POSTSCRIPT / November 29, 2007 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Big jueteng tremor hits Pampanga soon

ANGELES CITY – Is the political storm swirling around Pampanga Gov. Ed Panlilio rooted in the illegal numbers game of jueteng?

Jueteng was one of two major issues that the former parish priest of Betis used in dislodging entrenched politicians from the capitolio and taking over as governor of the home province of President Gloria Arroyo and her kumpare Bong Pineda, alleged jueteng lord.

The other big issue that carried him was the graft-ridden quarrying of lahar, a sand-like debris of Mt. Pinatubo that turned out to be a valuable resource of this province, now a major source of quality aggregates for construction.

As one analyzes Panlilio’s being pushed to a corner by a number of key provincial and town officials, one cannot help noticing the issue of jueteng lurking in the background.

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CHANGES: Among Ed, as the governor is popularly known, had promised to crush jueteng. But five months into his term, he has not made one mean swing at it.

In fact, jueteng seems to have flourished, as if with a vengeance, under his administration.

While jueteng used to be played using the numbers 1 to 37, now it uses three additional numbers, that is, from is 1 to 40. With that many numbers playing, the odds of hitting the two-number jackpot has been considerably lessened.

Also, while in the past a peso bet fetched P800 for the winner, now the prize is only P700.

Some cobradores (bet collectors) told us that their share in the winnings has also been slashed. The pay of the cabos (supervisors) has been reduced, too.

To my simple mind, that means that while the operators continue to rake in millions for themselves and their patrons in high places, the gullible bettors and the army of bet collectors are now getting less.

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EXCEPTION?: Big question: Is payola, running into millions a month, that used to go to town and provincial officials, as well as police and military officers, still being given out?

The answer is Yes. With jueteng still thriving in this province, there is no reason why the gravy train should stop moving.

One exception is Governor Panlilio. I know, because I checked with him and I am sure he would not lie to me on that point. There may be other exceptions, bless their souls, but I have not checked that far and wide.

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TEMOR COMING: I can feel the foreshocks of an anti-jueteng tremor about to hit Pampanga in December.

Among Ed can be hard-headed on some issues. He has not forgotten his promise to crush the scourge of jueteng within six months of his inauguration last June. That self-imposed timetable is about to end.

I’m sure the police, all the way to Camp Crame, as well as the operators and their protectors all the way to Malacanang, cannot be blind to this impending tremor. I assume they also look at the calendar – and Among Ed.

My gut feel is that moves to harass or ease out Among Ed may have something to do with jueteng, which has brought a bonanza to those who had chosen to sell their souls to the operators.

So, abangan!

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STAYING OR NOT?: Before President Arroyo appeals for calm and cooperation while steering the ship of state in the next three years, she should first make a firm and formal declaration that she does not intend to stay at the helm after her term ends in 2010.

Ms Arroyo has to sweep away lingering suspicion that she might just try engineering a “Double C” situation (like a Charter Change or a Coup from the Center) that would enable her to stay on top of the political heap beyond 2010.

Only when her exit in 2010 is clear and definite can she find believers when she calls out, as she did the other day in Cebu: “Let us do what we can to make these last three years an era of peace, reassurance, and hope.”

Her big problem still seems to be lack of credibility.

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NOT A FOE: Such a declaration of her intention not to stay beyond 2010, and its being believed, is crucial to establishing the peace and quiet needed to move this country forward.

The emerging presidential aspirants must not see her as a possible rival, or an obstacle to their agenda for 2010 and beyond.

If Gloria Arroyo is seen as not working out secretly another term under a new or revised Constitution, or pushing an anointed one, there is no reason why the presidentiables in the Senate and elsewhere should train their guns on her.

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UNCONVINCING?: Theoretically, this lame duck president is already on the way out. She is supposed to be just waiting for 2010.

Neither are there indications that she is grooming or supporting anybody for 2010.

If that premise were valid, she should not be perceived as the enemy or the dampener to the ambition of presidential wannabes.

They would have no reason to continue hitting her and making a shambles of her remaining three years in Malacanang.

If only Gloria Arroyo could convince all and sundry that she is retiring after 2010 and would not stand in the way of anybody’s presidential ambition, that could bring about that “era of peace, reassurance, and hope.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 29, 2007)

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