By Perry Diaz
Last September 11, 2010 -- ten weeks after he was inaugurated the 15th president with the highest number of votes since the end of the Marcos dictatorship -- President Benigno “P-Noy” Aquino III was faced with the biggest challenge of his presidency. Retired Bishop Oscar Cruz made allegations that two of P-Noy’s trusted aides and five other government officials were receiving monthly payola for protection of jueteng, the illegal numbers game.
According to Cruz’s allegations, the two top aides were receiving a minimum of P2 million monthly payola from jueteng operations. He said that the two officials occupy key positions involving security matters which include “efforts to weed out the multi-billion-peso underground lottery especially prevalent in Luzon and the Visayas.” If I interpret it correctly, “security matters” would be within the purview of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), more specifically the Philippine National Police (PNP).
Trusted aides on the take
Malacañang Palace immediately reacted by asking Cruz to name names. “We encourage the prelate to report the anomalies he knows about so that these can be investigated and those found guilty will be punished,” said Presidential Communications and Operations Secretary Herminio Coloma. Initially, Cruz responded that he would identify the two aides in the proper forum. Meanwhile, his group, Krusadang Bayan Laban sa Jueteng, was busy collecting more information about them. He further said that the two officials’ names surfaced in recent field reports submitted to him by his organization’s network in the 86 dioceses in the country.
However, a day later Cruz retracted his offer to provide evidence because he was afraid that his witnesses would get hurt or killed like what happened to jueteng whistle-blower Wilfredo “Boy” Mayor who was murdered earlier this year. He also said that he has been receiving death threats since he exposed the jueteng payola. One was sent by mail which contained a message in big bold letters: “SHUT UP.”
Cruz said that the only clue that he would provide at this time -- for his own safety -- is that the two trusted officials of P-Noy are male; one of them has been in government for a “long time” and the other was relatively new. The other five officials are in the “lower echelon.”
DILG Undersecretary approached
Last September 13, DILG Undersecretary Rico E. Puno disclosed that he was approached by “emissaries” of the jueteng lords about “payoffs.” “Some of them are retired policemen. Some of them are politicians. Some of them are even friends. Some of them are even relatives who approached me,” Puno said. But he said that he declined to meet with them.
Puno also said that Cruz promised him a list of government officials receiving jueteng payola or involved in protecting the jueteng lords. He noted that that if there was evidence against these officials, the government would file a case against them.
However, P-Noy wasn’t totally sold to Cruz’s allegations. He said that if anyone of his officials accepted jueteng payola, he would see to it that they would face heavy penalties. But he also said that he heard that some people involved in the numbers game were dropping the names of his officials. When he was asked whether he believes that Cruz was misinformed, P-Noy said that he did not know the “quality of information” that was provided by Cruz.
Jueteng is not a priority
P-Noy, who campaigned on a slogan, “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap” (No corruption, no poverty), was gung-ho on eradicating jueteng when he assumed office. In fact, when his new DILG Secretary Robredo took over, P-Noy issued “marching orders” to stop jueteng. But in a sudden change of plans, P-Noy announced the following day that jueteng was not a priority in his administration. Robredo later acknowledged that his “new assignment” was to concentrate on local government while DILG Undersecretary Rico E. Puno -- P-Noy’s long-time friend whom he appointed several days before Robredo -- was given direct and sole jurisdiction over the PNP. In essence, DILG was split into two: local government under Robredo and security under Puno. Makes one wonder if Robredo was deliberately taken out of the loop on police matters.
Recently, there were reports that Robredo was on his way out. The buzz going around was that Verzosa, who retired on September 14, was a leading candidate to replace Robredo. However, with Verzosa’s controversial “disappearance” during the Luneta hostage crisis, P-Noy announced the other day that Verzosa will not take over DILG but would most likely be appointed to a non-Secretary post.
In an earlier article, Cruz claimed that jueteng protectors who are holding key positions in P-Noy’s administration are leading the calls for Robredo’s resignation. He said that the plotters are using the Luneta hostage crisis as the reason for Robredo to resign, holding him responsible for bloodbath that resulted from the botched rescue attempt by the Manila Police. But Robredo has no responsibility over police matters, Puno has. Shouldn’t Puno be the one who should resign then?
It is interesting to note that a Liberal Party stalwart revealed that even before P-Noy assumed the presidency, there was already an “arrangement” for Verzosa to serve as DILG secretary. However, due to the public pressure to appoint Robredo, P-Noy gave in. But according to that LP official, compromise was reached for P-Noy to bring in Puno to oversee PNP operations.
The red flag is up: it seems that corruption is creeping back... or perhaps, it never left. As I said before, corruption is like weed: if you don’t kill it, it will grow and spread rapidly until the entire landscape is full of weed.
It is common knowledge that for jueteng to thrive, it needs the protection of the PNP. For as long as the PNP protects the jueteng lords, nobody could touch them -- not even the DILG Secretary.
With the retirement of Verzosa as PNP Chief, P-Noy has an opportunity to clean up the PNP and appoint a person who is committed to stop jueteng. In regard to DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo, P-Noy should put the PNP directly under the authority of Robredo. As for DILG Undersecretary Rico E. Puno, he should work “under” the DILG Secretary subject to his authority.
P-Noy has a grand opportunity to prove to the people that he will not betray his covenant to eradicate corruption, stop jueteng, and end poverty. He made his pledge in the name of his parents, the martyr Ninoy Aquino and the icon of democracy Cory Aquino. Ninoy was immortalized by his words: “The Filipino is worth dying for.” I fervently hope that P-Noy would find the moral strength -- and will power -- to prove that Ninoy did not die in vain. P-Noy can effectively stop corruption because his 90 million “bosses” are behind him.
Mr. President, it’s time to get your act together, don’t let your people down.