seized his chance and my glasses and stole them off my face quick as a flash.
He kept dancing just out of range as I tried to get them back. I knew from hard experience as a school boy how pointess it would be to dance along, it was either tackle and down the mongrel or say goodbye to the glasses. I said goodbye to $200 worth of prescription two tone glasses in a P400 frame. Without the camera and magazine in one hand I might have been able to grab them, but I doubt it. He would have simply thrown them under a passing jeepney or something. If I had decked the mongrel then I would have really been in trouble. Hitting a Filipino with breasts, even a thieving bakla, in daylight and full view of the public isn’t advisable for foreigners!
I jumped into the cab and told the driver to simply drive. As we stopped in traffic around the corner out the front of the Manila Zoo, another taxi passed us and stopped right in front. Next to the driver was the cop! I told my driver to make a quick turn once the other taxi had missed the intersection and we went off to Makati. I realised then for sure the cop was a fake, probably going back to his day job as a security guard at some fancy five star hotel.
This scam might have worked better for them if I had in fact paid for the services of the hooker, the guilt and doubt would have made it difficult to walk away with confidence. I was never totally convinced the cop wasn’t a real, albeit crooked, cop. Insulting the real deal could be self destructive if he takes it personally and continues on somehow even after the original issue is resolved. Filipinos have thin skins to begin with where white foreigners are often concerned, no value in making it worse. The bakla was very convincing, at least to onlookers and anyone who didn’t know the truth about the fact I never paid the bakla with a fake bill for anything! I figured if I had to pay a real thousand to avoid complications, it might be worth it, but that would be a line call and the last resort. Of course you don’t want to give in too early but you also don’t want to miss the chance to get out for just a grand if you have to.
You see this is not about right or wrong or justice, it is street survival, pure and simple. Throw enough mud and some will stick and it is too easy for scammers to set a foreigner up and have him facing a capital charge of soliciting a minor and looking down the barrel of the death penalty! Yes, things can go from bad to very shitty real fast here if you are unlucky to find yourself in a situation like that. It happened to a good friend of mine, John Martin. He was setup with a bullshit drugs charge and spent six months incarcerated until he was finally able to effect his release. It cost him just about everything he had one way or another.
The final cost of that day’s little adventure was a pair of decent glasses. Cheap when you think of how it might have ended. Did I want to deck the bakla? Damn right I did! Could I have done it? Let me see, I was an unarmed combat instructor in the Australian Army, I hold several black belts in martial arts, have boxed, worked as a bouncer and on and on so yeah, I could have cleaned the street with him and the cop. Then what? It doesn’t pay to get physical here unless your life is at risk. My life wasn’t in danger, just my reputation and my fortune, such as it is! I do think though that if I had continued on to the Barangay Captain’s office I might have ended up in a ditch with a leaky hole in the back of my head.
Do I want to go back there and find the mongrel bakla and give him a serve? Sure, but how dumb would that be? Best thing I can do is stay well away, chalk it up to experience and let others know about this scam. Besides, I had a spare pair of specs back home anyway!