‘Dirty Entanglements’ | Inquirer Opinion
Kris-Crossing Mindanao

‘Dirty Entanglements’

/ 04:05 AM December 02, 2019

In the book, “Dirty Entanglements: Corruption, Crime and Terrorism,” (Cambridge University Press, 2014), Louise I. Shelley describes at length how the web of corruption becomes an “incubator of organized crime and terrorism.”

Shelley is the director and founder of the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center and a university professor at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University in Virginia. She is widely known as a leading expert on the relationships among terrorism, organized crime and corruption, including human trafficking and illicit financial flows such as money laundering.


The dirty entanglements that Shelley describes include mainly the intricate web of relationships within weakly governed states that give rise to, or in her words, “incubate organized crime and terrorism.” She also argues that the absence of governance is not conducive to crime and terrorism — it is rather the debilities in running a government that entice crime syndicates and terrorist groups to push with their illicit agenda.

Among organized crimes included in this book is the illegal drug trade. For Shelley, “it is the profit center of criminals and terrorists…. and the interactions of criminals and terrorists are most pronounced in fragile states and conflict regions. Acts of terrorism occur more often in poorly governed rather than failed states, the latter are quite inhospitable to terrorists and criminals…”


A failed state, like a country run by a megalomaniac dictator, is run like a criminal organization. (Think of Uganda in the time of Idi Amin, for example.) That is why a failed state can be harsher to its own kind: criminal syndicates vie for control of the turfs where they operate.

Bringing Shelley’s analogy further, if corruption is an incubator for organized crime and terrorism, then weak governance provides the laboratory for engendering corruption.

A government that is run like a family corporation or as a system of rewarding sycophants who are vociferous in their praises to the elected head of state creates multitudes of petri dishes that nurture rent-seeking behavior and relationships, like that of a political patron and his or her bootlickers.

In a study on the illegal drug trade in Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur that I co-wrote with Steven Schoofs, (Chapter 3, “Out of the Shadows: Violent Conflict and the Real Economy of Mindanao,” Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2016 ed), we noted that the illegal drug trade exists in the two provinces as well as in the rest of the country within the purview of the state.

The state, as represented by the two local governments that were the contexts of our study, as well as the entire bureaucratic milieu where the illicit drug trade happens, manifested a wide range of weaknesses that have provided an attractive window of opportunity for drug trafficking to flourish.

In confluence with weak governance, abject poverty also becomes an enabler of the illicit drug economy. It becomes a source of a rather dangerous coping mechanism for impoverished people to feed their families. Lanao del Sur continues to be among the Philippines’ poorest provinces, at 73.7 percent poverty rate in early 2018 (exacerbated by the consequences of the Marawi siege of 2017). Maguindanao has improved its poverty situation over the years, but is still among the country’s poorest provinces, with a poverty incidence of 53.1 percent in 2018.

While many people in these provinces are dirt poor, their political leaders exhibit affluent and opulent lifestyles that are in keeping with their “entanglements” with powerful national leaders.


Our study also described how local politicians resort to receiving protection money from drug lords (or they are themselves the drug lords) and use this as a currency to leverage more expansive and abusive political power.

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TAGS: corruption, crime, Illegal drugs, Kris-Crossing Mindanao, Rufa Guiam, terrorism
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