Tuesday, September 23, 2008

'Legalizing' Jueteng

PerryScope: Perry Diaz

Like the popular "transformer" toys, the illegal numbers game -- jueteng -- has transformed by way of bureaucratic legerdemain into a legalized game called "small town lotto" or STL. But the game hasn't changed a bit, it is still jueteng. The only difference is that the jueteng lords are raking in more money.

STL is a government-sponsored numbers game administered by the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO). Launched in 1987 during the time of then President Cory Aquino, STL failed for a variety of reasons. It was shelved in 1990. In 2005, in the aftermath of the jueteng scandal which implicated some members of the First Family --one of whom was referred to as the "Lion King" by whistleblower Sandra Cam -- President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo appointed Edward Hagedorn, the Mayor of Puerto Princesa, as National Anti-Jueteng Task Force czar. Hagedorn advocated for the revival of STL. He was convinced that STL was the right tool to stamp out jueteng. With optimism and great expectation Hagedorn set a deadline -- September 15, 2006 -- to totally stop jueteng in the country.

In reaction to the STL revival, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz, the chairman of the "Krusadang Bayan Laban sa Jueteng," said that STL was meant as a "shameful substitute for jueteng." He said: "just the same it is also a corrupt and corrupting numbers game as jueteng. It was already tried before and proved to be a big failure."

Recently, jueteng made the front pages again when Auxiliary Bishop Lucilo Quiambao of the Diocese of Legazpi City in Albay alleged that PCSO employees were also working as jueteng collectors for the local gambling lords. He suggested that the government should investigate the PCSO employees if the government was indeed serious in stamping out jueteng. But how can the government -- or to be more precise, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo -- stop jueteng when her "kumpadre," town mate, and political benefactor is reputedly the biggest jueteng operator in the country. To my knowledge, jueteng in Pampanga and the rest of the country has never been better during Gloria's presidency. Ironically, it was the jueteng scandal during Joseph Estrada's presidency that catapulted Gloria to power in 2001. Indeed, corruption begets corruption.

In Albay, the only STL operation in the entire province -- and all of Bicolandia -- was franchised to the Pilipinas Pacific Rim Corp. (PPRC) on November 29, 2006. Within a year, allegations of fraud were made that the STL operation was just a cover up for jueteng. It is interesting to note that PCSO granted the STL franchise to PPRC on the latter's representation that it will use STL to combat the jueteng operation in the province. Nothing was farther from the truth. Once STL became operational, the number of jueteng "comadors" -- or bet collectors -- increased substantially, a clear indication that jueteng thrived under STL.

STL is supposed to generate revenue for the government. There are three draws everyday at 11:30 AM, 4:30 PM and 9:15 PM. The STL franchisee is supposed to remit the proceeds as follows: 5% to the provincial government, 10% to the local governments, 4.5% to the local PNP (police), 0.5% to the national police, 2.5% to the three congressional districts, and 7.5% to PCSO. PPRC keeps the lion's share -- 70%. But here is the stinger: it was reported in the news last year alleging that PPRC was "raking big money from the Albayanons while only a pittance is being remitted to the provincial government" by manipulating the remittance reports. The STL operation in Albay rakes in about P500,000 daily. That's a whopping P182.5 million a year!

The plot thickens when Sandra Cam accused PPRC of not properly declaring its income from STL. Cam claimed that falsified bet collection reports were widespread in more than 15 provinces in Luzon, particularly in Albay. She criticized Gov. Joey Salceda for failing to act on the "doctored" collection reports. She also alleged that Salceda and three other Bicol governors -- Sally Lee of Sorsogon, Jesus Typoco Jr of Camarines Norte, and Luis Raymund Villafuerte of Camarines Sur -- were responsible for the jueteng revival in their respective province. In a surprise move, Salceda reacted and issued a directive to stop STL in Albay. He instructed the provincial police director to relay his directive to PCSO to stop all STL operations in his province. But PCSO defied Salceda's order. Meanwhile, Malacanang has been quiet about the whole scandal.

Three years after Czar Hagedorn declared war on jueteng, jueteng is still alive and kicking with vigor. The people continue to bet on jueteng or STL… or both. It wouldn't matter whether they're betting on jueteng or STL -- what difference would it make other than gambling away their hard-earned money. And it wouldn't matter whether it's legal or illegal. It's a social disease and there is no known prescription to cure it. None yet.