POSTSCRIPT / August 23, 2005 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Seeking alliances, GMA is forced to compromise

ANGELES CITY — Since President Arroyo has set Sept. 15 as the deadline for burying the still warm corpse of the numbers game jueteng, you can be sure local executives are already looking for alternative sources of extra income.

But if anti-gambling crusader Lingayen Archbishop Oscar Cruz is to be believed, mayors and police commanders need not worry since there is, he said, a planned reincarnation of jueteng swathed in laundered raiment.

The bishop is saying in effect that President Arroyo is not being truthful, that her boys were set to introduce a new game that is actually the same dog jueteng sporting a new collar.

Responding to this attack on the President’s credibility, Malacanang denied there was such a plan to introduce a new game called “Bingo Combo” in place of jueteng.

“We already have enough legal gaming under the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office and the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. and there is no need for more,” Press Secretary Ignacio R. Bunye said.

But when the presidential spokesman added that any attempt to legalize jueteng do not have the support of the President, he just stoked more speculation on what the game plan really was.

Aside from “Bingo Combo,” there are reports of PCSO chairman Sergio Valencia, for instance, citing “EZ2 ball” as an alternative to jueteng . The game is said to bring in P5 million a day,

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TWO MAYORS: The finality of jueteng‘s coming demise was affirmed yesterday by two stalwarts of the Pampanga Mayors’ League in the weekly Kampus Kapihan at the Angeles University Foundation in Angeles City.

Both Mabalacat Mayor Marino P. Morales and Candaba Mayor Jerry L. Pelayo, PML adviser and vice president, respectively, said that jueteng has completely stopped in their towns and that they support the Sept. 15 deadline set by the President.

(For that matter, believe it or not, Puerto Princesa City Mayor Edward Hagedorn, the President’s anti-jueteng action man tasked to eradicate jueteng, swears that that form of gambling has vanished completely in the President’s home province of Pampanga.)

In reply to a direct question, both mayors affirmed they have not been receiving payola from jueteng operators.

They admitted the complexity of the problem of having thousands of cobradores (bet collectors) and other jueteng personnel losing their jobs, but expressed confidence that they could be absorbed elsewhere after training.

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FAVORED TREATMENT: Morales said his office has started training some of the displaced 2,000 or so jueteng workers under TESDA and TLRC programs. Some have been placed.

He reported that 30 percent of workers in the Clark Special Economic Zone come from his town, which has a population of 187,000.

Other towns may feel bad about this seeming bias for Mabalacat folk, but about 80 percent of the former US base actually belonged to them before their area was loped off six decades ago to provide land for Clark air base expansion.

As a matter of policy, communities adjoining Clark, such as Angeles City, Mabalacat, Porac and Capas (in Tarlac) are given priority in the hiring of personnel.

For the curious, Morales reported that President Arroyo won 91 percent of the votes cast in the 2004 presidential elections in his town. Opposition candidate Fernando Poe Jr. got 2 percent.

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EMPTY JAIL: A swampy area some 40 minutes away, Candaba is not close enough to Clark to merit such favored treatment, but Mayor Pelayo exuded confidence reporting how he has been coping with the problem of 1,400 cobradores losing their jobs.

By working closely with all sectors, especially the business community, Pelayo said he has been able to improve the livelihood condition in his town.

He said Candaba has no drugs problem, that the town jail was empty, and that they have an effective ban on the carrying of guns in what used to be a dissident-infested area.

Pelayo talked about his favorite topic of conservation, particularly swamp areas some distance from the town center being a temporary haven of migratory birds flying in from as far as China, Siberia and Australia.

A group from Angeles University Foundation goes to the swamp in the fourth quarter of the year, he said, to conduct a census and research on the numerous feathered species flocking to Candaba at the onset of winter on the Chinese mainland.

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MAYOR IS KEY: Mayor Hagedorn, the President’s action man, has stressed that the key men in the campaign against jueteng are the mayors.

Whatever the other beneficiaries of the game do or say, if the mayor says No, the game cannot flourish. Even the police, who are crucial to enforcement, will have to watch for the signals of the mayors.

I can imagine that Hagedorn will have to coordinate also with Interior and Local Government Secretary Angelo Reyes, who has supervisory powers over local executives and the Philippine National Police.

Working parallel to Hagedorn, Reyes has directed the PNP and local officials to enforce RA 9287 increasing the penalties for illegal numbers games, including jueteng.

The Palawan mayor, who admits having been on both sides of the jueteng racket — as an operator himself and later as a beneficiary of payola — said he has started to use “friendly persuasion” in carrying out the President’s order.

He warned, however, that action would be taken against jueteng operators (he has them all listed in a report to the President) who persist after repeated appeals.

* * *

SHARING: In the Kapihan, Mayor Morales showed an ambivalent attitude toward jueteng. He said that while he goes along with the move to stop it, if Congress passes a law legalizing the game, he would have no objection.

The “Bingo Combo” being mentioned as a replacement of jueteng reportedly allots 20 percent of collections to PAGCOR, under whose charter the game presumably would be played to give it a legal cover.

The operators, local executives and other beneficiaries are to share the remaining 80 percent, the reports continued. Sharing has always been a touchy subject.

But lawmakers who do not trust PAGCOR may want its share to go directly to the national treasury where it would lose its identity with the rest of government revenues and ploughed back to the people through the budget.

In his version of the sharing, then President Joseph “Erap” Estrada wanted a bigger slice for mayors who he said were entitled to a “social fund” of their own similar to that now enjoyed by the President from remittances from PAGCOR and the PCSO.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 23, 2005)

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