Common theft modus operandi in Cebu

Cebu is a place of opportunities. And, where there is opportunity, there will also be those who will take advantage of it. This does not only apply to entrepreneurs, this also applies to thieves. Cebu may well be a famous tourist destination in the Philippines, but thieves also know that. In fact, not so long ago, Cebu was notorious for being thick with thieves, and swindlers. There’s an old joke that goes: “How do you know if your plane has arrived over Cebu? Simple, just put your hand out the window and, if your watch disappears …”

This is a list of common petty theft strategies to watch out for in Cebu (other than straight up hold-up or snatching). Sometimes you won’t be able to avoid them but, by knowing the signs beforehand, at least you can be prepared to minimize your losses.
Many of these crimes occur in jeepneys (that iconic Filipino transport that’s about to be replaced with better, more modern versions in the next few months). All these involve the victim getting distracted.

“Laglag Barya”

“Coin Dropping”, aka “Drop Loose Change”, this technique requires the coordination of two or more perpetrators. This can be done inside a public vehicle, or even out in the street. The victim is usually hemmed in by the perps. The modus starts by one of the perps creating a diversion.

In this YouTube video, the victim is distracted by the guy to her left by placing coins on the floor. Once the victim is distracted, the other guy, to the victim’s right, quickly snatched the victim’s tablet from her bag, using his own backpack as cover. The mustachioed, guy far left, could also be an accomplice.

Target victims are usually lone women. And they don’t have to be on a jeepney to be targeted. Here, the victim was driving alone.

With the help of women lookouts, the victim was easily convinced to get out of her car and check the thing she supposedly “dropped”. She lost PhP 1.7 million in valuables that way.

There are other ways to distract a victim besides using coins. The accomplice could put bubblegum on your hair, or even spit on you (in which case, it’s called “Dura-Dura” [“Spit Spit”] in Tagalog [“Luwa-Luwa” in Cebuano]) just to grab your attention while his buddy steals from your bag or pocket. Sometimes they’ll use other substances like steamed bun (siopao) sauce. Sometimes they’ll drop paper bills instead of coins:

They’ll drop, say a 500-peso bill, even if you are about to withdraw cash from your ATM. If you don’t watch out, your ATM card could be swapped that way. In cases like this, be alert. Always be suspicious of people saying you dropped something –suspect someone behaving strangely beside you in a jeepney. Never leave your bag to pick up chump change.

“Laslas Bulsa”

If you don’t carry an easy-to-open bag with you, you could still be victimized. Some perps will use a sharp razor to slash your pocket (“Laslas Bulsa”), your handbag, or your backpack to get at the goodies.

The victim (a man this time), was feisty, but you’ll run the risk of being injured if you confront a Laslas Bulsa perp up close, since he’s got a weapon. Show presence of mind. Keep a safe distance from someone you suspect – even if he or she is decently dressed.


Laglag Barya is a variant of the general “Salisi” – Tagalog for “Pass-Each-Other-By” – because your attention is drawn elsewhere while the thief has his way with your valuables in the other direction. Like “bawal” (forbidden), “salisi” is a word that has also been adopted by Cebuanos (because it’s easier to say). Salisi is also called “Tiempo” (timing, because it all depends on precise timing). The video below shows how at least three people conspired to misdirect the victim’s attention: a guy bumps the victim’s table, spilling his drink, forcing him to look up in the other direction while the woman behind him swipes his bag and passes it to the third thief who passes the item into his backpack for the win:

Sometimes, a perpetrator does a solo salisi operation. This one below happened when a man left his vehicle, engine running, unlocked at Osmeña Boulevard three years ago. The boy made “salisi” (grabbed the chance while the car owner was away).

Salisi Boy

Chief Insp. David Señor, head of the Cebu City Police Station 2, said most of his victims would not think he is a thief because of his angelic and mestizo features. (Image from Cebu Daily News.)

People tend to trust the decent and innocent-looking (and English-speaking). That’s the image perps will be going for. When you’re going out, never forget to lock your vehicle door. Always. If yours is a motorcycle, it can be stolen too. Back in 2014, Cebu City Police Office (CCPO) Police Community Relations chief, Chief Inspector Enrique Belciña, advised to double-lock your motorcycle at the parking area. Lock the disc brake – better, have it chained. You’ll thank yourself later on. Perps can also do salisi on unlocked condos.

Even offices and hospitals are not spared salisi operations. In 2014 two medical secretaries, at the Perpetual Succour Hospital, lost their cellphones which they placed on their tables. Needless to say, never feel confident of leaving your cellphones on a table in a public place.


“Blood-Blood”. This modus targets housemaids and helpers left alone in their employers’ homes. The perps call on the phone and pretend to be the househelp’s bosses, or somebody who has come across their bosses, who are injured, badly needing cash (or jewelry to sell) for the emergency.

In their desire to help, it’s the hapless househelp who is charged with qualified theft.

These are still indirect methods. If these don’t work, criminals might then switch to direct robbery. If that happens, be careful and never struggle with your valuables. They can always be replaced. But your life cannot.