Country Listing

Philippines Table of Contents



Despite some improvement in law and order, crime remained a major problem through the end of the 1980s. Police attributed the country's chronic crime problems to a variety of social and cultural factors. Widespread poverty and rapid population growth were frequently cited. Population pressures and a shortage of land and jobs in rural areas had produced a steady internal migration to the cities. This urbanization of a traditionally agrarian society was commonly mentioned as cause for increased crime rates. In particular, police pointed to the rapid growth of urban slum and squatter areas; more than 25 percent of the population of Metro-Manila (see Glossary) were thought to be squatters in the late 1980s (see Migration , ch. 2). Widespread possession of firearms--including automatic rifles--was another factor contributing to crime. Undisciplined private armies, usually maintained by local politicians and wealthy families, and numerous organized crime gangs were the biggest violators of firearms laws. The communist and Muslim insurgencies compounded the problem of proliferating guns and violence. Piracy and smuggling also were thriving criminal industries, especially in the southern portions of the archipelago.

According to the police, the incidence of serious crime escalated through the early 1980s, from approximately 250 crimes per 100,000 population in 1979, to a sustained level of around 310 during 1984 through 1987, then declined in 1988 and 1989. In 1988 the crime rate dipped below 300 crimes per 100,000 people, then fell dramatically in 1989 to 251 crimes per 100,000 citizens. Because of differing reporting practices and degrees of coverage, it was difficult to compare Philippine crime rates to those of other countries.

Government officials attributed the decrease in crime to improved police work, but economic conditions appeared to be as important. The deterioration in law and order during the early and mid-1980s accompanied a steadily worsening economy, whereas the improvement in the late 1980s paralleled renewed economic growth under Aquino. Not surprisingly, crime rates were highest in major urban areas, where unemployment was the highest. Regionally, peninsular southern Luzon, the western Visayan islands, and portions of Mindanao--impoverished rural areas where insurgents were active--had the most criminal activity in the mid-1980s.

Drug use and trafficking were growing problems during the 1980s, particularly in marijuana. Cultivation was geographically widespread, but the mountainous portions of northern Luzon and the central Visayas were the major marijuana-growing centers. During the late 1980s, another drug, methamphetamine, was fast becoming a narcotics problem. Known locally as shabu, it had generally been smuggled into the country, but domestic production expanded sharply in 1989 to meet growing demand. Coca cultivation was not significant in 1989, and there was no evidence of opium poppy cultivation or heroin manufacture.

The Philippines remained a center of drug trafficking and transshipment. Cannabis growers exported their product to Hong Kong, Japan, Australia, and the United States, and Philippine waters were routinely used by other smugglers as a transshipment point for Southeast Asian marijuana bound for North America. Manila's Ninoy Aquino International Airport, too, was used for transhipment of heroin and marijuana destined for Guam, Australia, Europe, and the United States. Production and trafficking of illegal drugs was accomplished by a variety of domestic and foreign criminal groups, notably Australian, American, and ethnic Chinese Filipinos. Communist insurgents also were involved in marijuana cultivation.

Corruption remained a serious problem in the early 1990s, and its elimination was one of the government's most vexing challenges. Despite persistent efforts, petty graft was commonplace, and high-level corruption scandals periodically rocked the government. As part of its continuing efforts to weed out official malfeasance, the government maintained a special anticorruption court, known as the Sandiganbayan.

Other government initiatives targeted corruption, crime, and terrorism. Peace and Order Councils at the national, regional, and provincial level were rejuvenated under Aquino. By regularly bringing together responsible government, military, and community leaders, the government hoped to improve the effectiveness of its anticrime and counterinsurgency programs. AFP and police commanders also attempted to address the problems of internal corruption and abuse, which, they admitted, undermined public confidence in, and cooperation with, the security forces. Top military leaders routinely publicized retraining programs, the discharge and demotion of scalawags in the ranks, and other measures designed to improve discipline. The military also mounted a counternarcotics effort, spearheaded by the constabulary's Narcotics Command. Government agents more than doubled arrests during 1989 and eradicated millions of marijuana plants, but they still found it difficult to keep pace with the growing drug trade.

Data as of June 1991

Country Listing

Philippines Table of Contents