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Part of your education of the Philippines involves Asian syndicates, or organized crime.  One of the first things you notice in certain areas here such as Malate or Manila is the large numbers of young Filipino girls and boys begging for coins.  They will be alone, with a group of other kids, or with an older woman with a baby.  These people present themselves in a down and out way, where they are usually shoeless, covered with dirt, and have a raspy voice.  Let me assure you that it’s an act.  While I’m not comparing them to beggars in the USA that make hundreds of dollars per day and live in a Manhattan apartment, the theme is the same.  It’s a professional operation.

So in the case of the little girls and boys it works as follows.  First you have the kids begging on the street.  A few are orphans while most have parents who live nearby.  Regardless, a local police officer or other gang leader of protection and influence rounds them up and marks his turf.  The beggars then are given exclusive rights and protection to beg in the area.  The obvious catch is that they must turn over their money to the syndicate boss.  I guess you could say that organized begging is what is most common to Asian countries.

They usually know exactly who to shake down for money since most Filipinos don’t give much.  The main target is foreigners, especially from the West while Japanese and Korean tourists are also targeted.  Most foreigners have only seen downtrodden Asian girls and boys as street children in pictures or on TV and immediately feel sorry for them.  While ultimately you should feel sorry for them, it doesn’t solve the problem by giving them money.  It only encourages their syndicate bosses to make them work harder.  So you might be thinking that you will buy them something to eat in a convenience store.  That’s better, but first you had better make sure that they can’t turn around and sell it, because I’ve seen them do it.  If you buy them food, open the bag first.  Basically first they want money for food and if you give them food instead, now they will want money for a hotel, etc.

Related to these begging syndicates is where middle-aged Filipino men shake down foreigners near the tourist belt.  A popular scam is where the foreigner is staying in a hotel and goes out nearby.  That’s where the scam artist is waiting, pretending that he’s on break from hotel security.  Of course, he approaches the foreigner and says, “Hello sir, I work in your hotel…hotel security!”  The scammer will then proceed to try to make friends.  If the foreigner is receptive he’ll give a sob story about how the hotel doesn’t pay him enough and he needs milk for his new baby.  Mind you that this man is often in his mid-50’s and probably is old enough to be a grandfather, yet he always has a hungry “baby” at home.  He’ll then ask you if you will help him buy milk for the baby.  You might think that’s no big deal since milk is cheap and at least it is food.  Instead the scammer goes to the Ensure pre-mix powder that costs about 800 Pesos or $15 and wants you to buy that for his “baby”.  Many foreigners will fall for it, or at least buy something in the middle of the price range as a compromise instead of doing the smart thing and walking out.

So let’s say you buy milk powder.  What happens now?  You might think that they will go and resell it.  Actually it’s a little bit more obvious.  At this point the scammer will use the receipt (and sometimes won’t need it) to refund the money.  Believe it or not, this type of scam happens all of the time.  My cousin is a grocer and she has been watching this scam go on for years next to the hotel where she works.  The same men are involved, or they simply rotate to a different store after a few months since the staff will sometimes tip off the foreigner.

While this is a minor scam, it is still annoying and definitely gives the Philippines and other Asian countries a big black eye from the point of view of the West.

February 4th, 2005

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