POSTSCRIPT / May 2, 1999 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Guingona’s running to SC in desperation

GETTING all the 24 numbers in a bingo card for a full shutout may seem a dim prospect, but businessman Dante Tan says that if at least 800,000 bets or playing cards are running in one bingo game, at least one player is sure to bag the P1-million jackpot.

Tan should know since he is the president of Best World Gaming and Entertainment Corp. that has been given the license by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) to operate the first and only online-bingo in the country.

With those odds, a player’s chance of bagging the jackpot is one out of 800,000 for one playing card. That looks better than the prospects in the lotto of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office which, last time we heard, is one out of 4,000,000. (But then, bingo promises only a P1-million jackpot while some people have won more than P130 million in one lotto draw).

Bingo, whose daily draws would be televised nationwide, is the latest of the Estrada administration’s projects for providing distraction and promises of instant riches to the poor.

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A PLAYER bets P10 for one bingo card (actually not the usual card, but a playing slip computer-printed on thermal paper as in the lotto) to qualify for the jackpot.

Doubling the bet to P20, a player qualifies for the jackpot and two other less difficult combinations. For P40, a bettor qualifies for the jackpot and four other combinations that fetch smaller prizes.

There will be playing stations, halls or parlors nationwide where people can buy play slips, watch the draw and claim minor prizes. These outlets will be linked by phone lines, satellite and other alternative lines to ensure their being online during the 10 daily draws.

Idle Filipinos who have enough money to last the day may choose to stick around to play all the day’s bingo games. But a bettor can choose to buy tickets for all the 10 games, go home and check the results later.

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THOSE familiar with bingo games can imagine the setup. That’s why in a previous column, we said:

“Then, voila, we will have a nation united! Instead of roaming around or plotting some insanity from some dark corner — or, worse, reading newspapers — everybody will be facing in one direction, thinking the same thoughts as they watch bingo proceedings on the idiot box.”

But by some technical glitch, some words (underlined above for reference) somehow got lost, mangling the thought of the paragraph).

This is one of our misgivings about bingo, as with other forms of big-time gambling. By setting up an efficient gambling infrastructure, the government itself is abetting desperate people’s inclination to gamble as one quick way to laying hands on some money. The addiction makes them less productive.

As we’ve said, instead of working harder, many people reeling from the bad times simply fall back on dasal or sugal (praying or gambling) in the hope of lifting themselves from the economic quagmire.

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DEFENDING his bingo venture, Tan told us that people gamble anyway whatever we do or don’t do. We might as well bring it out in the open, he said, regulate it and derive social benefits from it.

Instead of the money going to illegal gambling, which is admittedly crooked, the bets collected are properly accounted for and all sectors that are entitled to benefits get their fair share.

For every P10 bingo bet, Tan said, P5 goes back to the player as prizes. The rest goes to Pagcor, operation expenses, charity, etc. with the remaining P1 going to Best World.

Despite this small 10-percent share, Tan hopes that they would recoup their investment after the second year. That is, if the bingo will proceed as envisioned in their feasibility study.

The games may start by next month.

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IS it true that Mark Jimenez, another big businessman and a presidential adviser, is also interested in getting the bingo franchise?

Tan said he was not aware of any such conflict with Jimenez or anybody else. He said Best World simply applied for the license with Pagcor (copy furnished Malacañang, of course). The application was processed and after several months of waiting, it was finally granted.

Is it true it was the Office of the President that told Pagcor to give the license to Best World? Tan said their application was processed by Pagcor for feasibility and other technical details, and that it was referred to the Palace for the legal aspects of the project.

The office of the government Corporate Counsel reviewed the papers and found them in order, he said, after which they were sent back to Pagcor for it to continue the processing.

Recalling what they had to go through, Tan said that among other things, Pagcor required Best World to increase its capitalization to P500 million and to post a P50 million cash bond. That was a big capital drain, he said, but they complied.

All in all, Tan said they would put in some P2 billion into the bingo project.

* * *

ISN’T Sen. Teofisto Guingona a lawyer? He and two colleagues, senators Sergio Osmeña and Raul Roco, went to the Supreme Court the other day to ask the tribunal to step into the Senate deliberations on the Visiting Forces Agreement.

Why should the high court intervene in the normal routine of a co-equal branch of government performing its constitutionally mandated function of reviewing an international agreement sent to it by the Executive department?

Anyway, the antics of Guingona et al. appear futile with 20 of the 23 members of the Senate ready to recognize the VFA as an Executive Agreement that does not require Senate concurrence, as it is not a treaty.

Debates are expected to start tomorrow in the Senate and the Three Musketeers are pleading with the Supreme Court to come galloping in and stop the process.

* * *

AS pointed out by Sen. Francisco S. Tatad, the VFA is just an agreement, not a treaty, governing the conduct of visiting American forces who will not be based or permanently stationed here but will be mere temporary visitors during joint military exercises.

The VFA flows from the mother treaty, the RP-US Mutual Defense Pact, which is still in effect. The US has similar status-of-forces agreements with many other countries where it does not maintain military bases.

Section 25 of Article 18 of the Constitution provides that “…foreign military bases, troops or facilities shall not be allowed in the Philippines except under a treaty duly concurred in by the Senate… and recognized as a treaty by the other contracting state.”

Tatad said that section refers to bases, troops and facilities that are permanently stationed in the country. The VFA covers American servicemen who are not permanently based here but are temporary visitors whose presence does not require a full-blown treaty.

The VFA was signed during the Ramos administration. The US considers the VFA as an executive agreement and is not submitting it to the US Senate for concurrence.

* * *

THE only significant measure passed by the present Congress so far is the national budget. The big white legislative elephant, weighed down by too much cholesterol, must be having a hard time moving.

In the Senate, one sees a dismal picture of inactivity. Toward the end of the week, senators usually have no session. There’s nothing that important to take up.

It cannot be because Senate President Marcelo Fernan is sick. As everyone knows, the majority leader is the workhorse that produces the order of business. Without the output of the majority leader, the chamber is reduced to waiting for a substantive agenda to materialize.

Except for the committees holding noisy public hearings (often without legislative intent), most committees appear to be hibernating. What’s Majority Leader Franklin Drilon doing?

Our impression is that Drilon, who is eyeing the Senate presidency, does not whip the committees enough for fear of antagonizing some chairmen and committee members. It seems to us that his ambition may be getting in the way.

The situation is not any better in the House of Representatives, where many congressmen wish they had a more active, more imaginative and more visible Speaker. Are taxpayers getting their money’s worth?

* * *

THE Rotary Club of Manila should be commended for helping iron out diplomatic kinks in the controversial visit of Azizah Ismail, wife of the jailed former deputy minister of Malaysia Anwar Ibrahim.

It would have been problematic if Azizah came here as guest of President Estrada because of the meeting’s implication on Philippine-Malaysian relations. The other object of the visit, former President Aquino was not as big a problem, but it was deemed best if Azizah did not drop in as guest of the former president.

Enters the Rotary Club as the host. It was neat. And, we would add, patriotic.

While she was in town, it was supposed to have come naturally that Azizah called on Mrs. Aquino and her husband’s friend the President. The whole world, including Malaysia, knows what’s really going on, but on the surface, the official fact was that Rotary invited Azizah and she came.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 2, 1999)

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