Explaining Duterte’s views on Filipino criminality

The consistency and resoluteness of his acts will earn him more admiration. Filipinos understand and share these philosophies of punishment. They concur with the idea that pain is the only thing that a Filipino criminal will understand, that civility and decency are currently immaterial.

They also concur to the view that the Philippine criminal justice system is slow, inefficient and corrupt. To trust this liberal elitist system, with its trappings of niceties, will only perpetuate an iniquitous system.

For most Filipinos, they are ready to go for the jugular – to swiftly destroy the system, to hastily kill the corrupt, and to start from scratch. President Duterte captures that imagination, his rambling rhetoric aside, and consistently reinforced these notions by his many symbolic acts – cursing the Commission on Human Rights every time an addict rapes and kills children, lambasting due process advocates every time a criminal escapes from prison, lampooning critics who question his methodologies as dilawan. For ordinary Filipinos fully convinced of his philosophies, these are swift responses from a strong, dedicated and morally upright President.

Reality check

But can the President really eradicate crime, drug use and trade, corruption, and terrorism using these approaches?

Theoretically, it is possible. By going all out in its many wars, the President, with his minion of volunteers, could possibly eradicate drug use and trade. Grudgingly, drug use in the villages is down. However, it will be quite difficult to measure the impact on street crime (example, robbery snatching) corruption and terrorism.

But even if there are temporal gains, the issue really is: will this be sustainable in the long run? Only time will tell.

But if one wants to venture on an educated guess, one must look at positivist criminology, which the President characterizes as “soft” and “misguided.” Positivist criminology suggests that 
criminal acts, drug use, corruption and terrorism, have biological, psychological, and social causes, and to address these issues effectively, one must first address the root causes of the problems. For example, low IQ, maladjusted personalities, dysfunctional families, poverty, lack of education, lack of employment, and disorganized communities are more likely to result to drug use, criminal behavior, corruption, and terrorism involvement.

Positivist criminology suggests that while the government must punish the behavior of the offender, the government must also address the factors that lead them to drug use, crime, corruption, and terrorism in the first place.

This entails pouring of resources in the front-end of the social system – building schools, hospitals, and communities and creating jobs, rather than chasing them at the tail-end – killing them, or putting them to jail and prisons. This also requires respect to the tenets of human rights and due process, so that the criminal justice system will function judiciously and equitably.

Present alternatives

However, this approach will take time, probably decades, to achieve its goals. It also requires empowering the criminal justice system the right way – through structural (higher pay, more police, less overcrowded jails and prisons, etc.), organizational (skills training, computer literacy, data analysis, etc.) and cultural (professionalism, gender sensitivity, respect for ethnic diversity, etc.) interventions.

Despite his ramblings, the President has articulated his understanding of the Filipino criminality.

Critics must not center their criticism on his incoherent ramblings; the Filipino masses understand and fully support the substance of his views. It is based on the solid philosophies of retribution and deterrence, philosophies of punishment that continue to capture the imagination of millions of people worldwide due to their moral and utilitarian appeals.

Critics should offer alternatives, which could be drawn from the wealth of positivist criminology – which evidence suggests has long-lasting and more enduring impact on crime, drug use, corruption and terrorism.

An educated and humble articulation of the alternatives hopefully can persuade an angry nation who had been fed up with the pretensions and niceties of an elitist society. – Rappler.com


Raymund Narag is a Filipino criminologist dedicated to the understanding of Filipino criminal behavior and to development of  appropriate responses to criminal acts. He currently teaches criminology in Southern Illinois University Carbondale.