POSTSCRIPT / November 30, 2004 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Who now gets the 'tong' that Chavit had exposed?

GIFT FROM PNP: Years ago, I was so presumptuous as to send word to the then director-general of the Philippine National Police through his trusted subordinate that I wanted a valuable gift from him.

Extortion? Yes, it was. But there are times when you want something that badly and you throw caution to the wind.

The gift I was begging the PNP chief was for my hometown to be made jueteng-free. At that time, we had two draws, one in the morning and another in the afternoon. I wanted everything stopped by order of the PNP chief.

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LONG-TERM DAMAGE: I have placed jueteng bets myself. And I have seen gambling’s long-term ill effects on my friends and relatives.

Because it is disguised as a small-time, harmless pastime, the simple game is able to snare everybody, including school children and the jobless who get addicted to it. The victims are mostly the masa.

It sucks even the loose change from the pockets of those who do not have enough to gamble away. Bettors throw away more money than they can earn, or pawn valuables or steal just to have money to bet.

The sucker of a victim does not seem to notice that nobody gets rich playing the jueteng game, except the gambling lords and their protectors in government.

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WHO GETS IT NOW?: One wonders if President Arroyo knows all this. It would be odd if she does not. But if she does, which is likely, how come she is not doing anything to fight the social menace that victimizes mostly the poor?

The President has to speak up — and act fast and resolutely — because there are many who are ready to believe rumors that tong by the millions continues to be delivered, if not to her, to somebody close to her.

Ilocos Sur Gov. Chavit Singson testified under oath and at great risk to his life that in the previous administration he was collecting millions from jueteng lords and delivering bags of tong to then President Erap Estrada.

If Singson was telling the truth about jueteng and the tong for-the-boss, the big question is who now gets the usual millions skimmed from jueteng operations?

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FLOURISHING GAME: Note that jueteng has not abated a bit since Singson blasted the tong-collection racket wide open. The game is still flourishing under President Arroyo, some say with impunity.

Are we to believe that while jueteng goes merrily on in a grander scale, tong-collection for-the-boss has stopped? Puede ba?

As for my asking for a gift of a jueteng-free hometown from the PNP chief, my contact said yes, he would relay my request to the chief. The good soldier that he is, I’m sure he did.

Was the gift that I wanted delivered?

Sa awa ng Diyos, a month after my solicitation, the twice-daily draws in my hometown were increased to three by the untouchable operator. That was how hopeless it was.

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REYES INITIATIVE: Can President Arroyo deliver where the PNP chief failed? Being the boss, it should be easy for her to do that or at least produce a reasonable approximation of it in the meantime.

The only problem I see is if it is true as rumored that somebody high up in the Palace is in the pockets of the jueteng lords.

That is why it is heartening to hear that without waiting for instructions from the President, Secretary of Interior and Local Government Angelo T. Reyes has moved against the illegal numbers game.

He has just directed the National Police and all local officials, over whom he has supervision, to enforce RA 287 increasing the penalties for illegal numbers games, including jueteng.

The new anti-gambling law took effect April 29, 2004, but with Malacanang showing lack of interest, everybody simply ignored it.

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LOCAL DEPUTIES: Governors and mayors actually have enough powers to fight jueteng. Nevertheless, Reyes told them in a memorandum that they have been deputized as representatives of the National Police Commission in the anti-gambling drive.

As Napolcom deputies, governors and mayors can direct the local police in a drive against jueteng financiers, operators, collectors and others involved.

With that, local officials can no longer foist the excuse that they have no policemen or a strike force to go after illegal gambling.

Reyes also advised local officials to enhance community involvement, “especially civic leaders like church representatives and leaders of civil society,” in curbing illegal gambling.

All that, alas, could just end up as lost motion.

Clear signals must come from the President herself to bolster Reyes’ moves against corrupt officials, military and police officers and other jueteng protectors.

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ENDANGERED SPECIES: Filipino journalists are indeed an endangered species. Another newsman has just been killed, this time in Cebu City.

The latest hit makes photojournalist Allan Dizon, 30, of theFreeman newspaper the fourth newsman to be murdered this month, and the 12 th this violent year, according to a count of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.

It is disturbing that in most cases, the gunmen prefer to do it where a lot of people can witness the execution. Then they just walk, not run, away.

The spate of violence against members of media is an assault on the freedom of the press. The violence instills fear that obstructs the free flow of ideas and information and, as a result, distorts the people’s view of public affairs.

We still have to hear a chorus of pain and indignation from media moguls whose overworked and underpaid staffers are ruthlessly being eliminated one by one for doing their job as community watchdogs.

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UNCARING GOV’T: Judging from the generally cold reaction of government agencies, we are tempted to say that the Arroyo administration does not seem to care at all.

It seems the administration wants to leave it to the media to look after the safety of their own members. Sometimes it is not only indifference, but also disdain, that shows in government officials.

If I may say so as a practitioner, it is bad policy for government to view the press as a pest that should be swatted away rather than a potential ally for promoting the common weal.

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POOR ENFORCEMENT: In Congress, Sen. Mar Roxas blamed “inadequate law enforcement” for the fresh wave of violence against media that has claimed four lives in separate attacks this month in the Visayas and Mindanao.

“The full might of the law should be brought to bear on those responsible for these dastardly acts, which should not go unpunished,” Roxas said. “The authorities should spare no effort in bringing the perpetrators of these cowardly atrocities to swift justice.”

“We are convinced that more than anything else, the certainty of arrest, prosecution and punishment is the best deterrence to more brutalities against journalists,” Roxas said.

Other victims before Dizon in Cebu City were: MindaNews photo editor Gene Boy Lumawag, 26, in Jolo, and Bombo Radyo Aklan station manager Herson Hinolan, 38, in Kalibo.

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I.F.J. MISSION: The International Federation of Journalists, the global organization representing over 500,000 journalists worldwide, is sending a delegation to the Philippines in January in the wake of the wave of violence against the local press.

The press mission will go to places were journalists have been killed recently and meet with senior officials to discuss the “culture of impunity” that appears to mark the assassinations.

“How many more journalists have to die before the Philippine government will put their words into action?” IFJ president Christopher Warren asked. “The people responsible for these deaths are not being prosecuted and until they are journalists will continue to die.”

“The killers appear to be stepping up the violence. It sends a clear message to the government that their rhetoric about press freedom and justice for journalists is just that — rhetoric,” he said.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 30, 2004)

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