Coping with Payola: Field Ventures from Mindanao

Article excerpt

Based upon on-site observations and field interviews in the northwest coastal region of Mindanao of the southern Philippines, this paper presents a typology of bribery and extortion. The manner in which payola is paid under-the-table in the routine life of locals is discussed along with how such activity appears to be approaching normality. Of concern is how a payola-abundant landscape affects the fieldworker. Several of Donald Black's propositions are given further clarification.

Key words: bribery, extortion, Philippines, Mindanao, Donald Black


In earlier years while conducting fieldwork on the northwestern coast of Mindanao, it did not occur to me that as an outside researcher I would be forced to come to grips with the constant barrage ofbriberous and extortionate relationships that pervade the marketplace, public utility companies, government operations, and elsewhere.1 Giving and receiving some sort of payola is second nature to locals, and many would find such near normalized activity rather odd as an object of study. Certainly payola has flourished for a long time and not just in the Philippines. Bribery and extortion are cited in the most ancient documents to include the Codes of Hammurabi, the Old Testament, and the earliest of Egyptian, Aztec, Greek, and Roman texts (Lasswell 1963:690). The following observations were written during a brief research venture in the summer of 2006 and reflect cross-referencing of side comments and anecdotes made in fieldnotes about bribery and extortion over the past twenty years in the southern Philippines (see Austin 1999).

What is Payola?

Actually, the word payola is not commonly used in the research setting. Rather, the term "hip-hip" (to hide or to secretly put something away) is widespread in the Visayan language at the research site. The term "hip-hip" may have originated with a reference to placing a hand on the hip near the wallet to suggest money hidden away in the back pocket. The term "lagay" (to put) is more typical in the national language of Tagalog. "Lagay" can mean to put something (i.e., cash) under-the-table as in a bribe. Also, "lagay" is sometimes used at the research site as street slang for male genitalia that, as with payola, occasionally pertains to covert deviance so the context of word usage becomes important.

In the southern Philippines, one does not necessarily think of payola in the strict legal sense. That is, technically, offering something of value to influence a public official is referred to as bribery and is generally a felony in most nations. Yet, at the research setting, one may try to influence others to gain some advantage and/or be intimidated to the point where they give payola outside the strict legal definition-for instance, not involving public officials. Also, the flip side of bribery is when a public official intimidates or coerces a person to the point where a person feels compelled to make available something of value (payola) out of fear of some kind of reprisal (i.e., extortion). Both bribery and extortion are outlawed behaviors in the Philippines though rarely prosecuted. These two activities may be seen at opposite ends of a continuum and tend to morph into each other at the center so that it is difficult to see whether one has freely offered a bribe or has been extorted. In northwest Mindanao, many forms of payola concern what might best be categorized as social deviance rather than unlawful behavior, although any form irritates the field researcher who likely will find it impossible to escape its impact.2

An Avoided Area of Study

Research on bribery and extortion has been surprisingly sparse. Myrdal suggested the topics of bribery and extortion may have been avoided by researchers in favor of less sensitive issues of study (1968:937-951). Surely, gaining permission to enter another nation to study the extent and character of its corruption could be challenging. …