The criminalization of politicians in PH

Raymund E. Narag, PhD

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Like criminals, politicians usually see themselves as victims when their career goes awry

The barangay (village) elections held on Oct 28, 2013 resulted in at least 42 deaths.

A former local village chief who killed 3 of his siblings opposed to his candidacy banners this horror. These tragic events capture how politicians and criminals can be one and the same in the Philippines.

Looking closely at the political dynamics, one can easily see how politicians – despite their best and noble intentions – are criminalized.

The structural conditions of the village (even a town, city, or province) are fertile grounds for this criminalization process. These structural conditions induce the creation of “criminogenic” narratives that rationalize a politician’s behavior.

Much like a criminal, a politician can easily justify the use of violence and other corrupt practices as part of his or her trade. As this practice becomes regularized and normalized, a subculture of corruption and violence develops.

Collectively, local politicians are then socialized to this subculture: they have to be familiar with its unstated rules and to navigate it shrewdly in order to have political longevity. The longer they cling to their political career, the more they become fully criminalized. This political dynamics in turn keeps the structural conditions in the local villages, towns, cities and provinces in place. 

Structural conditions

The structural conditions of poverty and social inequality, political ignorance among the electorate, and the inherent weaknesses of the electoral and criminal justice system of the country provide a plethora of criminogenic narratives that can be employed by local politicians.

First, with 25% of the adult population being unemployed, incidence of hunger and homelessness affect majority of the electorate. Coupled with their lack of education, local politicians know fully well that, if they don’t buy the votes of the electorate, other politicians will buy the votes anyway. This is similar to the narrative of a drug dealer: “If I don’t deal drugs, other dealers will deal anyway.”

Second, the sporadic and haphazard implementation of election laws and the selective and particularistic application of the criminal justice system provide local politicians with legally cynical narratives. For example, they know fully well that “it is okay to break the law as long as they are not caught, and, if they are caught, they can bribe their way out.”

They know fully well that their access to the higher level dispensers of political power is the key: they can have election cheating charges filed against them and dismissed by a sympathetic Comelec officer whom they had developed relations with, or a murder charge dismissed by a judge under their payroll.

Local politicians know fully well that they should project an image that they are law-abiding, that they follow the rules. In fact, the shrewdest of them employ the best lawyers, accountants, and media propagandists to counter any potential attacks by other local politicians out to discredit them in public. However, like a drug syndicate, they will not be shy to employ the same criminal tactics to discredit their opponents if the opportune time arises: file electoral and criminal charges, harass supporters, and even physically liquidate their opponents.

Local politicians develop this dual acumen: the capability to project a formal narrative of being a pro-poor, anti-corrupt politician on the one hand, and the capability to employ an informal Machiavellian narrative that it is okay to utilize tactics within their powers to win the next elections, on the other hand.


This is not to say that all local politicians employ these tactics. Like criminals, politicians metamorphose in their moral and criminal careers.

Some politicians may be innocently lured to join the political fray because of innate desires to serve the people. They soon discover, however, that to stay in power, they may need to employ the informal, hidden and criminal tactics. They may need to use their power to generate income from different sources, legal and otherwise, to buy votes for the next elections. They may need to develop temporary alliances with some political crooks who can provide them the best chance to stay in office and who could come to their aid when their equally crook-opponents expose their shenanigans. They may need to lobby for the appointment of their allies as judges and chiefs of police to shield them from future “political harassment.”

They realize: they may need to do these just to stay in power.

This process becomes self-selective. Those who cannot stomach the process leave and rediscover the benefits of a peaceful civilian life. Those who choose to stay degenerate to become hardened political crooks, who replicate themselves by grooming their next of kin, and conjure more criminogenic narratives to make their stay in political office palatable to the public.

They will say, “this building was constructed by the political dynasty of so and so,” developing a narrative that they are pro-poor and anti-corruption. But in fact, they are depriving the poor of real services and firmly ingraining themselves in corrupt politics.

Philippine politics

This is the bleak scenario of Philippine politics, where black propaganda, vote-buying, cheating, and violence is the norm. It has become so personalized that politicians kill their own siblings upon defeat. It systematically corrupts the best and the brightest. It has developed a subculture where corruption and violence is a fact of life. In return, it keeps the people ignorant and in poverty, and the electoral and criminal justice system even more compromised. 

Like the criminal life, political life is thrilling and seductive. Political life has its allures. Like the drug dealers with their flashy cars and titillating dresses, politicians have front row seats in the expensive nightclubs. They are socially adorned. They are made godparents during weddings. 

The sad fact is politicians are criminalized, and they do not even know it. Like criminals, they do not know that they are slowly but surely selling their souls to the devil.

And like criminals, they usually see themselves as victims when their career has gone awry. They will never admit that they willingly participated in their own demise. –

Raymund E. Narag is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice of the Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

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