Illinois, PH | Inquirer Opinion
Pinoy Kasi

Illinois, PH

/ 09:36 PM December 13, 2011

Filipinos weary of corrupt officials might find consolation (albeit consuelo de bobo or a fool’s consolation) by looking to the state of Illinois, where some 1,500 government officials have been convicted on corruption charges during the last 40 years.

And if we are sick and tired of corrupt presidents, note that four Illinois governors have been convicted and sent to jail.  Actually, six Illinois governors were charged with crimes but only four were convicted.


In the 1970s Dan Walker was convicted for taking out fraudulent loans to himself from a bank he owned. He was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment.  Walker’s predecessor, Otto Kerner, was convicted in 1973 on 17 counts of bribery, conspiracy, perjury and income-tax charges.  He was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment and ordered to pay a $50,000 fine.

George Ryan was convicted in 2006 of corruption committed while he was Illinois’ secretary of state.  In exchange for bribes, Ryan issued commercial driver’s licenses to unqualified truckers and one trucker involved in the corruption had a car crash that killed six children.  Ryan is still serving out a seven-year sentence.


The latest to fall was Rod Blagojevich, who was still in office when evidence of wrongdoing surfaced.  He was impeached in 2009, then tried and found guilty of 18 felony counts of corruption when he was still in office.  Last week he was sentenced to 14 years in prison.

I should just quote here from the US Department of Justice’s statement on some of the charges of which Blagojevich was found guilty: “. . . his effort in 2008 to illegally trade the appointment of a United States Senator in exchange for $1.5 million in campaign contributions or other personal benefits . . . shaking down the chief executive of a children’s hospital for $25,000 in campaign contributions in exchange for implementing an increase to pediatric reimbursement rates; holding up the signing of a bill to benefit the Illinois horse racing industry in an attempt to illegally obtain $100,000 in campaign contributions; and lying to the FBI in 2005.”

Reading the statement the first time, the charges do seem formidable, and yet when you think about it, similar forms of extortion-type “influence-peddling” are done all the time in the Philippines, except maybe with more finesse, and through intermediaries.

Blagojevich was quite brazen as he went through what one of the government lawyers called a “political crime spree,” directly dealing with his victims and getting caught in the act.  Everything, for Blagojevich, was for sale.  The US senator’s seat that he was trying to sell was Barack Obama’s, who had won the US presidency and subsequently vacated his seat.

But let’s not compare Illinois and the Philippines for excellence in corruption.  What’s more important is to look at why Illinois has so much corruption. There are many commentaries posted on the Internet offering various theories on what went wrong with Illinois, and the analyses are quite similar, with lessons to offer for the Philippines.  (The best compilation of analytical views on corruption in Illinois that I found was an article, “Why is Illinois so Corrupt?” in the  December 2010 issue of Chicago magazine, downloadable from:

Urbanization and corruption

Illinois’ largest city and seat of state government, Chicago, became highly urbanized in the 19th century, attracting many immigrants.  Politicians had to court the ethnic vote by offering housing and other perks in exchange for votes.


People also voted along ethnic lines to create their territories.  For example,  members of the Irish community voted for Irish candidates and were rewarded with positions in the police force while the Italians took up posts in the transit system.  Dynasties were formed not just for political positions but also for jobs in the government bureaucracy, which would be jealously guarded from outsiders.

As the city grew, government itself became a niche for making money through licenses, permits and public contracts.  One of the most notorious cases occurred in 1869 when three county commissioners were convicted of fraud for a job that involved painting City Hall.  The painting job looked fine, until it rained and the paint, which turned out to be a thin coat of whitewash, practically dissolved.

Politics became a patronage game,  a “pay and play” arrangement where special interest groups “contributed”  or paid campaign money to politicians, and then collected special favors from candidates who won.  Reformist mayors and governors would try to change the situation, but found themselves being voted out of office.  The system was just so totally corrupted.

Other large American cities, including New York and Boston, had similar problems of massive corruption up to the 20th century but were able to confront and reduce them.  The corruption problem of Chicago and Illinois persisted mainly because of two factors.

First, Chicago had developed a powerful “politics-crime” alliance.  Older Filipinos will remember the popular TV series “The Untouchables” about Al Capone and his Chicago crime syndicates.  They controlled the city through threats and actual violence, and the politicians through their campaign contributions, funded from gambling and prostitution.  Al Capone and the untouchables are long gone now, but the gangster mentality seems to have stayed on with some of the politicians.

The other reason Illinois’ corruption continued was that there were no controls on campaign finances.  Politicians could solicit as much money as they wanted, and given the political culture in Illinois, that meant wheeling and dealing and coercion.  New laws on campaign contributions were enacted only this year following the Blagojevich case.

Blagojevich’s heavy prison sentence came about in part because he showed little remorse, arguing to the very end that he did not think he was doing anything wrong.  His claims to innocence were probably not just a ploy.  I remember seeing him on TV after he was first arrested some years back and he had that same look you see these days of some of our politicians and their spokespersons, alternating between looking pitiful and naïve but continuing to be almost defiantly indignant.

The saddest part about all of this is that these corrupt officials, American or Filipino, begin to believe themselves when they claim to be telling the truth, and that they are right.  Corruption warps the minds of the corrupted themselves as well as their victims.  In Illinois, political analysts said there even “perverse pride” among residents of Chicago with their rascal politicians—until Blagojevich came along and tapes were played of his extortion, making them realize how horrible the situation had become.

If Blagojevich goes to jail, he will be sharing a cell with other inmates, and will be doing menial labor at 96 cents (about P40) for each eight-hour day. Will we see similar justice in the Philippines?

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Subscribe to our daily newsletter

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.

Read Next
Don't miss out on the latest news and information.

Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.

TAGS: crimes, featured columns, impeachment, local officials, opinion, punishment
For feedback, complaints, or inquiries, contact us.
Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Fearless views on the news

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.

© Copyright 1997-2023 | All Rights Reserved

We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By continuing, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. To find out more, please click this link.