Mugged in Manila

The author ‘stays positive’ with this photograph of the breathtakingly beautiful Manila sunset.

By A. Mabini

The first thing on my mind was that scene in “Ocean’s Eleven” when George Clooney’s character was recruiting a young pickpocket played by Matt Damon. The obvious difference was this was real life, and it was happening to me.

Two guys blocked the entrance to the bus immediately after I got in, and there was an asshole behind me who kept nudging my arm as though he was trying to get in also. When I looked back and saw the suspicious fear in his eyes, I should have known then what was happening. When I looked forward I saw two other guys hopping off the bus while gently brushing me. At that point I knew I was getting robbed.

It was well executed, and I was honestly impressed by their professionalism.

But immediately after I found out I was robbed, I was disheartened and discouraged sitting in that fucking bus. See, exactly a week before the incident I had cancelled my flight back to New York, putting my complete faith in the nitty-gritty streets of Manila. It was almost like I left New York for Manila but soon after found out that Manila was being unfaithful to me. It was heartbreaking.

The thoughts that immediately followed were so overwhelming that I was confused how I felt. I was upset, angry, sad and almost in the midst of crying in a lonely bus speeding down EDSA on a muggy Tuesday morning. I started to wonder when would be the earliest flight out of Manila back to New York, how many bags I had to pack and how to break the news to my family that Manila has beaten my soul silly.

Then I realized that the courage of my heart, molded by living 16 years in the Bronx would pity the fool that would pack up and go from a relatively harmless incident. Without sounding melodramatic, I prayed halfway through SLEX, and thank God nothing else had happened. They just got my iPhone.

Then I started to ask questions. Why did it happen? Why did they do it? And who or what was to blame?

I dress quite simply in Manila, just a regular shirt, a pair of jeans and ‘tsinelas’ or rubber flip-flops. Prior to the incident, I was not on my phone, I didn’t talk to anyone, but I looked tired at 5:30 a.m. I began to wonder why they did it. As a political scientist, I thought maybe it was because of the poor economy and the lack of job opportunities. But then I realized that this reason does not suffice. Those men were able-bodied and could find an honest living if they tried, yet they chose to be fucking assholes. Furthermore, to give these assholes slack because of the poor economy would be an insult to all the honest men and women in the world who choose the honest path to life. I refuse to excuse these thieves.

One night, after getting “ikot” or driven around and around by a taxi so he can run the meter, I finally said something to the driver out of frustration. Understand that this has happened to me several times, that it has become insulting. I exclaimed, “What has happened to this country. It has become the land of thieves and whores.”

Harsh, I thought the day after, but true. The few honest men and women who remain true to their Christian faith here are overrun by the evilness of this place. Pilipinas here are so quick to dismiss a local potential because she is so receptive to the accents of foreigners and old money. Whereas before, the beautiful ‘indays’ would only give their heart to the sweet courage of men when they serenade or ‘harana.’ Now they cheaply listen to the accents of old nasty foreign men.

I confronted a Pilipina in Cebu once, on my high horse and slightly inebriated. I asked why she would so easily give herself to foreigners. She calmly explained that it was easy for me to criticize her because my family did not rely on me to trade love for money. She said, of course she wants to find genuine love but genuine love has become a privilege in the islands of the Philippines, and not too many people can afford this privilege. I was embarrassed and speechless, I apologized and walked away.

Today, I realized that my mother made candies and sold them in packs just so she can support my father’s earnings, no matter how small the amount. Many of these Pilipinas today have forgotten the concept of hard work and integrity. I hope to God that Pilipinos will one day quit chasing the American Dream and realize that the Pilipino Dream of having a family and being able to support it by honest means suffices.

Those thieves will get theirs. I believe God will give me justice. I will not allow these assholes to corrupt my soul and neither will I relent on my objections of young Pilipinas taking the easy way out by way of foreign men. I believe one day, we will stand in front of God and answer one question: Why did we choose evil at certain moments in our lives? And to justify that because good was not convenient at the time is unacceptable.

Live free.

A. Mabini was born in Davao City and raised in the Bronx. He’s back in the Philippines hoping to “find myself.” For more of his writing, visit his blog Burning Dog.


  1. Robert wrote:

    I have lived in the Philippines (off & on) for more than forty years. And yes, just like my Philippine Compares; businessmen; municipal officials; teachers; and medical & legal officials, I sometime frequent some of the nightlife. A couple of ‘truisms’ I have learned is that nearly all the ladies (over 21) working in the clubs have children. There Philippino boyfriend, after having fathered a child, disappeared. Most were never married. However, I have met more now that actualy had Philippino husbands, who also declined to be a man and provide for their children. Business is business and survival is not as easy today as it was forty years ago. The second thing is although the church, media, and nationalist continue to blame all the Philippine problems on the Americans; the Americans are a minority within the tourist community. Today, there are more Austrians, British, other Europeans, Japanese, Korean, Indonesians, and Chinese here as tourist as well and permanent residents. Since 1991 the US permanent population has continued to decline, as more and more died off. The Philippine Government did not treat the remaining Americans very kindly, after Pinatubo; therefore the tourism did to decline. So the next time you encounter a hospitality lady, remember she may not have a choice. She is obligated to take care of her children, left for them to rise by the disappearing Philippino boyfriend and/or asawa.

  2. Gao Valencia wrote:

    A. Mabini sounds petty here. The bigger mugging in Da Pilipins is being done at the top, but let’s also appreciate the fact that there are good men and women (humans) who are doing something to stop the evil ones. Gloria Arroyo is now under hospital arrest and her midnight chief justice, Renato Corona, is about to be kicked out.

  3. M. Matthews wrote:

    After reading this story, I would like to say, that I may never live in the Philippines, unless I will not be able to live on my pension in the future.

  4. A. Mabini wrote:

    Bobby, ALL of the Pilipinas over 21 have kids and their baby fathers have ALL left them? might want to reassess that statement amigo. you’re probably right about the statistics of foreigners and where they come from, but what’s the relevance? i believed i referred to the foreign men as “foreigners.” the only time i mentioned American, is the concept of the American dream. And I believe everyone has a choice. that’s the beauty of free will, and needless to say a person’s character will be the basis of that decision. lastly bob, there is a strong connotation behind your comment that most Pilipino men are not men, in fact you straight out said it. Although there might be a significant number of Pilipino men who bailed out on their family, same is true in America and other countries. In defense of these irresponsible assholes in the Philippines, at least they can hide behind the excuse that they lack the financial opportunities to support their families, i can’t imagine a white man in Alabama claim the same excuse and actually have merit. Also Bobby, REAL MEN DON’T BUY GIRLS. that’s not an opinion – that’s a fact.
    Gao, you’re probably one of those pretentious activists who find themselves rejected by the general population so you and the others who claim that they are for justice go after people who resemble the people you wish you could be but will never even come close to becoming. ask yourself this question: what have you actually done aside from spread negativity and bicker about the government? i’m willing to bet you don’t have half the courage to do the things that i’ve done for the love i have for this country.

    Mr. Matthews, one of the hopes i had in writing this piece was to spread the vibe of camaraderie. I have learned that almost everyone here has experienced this unfortunate reality of Manila. you have to keep things in perspective and stay positive. I like to think that moments like this in our lives remind us that we are still alive, so strangely enough, try to live the moment despite its difficulty and continue to live free, most especially free from fear. As always, I appreciate and enjoy your comments on my articles.

    live free

  5. In your entries so far, it to me that the events you have encountered were experienced in places prevalent to tourists: clubs, bars, vacation areas, travelling by taxi. Many filipinos remain apprehensive in speaking English to foreigners unless they interact with them often.

    There are still a great majority of filipinos who work hard and have integrity. Their voices are quiet because they’re not in the news, in your face at nightclubs, or striking up conversations with random tourists speaking foreign languages. Your misfortunes are indeed disheartening, but not enough to convince that an entire country of 7,107 islands is full of thieves and whores.

    You told Mr. Matthews that you wrote this piece to inspire camraderie, but it only transmits hopelessness. Perhaps a longer stay in your home country can teach you the language of your people and its true heart as well.

  6. burningdog wrote:

    SM – you know i didn’t see my articles the way you interpreted it but i suppose i can understand how you can see it that way. perhaps your interpretation of these articles are more accurate than mine despite the fact that i wrote it myself. i feel terrible that i’ve come across expressing hopelessness to this land that i love deeply. i have a lot of great things to say about this country, but perhaps i write better when i’m upset. i’ll try to write about the great things and create that kind of spark of hope that i originally wanted to put across. thanks for your insight, i definitely appreciate your comment more than you think i do. and the next one i’ll dedicate to you. keep an eye out.

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  8. John N wrote:

    Crimes happen everywhere. Perhaps you appeared to be more of a target or were less well prepared than you imagine. I have never been robbed in 20 years of global travel to places much more dangerous, because I’m careful. Had your iphone been zipped inside an inside pocket or inside a deep tight trouser pocket then you wouldn’t have lost it. Had you been holding it in your hand inside a pocket you wouldn’t have lost it either. I’m careful what I put inside my pockets in NYC and if you’re as streetwise as you claim to be, then you should have known better.

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