What we are about to tell you is not the plot of a crime-thriller film. It’s a real-life experience, and it’s as disturbing and gripping as the best fiction out there. Did you know one could practically just disappear in the Philippines? We’re not talking about detaching from people, and spending time for oneself. We mean disappear—as in fake one’s own death.
An old article by The Telegraph, published on December 14, 2017, titled, “Faking your own death: How the Philippines became the global leader for a macabre trade,” has resurfaced from the limitless storage space that is the internet.
The article’s resurrection intriguingly comes on the heels of news of the death of Jaybee Sebastian, a high-profile criminal with strong links to prison drug trade. He testified against Justice Secretary Leila de Lima in 2016. According to reports, he died of complications due to COVID-19 on Saturday. His remains were immediately cremated on the same day, a protocol for COVID-19 cases. Netizens—and theory-loving citizens—have expressed their suspicions on the nature of his death. As of press time, no evidence has been presented that he died of any other cause other than the circulating virus.
But the timing of the events could just be a coincidence. So let’s go back to The Telegraph piece.
The article was a feature on a book by Elizabeth Greenwood called, Playing Dead: A Journey Through the World of Death Fraud (2016). In it, Greenwood recalled how she came across the idea to write about the subject, and how she succeeded in its execution.
One day, according to the article, Greenwood told a companion about her student loans, and the companion joked that she should just disappear and fake her death to escape the burden. The idea intrigued the writer, and this led her to an extensive research streak, which led her to the Philippines.
She also spoke to life insurance consultants, who told her that the Philippines was a great place to fake-die. Reasons for going through this morbid process may vary from escaping debts to escaping wives, the article said.
Greenwood visited the Philippines, stayed for a week and got herself her own death certificate from locals, who had connections with “a mole working inside a government agency.” The black market even sells dead bodies to use as proof of death for the insurance companies, Greenwood said.
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Unfortunately, Greenwood told The Telegraph, foreigners who are caught doing this illegal act, don’t really get jail time because it is done on foreign soil: “Getting international police departments to collaborate is costly and challenging. Often the only punishment is the [insurance] claim being denied.”
The cost to fake your own death may vary, too, from GBP100 to GBP350 (around PhP6,000 to PhP21,000). “Clients” may also hire a fixer whose asking price may climb up to GBP20,000 (around PhP1.2 million), a package that includes the removal of all traces of your past life, and the creation of a new identity.
According to Greenwood, the reason the clients usually get caught is fairly human: “They just can’t cut ties to their old lives.”
That should be enough reason to push the idea aside. Let’s just leave the fake deaths to experts like Jason Bourne, and you know, the movies.