The True State of the Philippines: Crime in a Culture of Corruption
The Philippines government has long been ineffective at solving crimes, many of which are categorized as being heinous. Rampant crime has plagued practically all levels of Philippine society, and their occurrences have largely been attributed to the weak and useless systems that characterize the government, especially those mechanisms within it that are meant to address the crime problem.
The crime problem has taken its toll on the lifeblood of the nation’s socioeconomic situation. Crimes have tremendously affected the country’s economic growth. A large segment of our people has lost confidence in the law-enforcing agencies of government. Many fear that tragedy might suddenly strike them in broad daylight. Stories from the newspapers (particularly the tabloids) are sufficient to send tingles down the spine. One thing is certain: Filipino society is crime-ridden and the government is helpless at effectively checking and containing the already serious and increasingly more serious crime problem in the country.
Common Causes of Criminality
Common causes of criminality can be traced through sociological and behavioral studies of the human condition. It is a fact of life that crimes occur only in the human sphere, and social relations are therefore a major aspect in approaching the issue of criminality. With this point of departure, we can objectively mention some factors that have been identified by professional practitioners engaged in the study of criminality, among whom are psychologists, sociologists, criminologists and others.
1. Poverty. In a society like the Philippines, where poverty is a given, no second thought is needed to ascertain that in one way or another, poverty causes criminality. Crimes are committed in areas where the urban poor live, and their occurrence is quite regular. Poverty may not be strictly identified as a direct cause of crimes but certain circumstances brought forth by and within a situation of poverty cause them.
On the other hand, in the book, The Causes and Cures of Criminality, Eysenck and Gudjonsson claim that: “Many – if not most – sociological theories boil down to what might be called economic theories, i.e., crimes as a result of poverty, whether relative or absolute, deprivation, and similar economic causes. Although such theories have always had appeal, they do not accord with the facts.” This claim, backed up by figures based on thorough research studies, attempts to rebut the “theory” that poverty is a major cause of criminality. But the research studies were done in the context of an industrialized society where poverty is not prevalent. The fact is, in a society that is not generally poor, poverty cannot really be a major cause of criminality. Hence, the findings stressed by Eysenck and Gudjonsson cannot be applied, across the board, to practically all societies. What we only have to accept is the fact that poverty, in the context of poor countries like the Philippines, is a major cause of criminality. It is illogical, however, to conjecture that poverty is the only cause, considering the fact that other major causes are identifiable, many of which are bred in an environment that is characterized by the sharp features of poverty.
2. Abuse of Power. Another prominent cause of crime in Philippine society is somehow also related to our economic condition. It is not the type of crime perpetrated by people in a situation of poverty but one that terribly affects them. It exploits the economic weakness of the poor, and none but the poor are the unfortunate victims of its ravaging onslaught. This cause of crime is: abuse of power.
Abuse of power is routinely perpetrated by powerful government officials and law enforcers with a mandate to defend the rights of people and protect them from harm. Abuse of power is terribly serious in the Philippines. In most cases, crimes related to the abuse of power are not treated as crimes due to methods of circumventing the laws.
Every day newspaper banners report crimes committed by policemen and military personnel—hold-ups, kidnaps-for-ransom, murders, bank robberies, carjacking, etc. The crimes of these people are even more heinous than those committed by some poor, unknown and desperate criminals. Since the justice system in the country is so discouragingly defective, most of the time, powerful criminals are exonerated of their crimes, even those categorized as heinous. Meanwhile, the unknown, powerless poor suspects in lesser crimes are not given fair trials and thrown immediately in jail.
Effects of Criminality on the Economy
1. Widening Gap Between the Poor and the Rich. In view of the powerful people’s oppressive and exploitative attitude towards the poor and marginalized sectors of the Philippine society, crimes brought about by the abuse of power have tremendously affected the country’s economic situation. Oppression and exploitation in themselves are basically crimes that further manifest themselves as obvious criminal acts like property grabbing (which is actually robbery), property destruction and murder.
“This country is not only notoriously known for its systemic culture of corruption, but the Aquino administration is also being associated with the pervasive climate of violence.
“Notwithstanding press releases of the Philippine National Police (PNP) citing steady decline in the crime index, the Aquino administration will go down in history as the most crime-ridden government since the declaration of military rule in 1972.”
The crimes perpetrated by the powers that be are intended to perpetuate their status of power and to grab more opportunities for ascendancy and more wealth at the expense of the hapless poor. These crimes have continually concentrated the wealth of the nation in the hands of the small percentage of the Philippine society’s wealthy sector, while the big chunk of the people wallow in poverty. The poor are exploited and oppressed more and more, and the gap between the poor and the rich continues to widen.
2. Inability to Industrialize Nationally. A desperate act of the powers that be in their desire to concentrate more wealth and opportunity into their hands is the utilization of huge capitalization from big foreign investors. By pushing the poor against the wall of further poverty, the powers that be have gained access to the manipulation of the country’s economic resources for the benefit of foreign investors, who in turn have given the local capitalists the upper hand to engineer a devastating blow to national industrialization.
For the interest of foreign business investments, crimes have to be committed to convert and transform farmlands into industrial estates. “Legal” robbery, which is actually land-grabbing, has to be effected, and stubborn farmers who defy the will of government officials (who act as brokers for foreign capitalists) are summarily executed, i.e., “salvaged” in the local slang.
Industrialization is basically good, but it has to be initiated and implemented for the national interest. The failure to do so by accommodating the exploitative schemes of foreign interests is a crime worse than treason.
Reasons Why Law Enforcement Institutions are Ineffective at Solving Crime and Controlling the Rising Tide of Criminality
The number of government law enforcement agencies and institutions is simply mind boggling. In theory, crimes should have long been controlled and solved, given the presence of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and its elite Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG); the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI); the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), and the intelligence arms of the major commands of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). In practice, it is disgusting to know that what has been going on is the opposite. Myriads of crimes go unsolved, and the crime situation has never been truly contained. This is basically due to several factors.
1. Corrupt and Incompetent Law Enforcers. Many law enforcers are corrupt and therefore unqualified. They are part and parcel of the corrupt government system. Since they serve the interest of their corrupt patrons, they acquire from the latter the same character of corruption. At worst, they themselves function as criminals in the performance of their duties as protectors of their evil patrons. This is why the people have lost confidence in law enforcers, particularly the police.
2. Lack of Cooperation Between the Public and the Law Enforcers. The situation of corruption has led to a lack of cooperation with law enforcers. The government’s Department of Justice keeps calling on people to cooperate with law enforcement agencies, with the promise and assurance of protection. But the people don’t bite at the idea because of a lack of trust.
3. Confused Roles of Various Law Enforcement Agencies. Even if law enforcement agencies were morally upright, another serious problem would hinder the speedy solution of crimes. When there was not yet a PNP, the NBI was traditionally tasked with criminal cases that cut across provincial borders. With the establishment of the PNP, the jurisdiction to handle criminal cases exactly the same as that of the NBI has likewise been given to the police. This whole arrangement has created a confusing situation that in many instances has put NBI agents and PNP officers in conflicting lines of authority.
4. Government’s Lack of Interest to Solve Crimes. Because of government’s focus on power-base expansion and politicking, it has given the national crime situation a low-priority, and this is a pathetic scenario: solid proof that the government is insincere about its mission to serve and help the people, especially the poor.
This is the true state of the Philippines as a nation. We are governed by corrupt leaders whose major agenda are their own personal vested interests. We have law enforcement agencies and institutions whose major task is to protect and defend the corrupt leaders of the country and in the process perpetuate the system of corruption. Because of these conditions, criminality has proliferated and will continue to proliferate in the next generations. The whole situation has put common Filipinos at great economic disadvantage, and poverty is here to stay “’til kingdom come.” Hopeless? Who holds the key to the most sensible answer?
Editor’s Note: Ruel F. Pepa is a retired university academic in the fields of philosophy and cultural studies. He was born and raised and spent most of his life in the Philippines. He is currently based in Madrid, Spain. Photographs one, two, four, six and eight by Audio Visual Junkie. Photographs seven, nine, ten and eleven by Joe Sullivan.