The culture of crime that pervades Philippine society

11 November 2003

Find that merely following the rules will get you nowhere in the Philippines?

This may be a quaint observation at first akin to finding that nobody really observes -- or respects -- pedestrian crossings or "Stop" signs around here. But think again. Why spend taxpayer funds putting up those signs if they were not meant to be followed? The inconsistency of and jocularity of application of rules at this level further comes to light when one notices there are different classes of, say, "No Parking" signs (arranged in order of escalating perceived seriousness):

1. "No Parking" hand-painted on a makeshift signboard;
2. "No Parking" rendered on international standard dimensions, colours and fonts on a proper signboard;
3. "Strictly no parking" hand-painted on a makeshift signboard; and,
4. "Strictly no parking" rendered on international standard dimensions, colours and fonts on a proper signboard.

Between the above types there will probably be a continuum of other ways of expressing parking prohibitions (or for that matter most other traffic ordinances) in the Philippines. If we cannot even design and apply traffic ordinances consistently think now and wonder how it is that we will find the wherewithal to design and enact consistently the other laws of the land.

Can we blame our law enforcement personnel for being woefully impotent at doing their jobs?

Crime is the commission of an act forbidden by law. In the Philippines, expressedly written statements that limit or prescribe individual actions in the interest of the common good -- i.e. laws -- from the lowliest traffic ordinances to the highest mitigations against economic plunder are routinely and blatantly flouted by Filipinos of all economic class and social status.

In this regard, a culture of crime pervades Philippine society.

All with nonchalant impunity from the bottom of the pecking order to the top: humble jeepney drivers thumb their noses at traffic ordinances, families build entire houses on public property and other lands they are not entitled to, retailers sell pirated intellectual property at high-end market facilities, entrepeneurs build high walls around their mansions to conceal their illicit warehousing activities, megastars evade taxation with a smile, and we elect our leaders to office fully expecting them to "recover" their campaign investment within their terms of office.

Calixto Chikiamko in a Manila Times article wrote:

Extortion culture is accepted by the public as being the norm in Philippine politics. Indeed, we can be pretty inventive in describing the extortion prevalent in our political culture. For example, the term 'AC/DC' does not mean alternating current or direct current to most Filipinos, but 'attack, collect; defend, collect,' which is a sophisticated way of saying some politicians know how to make a living by attacking and defending.

So prevalent is the extortion culture in our politics that it's not only those rightist, high government officials who exhibit it, but the Philippine leftist rebels too. Under the guise of collecting 'revolutionary taxes,' leftist rebels are also into extortion activities. Don't pay 'revolutionary taxes' and either they burn your equipment or threaten your life.

Presidents have to personally oversee law enforcement. Presidents routinely parade criminal suspects pre-trial. What happened to the concept of innocent until proven guilty? High-profile crimes are given "deadlines" to solve by no less than the President. So if Juan de la Cruz's daughter gets raped and murdered by her uncle, will the cops sit around until a President comes around to order them work the case?

And then we collectively go off each year to celebate the replacement of presidents extra-constitutionally. This one simply takes the cake. We had in recent memory removed a president in a blatant disregard of constitutionally-prescribed procedure and installed a new president who then proceeded to govern by virtue of the very same Constitution that her ascent to power had trampled upon!

Marco Garrido in an October 2003 Asia Times Online article made a timely assessment of Pinoy-style democracy in light of the move of Congress to impeach Chief Justice Hilario Davide. The article titled "Philippines: Between democracy and disaster" highlights a chilling implication on the future of our nation in this short passage:

True, the House ultimately respected the Supreme Court's decision, and thus, one could say, upheld the rule of law, but had the pro-impeachment forces [garnered] greater moral support, it is not unimaginable that they would have imposed their will despite the law - and legalized their move after the fact. One need not even imagine it; one need only recall the events that installed Arroyo as president in 2001.

How then do we expect a criminal government to govern?

Fret not as it was a people who live by a culture of crime who have set up such a government in the first place.

Vehicle license plates ought to be the primary export of the Philippines.

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Marcos loot: still out there. Being happy with US$684 million when there is still billions out there is just another example of the culture of mediocrity that rules the Filipino's destiny.

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