POSTSCRIPT / June 30, 2015 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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Atong Ang casts long shadow on PCSO turf

A GRIZZLED politician like newly-installed Sweepstakes chair Erineo “Ayong” Maliksi should have known that in the gambling world the company that one keeps can affect, fairly or unfairly, one’s dealings.

The big boss of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office has been raising eyebrows since he admitted being a friend of Charlie “Atong” Ang, the known operator of Meridien Vista Gaming Corp. whose business competes with the PCSO’s Small Town Lottery (STL) in many places.

Ang’s MVGC is reportedly behind the Jai-alai and the jueteng-like Virtual 2 lottery gaming that competes with STL in Cagayan, Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya, Ilocos Sur, La Union, Pangasinan, Benguet, Rizal, Cavite, Oriental Mindoro, Camarines Sur, Camarines Norte and Albay.

Many miron point out that while STL allocates a substantial slice of its sales to charity funds and taxes, MVGC does not, it being a locator in the Cagayan Export Processing Zone enjoying tax-exempt status.

All that MVGC pays officially is a small business permit fee to the city or town where it operates, while the bulk of its PR money presumably goes to gaining the good graces of officials, many of whom then grow tolerant of the firm’s lottery game.

The STL was invented to wean small bettors from the illegal numbers game of jueteng. But it has turned out that many STL operators are themselves the jueteng lords who now use STL as cover for jueteng operations.

• Noy not bothered by rampant ‘jueteng’

AFTER dismissing jueteng as not a priority concern, President Noynoy Aquino has continued to tolerate the illegal game. The big question now is how high up in the political chain jueteng payola goes.

Then Ilocos Sur Gov. Chavit Singson once said under oath that he regularly delivered suitcases of juetengpayola to Malacañang. With jueteng still rampant, who has taken over the role of Singson?

Back to Ang, how is his MVGC able to operate its Jai-alai and Virtual 2 lottery not only beyond the borders of CEZA but also outside of the regulatory reach of PCSO and PAGOR (Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.)?

There are millions of reasons, including the adroit putting to good use of political connection and the exploiting of the twists and turns of the vaunted “tuwid na daan” (straight path).

The issues surrounding the cases of MVGC in the Supreme Court revolve around one central question: Is MVGC allowed to conduct its Jai-alai and Virtual 2 lottery beyond the territorial confines of CEZA?

A corollary question: Is CEZA allowed by law to grant gaming franchises that are valid nationwide?

• Maliksi gives side on Atong Ang question

ANOTHER question is how far can big bucks spread its tentacles? Note that MVGC continues to operate in many areas only on the strength of a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) by a Regional Trial Court in Cagayan and (hold your breath!) the Court of Appeals.

The sooner the SC resolves the matter, the better. And the sooner President Aquino shows his political will as regards rampant illegal gambling, the better for his legacy-starved administration.

As for Maliksi, a reasonable expectation from him is his jealously protecting the interest of his agency’s vital services, especially those for indigents, and pursuing PCSO expansion programs even in the areas dominated by his friends in competing businesses.

Sought for comment, Maliksi said: “The PCSO has no jurisdiction at all over Meridien, the corporation of Ang that plays the jai alai games. I believe that authority of Meridien is granted to it by CEZA. It has its own games that are distinct and separate from PCSO’s Lotto and STL games.

“Meridien does not encroach upon the games of PCSO and there is no interconnection whatsoever. Just like Pagcor which has its licensing authority over its own distinct games, PCSO’s games are defined as well. It is in PCSO’s own games that our efforts are focused to increase sharply the agency’s revenues.”

• PPA has reason to be proud on its 41st year

PHILIPPINE Ports Authority general manager Juan Sta. Ana should share the credit for the greatly improved operations at the Ports of Manila.

The PPA head was among those who persisted in seeking the lifting of the Manila truck ban imposed in February last year which proved to be a disastrous solution to the vehicular traffic problem in the nation’s capital.

Sta. Ana’s leadership together with the initiatives of Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras helped clear up the backlogs at the ports.

He pinpointed the truck ban as having dragged down cargo volume at the ports, thus slowing trade and the economy as a whole. Now volumes are back up reflecting an economic upsurge.

The utilization level at the ports of Manila is now below 60 percent from a high of 110 percent (overcapacity!) due to the truck ban that was eventually lifted in September last year.

Cargo volume at the country’s ports increased by 6.34 percent in the first four months from a year ago and is expected to break all records in the first half. Despite the rapid increase in trade, port use in Manila is expected to stay at a comfortable 60 percent in the first half.

The PPA will turn 41 years old this July, marking its transformation to a self-sustaining agency rendering a wide range of public service from a mere port administrator when it was created in 1974 through Presidential Decree No. 505.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 30, 2015)

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