Tribulations of Living in a Blackout Nation

last year

As several here know I live in one of the countries with currently among the harshest War on Drugs on this planet: the Philippines.

Also part of what may historically go down as the “Crazy Electoral 2016 Year”, the country which was in a slow but gradual political evolution and finding always more “political maturity” quickly reverted evolution as the bad boy from the South, Rodrigo Duterte, announced his candidacy and would go on to win the presidential elections by a landslide.

Campaigning with rude, rather impossible rape jokes and, of course, his war on drugs.

Without going too much in to detail about that, media outlets large and small have done all that numerous times already, let’s have a look at what it means from a more practical angle for the casual toker.

For us smokers.

Toking is About to Change

Until before the new administration took over, it wasn’t uncommon to smell weed around the streets of the major cities — with the exception of Davao City, ruled by the Duterte family. I remember arriving here and via friends getting weed at what would probably be one of the most obvious places to expect to find it. A real treasure for cops, but generally the attitude was lax.

People would smoke rather openly in the streets, at least public streets. Not everyone may realize that but in lesser developed parts of the world many “public areas” are actually private land owned by a mega corporation who developed complete cities on those. Same applies to many subdivisions, which are often “gated communities” with own security. The situation in those communities, technically private land, is often depending on the policies of the security company and, of course, also the attitude of the property management company. Or otherwise known as YMMV.

Where I initially lived, a typical Asian “resort style residence”, smoking on the balcony wasn’t an issue and never did anyone make any reflection about it.

It was also easy to find paraphernalia. Papers were available at “popup kiosks” in malls, most also had one hit pipes and we had few headshops, who stocked the usual bongs and other equipment. With a little bit of luck you could even find a honey collector but most often the offerings would revolve around more traditional bongs.

Marijuana was still illegal after all.

In the province, particularly on smaller isles, it was common to smell weed and easy to find dealers. Often much higher quality than what was available to most in Manila where nugs were premium.

Then everything changed, almost over night, when the new Duterte administration took over. In the run up to the change of administration the attitude of the police had changed already as they were obviously gearing up to serve the new ruler. Several cities had published what degree of severity could be expected and how lenient — not — the local squads would behave. Luckily I live in a city with a more laisser-faire attitude but one shouldn’t take that for granted nor totally rely on it because federal agencies can still act locally. Some other cities in the Metropole, like Quezon City and Manila itself, became a war field over night and as soon as the new administration was in position the body count shot up.



But something else was taking place as well. Aside from several dealers turning themselves in, often hoping for leniency or out of fear given the new ruthless approach, and others disappearing - alive or not - stores started to change.

Skins suddenly disappeared from the shelves, even the rather rarely found imported rolling tobacco was soon unavailable. Because, obviously, lowly funded police squads had discovered the detective ingenuity that somebody who buys king size papers could be a drug user. Same with one hitters.

And Duterte didn’t make any distinction between users and dealers. In fact, most of his campaigning revolved around the hardship users (mostly the local meth variant shabu) caused on their family. In his rhetoric it was a recurring theme that it was OK to kill users in order to make the lives of their family members better.

As long as there was any form of drugs connection it was ok. Just add it to the headcount, alternatively if marijuana related... 12 to 18 years inside, at least if they didn't cause any opposition which would result in the morgue.

Buy Rizlas

For months now I have struggled obtaining king size skins. Because of the problems explained above. Naturally, I could have purchased them online and get them delivered to... the customs office at the post office.

Which, depending on whom worked, would only reiterate the problem and put anyone at risk because parcels need to be opened at the customs office by the receiver.

Generally most (smaller) parcels shipped to the Philippines pass via the post office and have to be collected at the customs office. Only few, more professional merchants with higher volume will work with alternative shipping organizations who take care of customs and still deliver to the door. The most known shipping company used is Johnny Air.

As such I could have ordered them via, and have them shipped from the USA via their “delivered to your door in the Philippines” service, which passes through its own customs lane at the airport. Alternatively they also ship via so-called balikbayan boxes. A beautiful weekend hack startup which has provided a great service to the Philippines until Amazon not that long ago decided to also start shipping many of its items to the Philippines.

Yet, given the premium they charge I never made use of their service for things as small as skins.


Recently as I was casually browsing one of two large online marketplaces,, I came across this listing (see leadpic). It was one of many super sale days and I still had time limited vouchers to use.

Shopee, just like their Alibaba owned competitor Lazada, deliver to your door also products imported from overseas, without any customs involvement as the platform itself withholds import and custom fees when required. Which suddenly sounded absolutely interesting.

Skins, for affordable price, and free shipping when buying as little as $2 was a perfect deal to try out the products on offer and maybe, hopefully, solve an ongoing issue in this Duterte era. Because going to the head shop in a city an hour away is slightly too risky to me due to its public profile. Even though they have absolutely awesome bongs.

And just like that this morning my shipment arrived. Two packs of king-size papers: a pack of RAW papers and a pack of Hornet skins.

While the temptation to order a full box was big, this is Asia and large marketplaces, as well as typical local malls, suffer from large scale OEM items. Read: fakes.

Thus it is always wise to test first before going big.


Sadly enough this means an excessive amount of plastic used for what is a mini-parcel but sometimes there are no viable alternative options.

One thing I immediately spotted as I received my parcel was the products listed on the parcel label. There was no mention of RAW papers, which I thought was initially included in the product title. Or maybe I was just too giddy and eager and saw only the product images and the cheap price (around $1.2 for a pack of 32).

Obviously, I immediately knew what was happening and felt justified about my decision to opt for more plastic rather than spend more immediately and buy in bulk.

As soon as I opened the parcel, I felt vindicated.


Yet, this is Asia and we don’t only do crap fakes here. We do Class A OEM too, which only a brand specialist could recognize more often than not.

And despite one blatant oversight, these skins surely do look and feel the part. Both even have watermarks in the papers, real looking watermarks (more details in a future “Can I still roll an inside out joint after two years” post)

But the giveaway doesn’t require the “Made in China” sticker, no it was much easier to spot the #rawlife fake here.


None of both packs have any tips, unlike advertised in their product listing.

The more observant reader had also immediately spotted the lacking rubber on the RAW pack.

It looks like Amazon, via, is the route to go for skins for me. I do enjoy life, and freedom, too much to increase the risk of discovery and potentially 12 to 18 years because I went to the customs office. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

#philippines #legalizeit #warondrugs #paraphernalia

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Well, i hope things turn out good. It seems a very harsh situation for you, but i believe that there are loopholes always. We just have to trace them out. Even in this administrations, things can't change 180 degrees, there must be some good supply chain running.


Even in this administrations, things can't change 180 degrees

You may need to do some reading up about Rodrigo Duterte. Without having checked it, I'm going to guess that his Wikipedia page is highly interesting for those who don't know him.

There are options. I mentioned a headshop, but it's due to the culture of fear. Do you show color and come out if the risk is 12-18 years?


I know one thing about him and that is, he don't like luxury cars.


If yesterday’s elections go his way and he wins the Senate’s majority, then we get capital punishment back. For drugs.

Important to know: since the war on drugs not one large scale dealer has been arrested or killed. Not one. Noppes, nada, zilch... Zero.

Those cars? All smuggled in without taxes paid on them. Gotta give him he fights corruption, just don’t look too closely at his own activities.


Well, i still think, he could have figured out something better for the cars instead of just destroying them. Anyway, his govt his rules.


His an oppressive authoritarian. He's a by democracy elected dictator.

Such statements are made to instill fear.

Besides, who cares about overtly expensive climate changers. Those cars don't run 50 miles to the gallon either. Those cars only exemplify how we want to destroy everything because of our drive for always more.

Oh you've got interesting experiences over there on rolling papers....It was more relaxed before even at the time when the Philippines was under martial law in the seventies. But what is interesting to note is that the philippine made juicy jays flavored rolls and hemp wraps are still so popular in our kiosk here in Austria... I was surprised to see arrays of blunt wraps and Kingpin wraps made in the Phils.. in our local kiosk.. but there must be somewhere in Manila near you that offers skins...Huh! You probably need underground connections to get those local wraps. Hehehe..


That's the interesting evolution. Things went from super relaxed, ans even being a known manufacturer of paraphernalia, to total blackout.

I'm also going to take an additional guess: rolling gear, including papers and rolling tobacco, now falls under the same (luxury) regulations as cigars and thus is more expensive locally than when imported back and tax paid. But I will try to confirm that with people from Tabaqueria. They also mostly sell abroad only because it's just less hassle due to additional taxes and regulations.

PS: I don't smoke wraps so I'm not too bothered about those. I would be satisfied with easy access to something as basic as Silver Rizlas King Size or even Smoking Black Ultra Thin. Anything organic or Hemp based is preferred but not necessarily a must. Easy access first.

That is a pretty intense situation for getting rolling papers. Presidential term limits or is it beyond that ? Do they still make Juicy Hemp Wraps in the Philippines ?


Three more years to go. We mostly live in a culture of fear nowadays, so highest degree of precaution is required due to the gossip culture and crab mentality. Even more so as expat since we are the easiest targets and to many it seems there's ATM written on our forehead.

As things stand he wants to line up Marcos' son, but it could also become his daughter who is now mayor of Davao City.

Aside from the emotional anger Bong Marcos still instills in many people, he could actually become a decent president. I have had the opportunity to twice meet him at startup events and he seems both a smart cookie and is also intent on proving that his father's legacy doesn't necessarily mean he is bad too.

I do think they are still made locally but not made available on local market. Let me ask a friend who is active in cigars and mostly serves export market too.

I now actually discovered a local merchant who claims to be official distributor of RAW, Smoking, and also Juicy Jay's but only the flavored skins. RAW papers are actually categorized as corn snacks btw.

Will have to ask my friend as the ones you've smoked, and reviewed, seem to be under local blackout.

  ·  last year

Wow.....hardcore situation where you are ! Thanks for the educational post.


It's interesting how a war on drugs trickles down on seemingly futile details, causing a blackout type of situation.

That's crazy what you have to go through just for rolling papers. I guess people in the states don't know how good we got it compared to some countries. Good post.


Thanks. I specifically wanted to highlight how things such as a nutter becoming President can change situation and what it means for Jane and Joe Average who don’t want to go through the hassle of going through blackmarket discovery.

Knowing a dealer is rather common, although many aren’t anymore since Duterte. But something as simple as papers, which was before easy has now become a whole adventure.

I’m an expat so I prefer not to head to the headshop, snitching can be a viable thing for people. Hunger makes people behave weirdly. Just as a local cop may charge me $100 just to not bother filing a case.

At the same time, being an expat rather integrated in local life also means I am but an SMS away from getting anything. But I would rather not implicate anyone.

Addendum: Just opened the Guardian for morning reading and look what's on the homepage.