POSTSCRIPT / August 7, 2005 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Hagedorn has Sept. 15 deadline to stop jueteng

GMA ACTS ON JUETENG: I was about to say that if President Arroyo was telling the truth about her wanting to wipe out the scourge of the numbers game jueteng, she should be able to do it — but is not doing it.

I was about to ask what was keeping Ms Arroyo from cracking down on jueteng lords (some of whom reportedly come in and out of Malacanang like they had a golden key) and corrupt officials living off illegal gambling.

I was ready to believe that some exalted tenants of Malacanang are unwilling to give up payola collected barya-barya mostly from the poor clinging to dreams of hitting the jackpot.

Then came along Puerto Princesa City Mayor Edward Hagedorn telling us that he had been instructed by President Arroyo to head a task force whose mission is to STOP JUETENG.

And he tells us that while no time-frame was given by the President, his self-imposed deadline is Sept. 15.

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TOUGH TASK: Having been himself a jueteng operator once upon a time, the Erap-(almost)look-alike mayor is able to explain in great detail the intricacies of the numbers game that collects some P10 billion in bets a year, mostly from the poor.

He admitted that it would be difficult to stop jueteng completely and with finality. It may disappear for a while, as operators lie low, but there is no telling where and when it would rear its ugly head again, he said.

Or, he added, assuming it can be stamped out, bettors might just shift to other outlets to satisfy their gambling urges (there are plenty of illegal numbers game to choose from), or operators themselves may devise some similar game without calling it jueteng.

Remember, it was only jueteng that President Arroyo has ordered stopped. Any other game not going by that name is outside the Hagedorn dragnet.

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MAYOR IS KEY: The key to stopping jueteng, according to Hagedorn, is the town or city mayor. He should know — having been both mayor and operator. Even if the governor or the police top brass want jueteng played in their area, if the mayor says No, no dice.

It is common knowledge, however, that many local executives tolerate it because it is their sure source of money for attending to their constituents who look up to the mayor as a source of handouts.

The habituation of some politicians and police (also military) officers on jueteng payola and the dependence of almost a million workers on the game may mean resistance when the Hagedorn group asks them to cooperate.

He said alternatives should be found to make up for the loss of jobs and payola. Without such alternatives, he said clamping down on the game with a mailed fist would be like playing with dynamite.

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SHARING THE PIE: It is easy for an operator in an average city or big town to gather P1 million in bets per day. The sad thing is that most of this money is actually thrown in by the poor, including many who cannot afford to play (and who usually lose).

Many beneficiaries of doles from jueteng do not realize that the money being handed out actually came from them. Worse, they get back only a small part of it (about half) since officials and other protectors, as well as the operators, pocket the lion’s share.

He explained that only about 50 percent of collections goes back to the bettors as prizes. Half of the 50-percent balance (or 25 percent of total) goes to the operator. The balance (25 percent) is distributed as payola to officials and police officers all the way up to the regional commands.

If the jueteng lord is not from the place, Hagedorn added, the big slice that he pockets is not plowed back to the people in his area of operation.

In answer to a question, he said that with the tight distribution scheme, it is unlikely that there would be any money left for delivery to the President or members of the First Family.

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A YEAR AGO: It was not in hindsight, nor from a flash analysis of the current crisis, that I said last Tuesday (Aug. 4) that President Gloria Arroyo missed a historic cue when she neglected following through her fresh mandate won in the May 2004 elections.

A full year ago (on Aug. 19, 2004), I warned of President Arroyo possibly failing to take advantage of her own DIRECT mandate (as opposed to her IMPLIED mandate as carry-over president completing the term of ousted President Joseph “Erap” Estrada).

I felt it in my bones then that although Ms Arroyo was supposed to be a non-partisan one-term president, she may not be able to break away from the corruptive clutches of traditional politicians and power brokers.

I hope I am wrong, but if she still fails to perk up the people’s faith in her administration enough to give her even just a pasang awa grade (passing by a hairline) by Christmas, it could be all downhill from there on.

Then we better start praying in earnest.

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I TOLD YOU SO: For perspective, let me recall what I said last Tuesday (Aug. 4), then reprint what I dared to predict a year ago this month in POSTSCRIPT.

On Aug. 4 this year: When xxx she won her own mandate, xxx the nation was waiting with bated breath for her to launch a reformist attack on traditional politics and the forces of corruption and inertia that had sapped the vitality of the nation.

She was proclaimed winner. She was sworn in. She returned triumphant to Malacanang armed with a mandate all her own.

But nothing happened by way of reforms and an improved quality of life for the teeming millions.

She had goodwill earned via an election that at the time was generally hailed as clean and fair. She had the mandate to cut through the tangle of corruption and partisan politics to force reforms on an expectant nation.

But nothing happened.

So now she is trying mightily to push reforms. Sadly, nobody seems to be listening anymore.

xxx She failed to attend to her PR homework at that time right after her inauguration in June last year. She frittered away the goodwill that should have been the flying carpet to carry her and the nation to great heights.

xxx (At that time) the media and the nation were just willing to be charmed into collaborating with any reformist program.

On Aug. 19 LAST YEAR, I wrote: Since the June 30 inauguration of President Arroyo, we have been straining to catch any hint that a Big Bang was coming to change the national landscape forever and propel this Asian laggard back to greatness.

We thought that being an economist and having been a hands-on president for three years before her election last May 10, Gloria Arroyo would, in the words of one paratrooper Fidel Ramos, “hit the ground running.”

Yes, she hit the ground all right. But we’re still waiting for the running part.

Is she taking her time, or is just having a hard time, gathering her parachute?

With the 12 million who supposedly voted for her, we are anxiously watching, waiting.…

This is not to be pushy, but I think she has to show something really dramatic before the year ends, mainly by scoring a marked improvement in the economy. (I said this last year! — fdp)

To the average Filipino head of family, “economy” is something personal. We don’t care about government statistics, or the fat figures decorating the big picture. The economy is what we feel in our gut.

If she fails to perform at least a psychological “parting of the Red Sea” by Christmas to lead us to the Promised Land, the goodwill she has earned with her election last May is likely to dissipate and be replaced by the usual defeatism.

Pagod na ang mga tao. This battered nation is tired. It has waited too long already and may not be willing to wait further.

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POWER ONE’S SIDE: Reacting to my July 28 column mentioning Power One, a power firm planning to operate in Oriental Mindoro, as undercapitalized and apparently unprepared to go into power-generation, the firm’s president, Facundo R. Yaneza Jr., wrote to give their side. He said:

  1. The Power One group is one of the original IPPs in the country with a 58-mw diesel project in Bataan in 1994 undertaken by Edison Global Electric. It was also the project proponent of a 50-mw clean coal project in Negros. Its core group of diesel plant engineers have over 30 years and 700 mw of experience.
  2. The P1.56-million claimed authorized capital of Power One came from an old filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The firms awaiting SEC action on its move to raise capital.
  3. Power One has created a company named Mid-Islands Power Generation Corp. to carry out its power projects. Mid-Islands is capitalized at P100 million.
  4. The 9-mw phase I of the project in Mindoro is being implemented purely from stockholders equity and will be commissioned this month 25-percent ahead of schedule.
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(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 7, 2005)

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