A broad range of causes, from lovelessness to poverty and even climate, have been blamed in the effort to explain criminality, with which the human race has been afflicted since a caveman ran off with someone else’s hunk of meat — or, if you prefer, since Cain killed Abel.

Studies in countries such as the US tend to prove that most criminals had troubled childhoods which include being beaten or fatherless in a broken home, for instance. But poverty usually heads the list of the alleged reasons why individuals commit crimes, or end up living lives of crime. As for climate, winter in temperate zone countries is usually a low crime season, plunging temperatures and snow not being conducive to rape, or to robbing a liquor store or service station. Among the fears over global warming is a spike in crime in temperate countries as winters become less severe.

There being no winter to speak of in the Philippines, relief from crime through falling temperatures is out of the question; a Pacquiao fight, during which crime drops to zero in most cases, is a more reliable deterrent to thieves, carjackers, rapists, kidnappers and holdup artists, who’re apparently more interested in how badly Manny will beat up his ring opponents than in making off with someone’s Toyota.

But Pacquiao can’t have a fight everyday, and for the rest of the year the crimes continue. Whatever the Philippine National Police say, crimes are perceived to be on the increase, which, after the holidays, makes perverse sense: like the rest of us, criminals too spend in December, except that they have different means of recovering from it.

The Global Peace Index, which measures the state of peace in 149 countries, puts the Philippines at 130th place, thus confirming what most citizens suspect, but which the PNP denies. That ranking is ten places behind the country’s previous rank, and puts it in the company of Ethiopia (127th), India, (128th), Yemen (129th) and Burundi (130th). The Philippines is also behind — sometimes way behind — its Southeast Asian neighbors Malaysia (22nd), Singapore (30th), Vietnam (38th), Indonesia (67th), Cambodia (111th), and Thailand (124th).

While the GPI does include internal conflict among the factors it considers in rating countries, in the Philippine case rising criminality was a major issue; the GPI report noted that the incidence of violent crime in the Philippines is high in many areas, and that armed guards have to be hired to keep criminals at bay. Kidnap for ransom, the report also said, is also common.

Most Filipinos already know all this, and are even resigned to hearing and reading about kidnappings and other violent crimes, but in recent weeks have been jolted by the sense that the number of crimes have not only risen, they’ve also become more violent, more barbaric. At least two used car dealers have been brutally killed. After a six month lull, another journalist was recently shot dead, adding to a list of 115 killed for their work, most of whose murders have not been solved.

The key phrase is “not solved,” which in the Philippines seems to be the rule about crime rather than the exception. Whatever the root causes of crime may be — whether poverty or greed, a culture of easy money, skewed morals, or whatever — exemption from punishment is at the least among the factors that encourage crime and criminality. For that the failures of the justice system, starting with the police incapacity to seek out perpetrators and build the cases against them that will stand in court, must take the blame. Indeed, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) ranks “effective strength of law enforcement agencies” and “administrative and investigative emphases of law enforcement” among the factors that can help discourage crime.

In the Philippine setting, police involvement in crimes — in drug dealing, kidnapping, rape and torture, among others — is also a major factor in police inability to investigate and apprehend perpetrators. The involvement of policemen can range from collusion with criminals to protecting individual criminals and syndicates to themselves being the brains and muscle behind certain crimes.

In the killing of journalists, for example, police officers as well as military men figure prominently among the suspected killers or even masterminds. Public and media attention over the recent killing of car dealers has included charges that the police have been protecting carjacking gangs and syndicates and/or are themselves gang members. Add to these the usual complaint that the police are badly trained and the country ends up with a lethal brew of high crime rates and increasingly brutal crimes.

The cost goes far beyond the violence and fear, which are bad enough, that curse nearly every community. Order and the rule of law are crucial to the survival of every society. But the lawlessness and anarchy that, to begin with, are evident in the streets are beginning to characterize much of Philippine society. Restoring the death penalty won’t reverse it; only effective law enforcement and a justice system that penalizes the guilty and exonerates the innocent will.

Unfortunately, that’s as much of a tall order as social justice is, as things now stand in the country of our afflictions. It will take more than tough talk to halt the country’s descent into chaos, of which rising criminality is but an indicator. The reform of the damaged institutions of Philippine governance, such as the police and the justice system, would only be the beginning, and would be as dangerous as it would be difficult. The alternative, however, is the country’s joining the ranks of those failed and fallen states where criminal gangs rule, pirates roam the coasts, and governments rise and fall weekly.

The country’s leadership, such as it is, should also take note that in addition to rising criminality, uniquely among the countries of Southeast Asia except Burma, the Philippine government’s capacity to govern has also been seriously undermined by the centers of warlord power that have proliferated in the last decade and over which the central government has little control. This isn’t the least of its problems, and neither is criminality.


Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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  1. With criminality getting more violent and high profile crimes increasing, who is really responsible for reducing the crime incidents such as these?

    We know the buck stops with Noynoy. But who below him is really responsible? Robredo? Puno? The PNP Chief?

    Still confused.

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