Wednesday, October 17, 2007

My “Phil-ward Flight” Part 2

My flight back to the Philippines with Northwest turned out to be less than pleasant, but certainly not because of my seat neighbor, John, a 25-year-old soldier on leave from the 10th Mountain Division. In part 1 of this short series I describe him and a bit of our conversation concerning his 5 years in the army as an artillery sergeant. Within minutes, I liked him. And even though his right shoulder and arm would bulge over into my side of the armrest despite his valiant efforts to prevent it, I didn’t regret that he was there in the least, as his easy-going personality and quiet courtesy overcame all else. After spending most of a day with him I can say that I hope the ranks of the U.S. Army are filled with the likes of him—the man is a total gentleman.

Now, I have heard of a few incidents of love interest between Iraqi women and American servicemen, even of the occasional marriage, but I’ve never heard of such a thing happening in Afghanistan. So, I asked John if he had ever met any Afghan womenfolk during his months there. He grinned as if that was the stupidest thing anyone could ever imagine. He said that where he was the women only rarely came outside, and when they did it was after sundown when they moved around in the shadows always covered from head to toe.

Since we were on the subject of women, and with him being a single good-looking young fellow, it was only natural that our conversation turned to possible “romantic” pursuits while he visited the Phils. Ever the wet blanket, I told him that there were no sweeter women anywhere in the world, BUT….! There’s always one or two of those floating about, and when it comes to this place there are MORE than a couple. I decided I’d better clue in my new young friend on some of the dangers lurking out there for unsuspecting foreign tourists like him. I was happy to see that he took great interest in everything I had to say about the possible perils involved.

He already knew all about the young American marine “found guilty” of rape last year in Manila. I told him that most of us living here are highly suspicious of the verdict, mostly because so many other outsiders are being pulled off the street all the time here by corrupt cops for supposedly committing rape. I told him that I knew of a tourist just last week that sat in a jail cell for two days, also for an alleged rape, when the only real “crime” he committed was paying a girl’s barfine in good faith.

Tourists think that paying a barfine is a safe way to avoid being taken in on the old “rape con game,” but it seems that these days nothing can prevent "the shake down" once marked for it. In fact, the tourist in question was never actually charged with any crime. He did exactly what they cajoled him to do and paid off. Then, he got his butt on the first plane he could find out of the country. In the marine’s case, if the U.S. State Department and the Marine Corps had been smart, paying off is also what they should have done in the first place. It's how things are done here anyway. I doubt seriously if that mistake will ever be made again by the Marine Corps or by anyone else affiliated with the U.S. government in a similar situation.

And evidently, the word I heard as of last year is that Middle Eastern and Indian businessmen are finding themselves similarly targeted in the “high rent” Manila nightclub district as well. The ploy goes like this: The tourist picks up a girl in a club and all seems well until he gets the seemingly willing woman into his hotel room. Suddenly, the girl rumples her hair, tears at her clothing and screams rape. At this point, the bewildered tourist finds a platoon of men in uniform booming at his hotel door. Usually, in short order, the stunned and frightened fellow is given two options. Immediately, he chooses the one involving paying a lot of money to make the whole thing go away. None of this makes it into the news, much less on a blotter and never on a report. So, ignorant tourists continue to stream in, only to be “harvested.” It’s a great cash cow, yes?

After my myriad of scary stories, all of which I meant to serve as a warning to the young fellow, he looked quite shaken, shocked even. He shook his head alarmed saying, “Sounds like maybe I should never leave my hotel room!”

I laughed, “John, what kind of a guy would I be if I didn’t clue you in on what to watch out for over there? You are particularly vulnerable, because if you get picked up on one of these scams, as an active duty soldier, you have NO choice but to pay, no matter how innocent you are. In fact, last summer a marine having some fun in Balibago on leave from Okinawa was picked up on a bogus charge and ended up paying up after several days for that exact reason. The Army won’t care if you ARE innocent; all they want is for your happy ass to be back at the base when your leave is over. So you just be careful, okay?”

John told me that once he gets to Manila he’s meeting up with two buddies from his hometown in Central Pennsylvania, neither of which is in the military. They chose the Philippines to visit because one of the guys has family in Rizal, which is where John is heading as soon as the plane lands in Manila. After that, the plan is for all three of them to fly on to Boracay for the rest of their stay.

“That’s good. If one of you is from the Philippines then you will be that much safer,” I said, trying to sound more reassuring.

“Well, not necessarily,” he said hesitantly, “he went to the States when he was 7 and this is his first time back.”

“Oh? No kidding?” I sucked air over my lips and teeth with a pained expression and agreed with his misgivings, “Yeah, you’re right. That’s not so good after all.”

Knowing that we would be landing in Manila just before midnight I cautioned John not to jump into any old taxi that would probably just rip him off upon seeing he was a “virgin tourist” and thus ripe for the picking. Instead, I urged him to use one of the taxi services registered at the terminal. An American guy sitting in the seat to John’s left, who had been listening in and nodding, now weighed in and agreed with me.

This new guy has an interesting story. He’s heading to Quezon City to meet with his fiancée, a girl he met online when she was 17. He’s probably in his early to mid-40s, typical I’ve found of the relationship ages between foreign men and Filipina women. He says this is his fourth time back since he met her some three years ago. His intent is to petition her to the US on a fiancée visa. I wished him good luck, but inwardly smirked, thinking that she’d probably dump him as soon as she could. Sorry for the cynicism, but that’s normally how it goes for those types of liaisons.

By this time the flight attendants were cleaning up after we had finished our predictable in-flight meal of chicken or beef. We were more than two and a half hours out of Detroit and well over Northern Canada.

At this point I’ll write verbatim from my notebook:

“There’s a Problem!… according to the pilot on the loudspeaker we just lost oil quantity in our number three engine so they had to shut the engine down. He says we are heading back to Detroit. G** Damn it! So, looks like an overnight stay in Detroit before heading to Manila. Oh, JOY!”

That’s enough for now. I don’t want to bore Ed Abbey. Part 3 coming up in a day or two.


Ed said...

Oh Phil, I enjoy your long stories as always. I have just learned to block out a larger period of time to read your blog.

Fortunately for me I think, I didn't meet my wife in the Philippines nor was I trying to meet a Filipina. It all just happened so I didn't have to go through the trials and tribulations of the bar scene in the RP. In fact, in all my trips back there, I have never once been in a bar there.

Your plane story is starting to sound like the trip from hell.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Dang Ed, I only just posted that about 30 seconds ago. How'd you do that?

Yep, what could go bad, went bad! Murphy struck again.

Nick Ballesteros said...

Stories like these really have to be narrated at length, or you won't get the feel of the conversation. I can actually imagine that I was there in the plane was well, squeezed into a seat somewhere.

I agree with you about the taxi at the airport. Do not take one from the streets. Why, even us locals get overcharged by these people.

And about the bar scene, I know foreigners are favorite targets but I didn't realize that it can go to such an extreme!

PhilippinesPhil said...

Thanks Wat,

Foreigners are targeted all over the world in all number of ways, but they are particularly vulnerable here because most of the men who come here do so for the women. Many have wives elsewhere or jobs, and cannot afford to be hauled in on some sex charge, even if its bogus. The cops have learned this and take advantage of it.

KA said...

after reading all these stories, I think I've officially decided that my husbands never going to travel unless I'm there. yikes.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Yeah, that's probably a good idea Kat...

KA said...

LMAO, no Phil, that's actually a horrible idea. To operate on the presumption that he's likely to cheat or act inappropriately outside of my presence? that's terrible! Why the heck did I marry him for? lol, no i'll wait for him to actually do something wrong - and if he actually did something to break my trust then I dont think we'll be married long enough for me to care where he travels to.

PhilippinesPhil said...

I should have been more clear Kat. Having a wife "in tow" keeps a tourist free of the worry of being accused of rape or statutory rape. THAT'S where you would come in handy... So, not so horrible, right?