Filed Under: Gaming & Lotteries, Casinos & Gambling, Churches (organisations), Government, Graft & Corruption, Local authorities, Police
MANILA, Philippines—Retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz is pushing his crusade against “jueteng” with a grave claim: Two of President Benigno Aquino III’s trusted officials are receiving a minimum of P2 million in monthly payola from the illegal numbers game.
Cruz, who heads the Krusadang Bayan Laban sa Jueteng, said the popular game had turned into a “political monster” under the Aquino administration. He made the disclosure to the Inquirer Saturday, saying he wanted to call public attention to the current state of jueteng amid pronouncements on honest governance.
The retired Lingayen-Dagupan archbishop said the two officials’ names surfaced in the latest summary of field reports submitted to him by the Krusadang Bayan’s nationwide network. The group has a leader in each of the 86 dioceses in the country.
Responding Saturday night to a request for comment from the Inquirer, the President said in a text message: “If he (Cruz) has the evidence, no matter how little, I will investigate them. Regardless of who they are, if there is proof, they will pay.”
Cruz called on Mr. Aquino to make good on a promise to promote an honest government, more concretely by stamping out the multibillion-peso underground lottery especially prevalent in Luzon and the Visayas.
“The past administration was notorious for its patronage of jueteng. It is my hope that the present administration, which claims to be the opposite of the past administration, will be able to demonstrate its resolve and not just go ‘blah, blah, blah,’” Cruz said in a phone interview.
He added: “Give us something concrete.”
Earlier Saturday, Presidential Communications Operations Secretary Herminio Coloma said Malacañang was willing to listen to Cruz.
“All government officials are expected to be law-abiding. We encourage the prelate to report the anomalies he knows about so that these can be investigated and those found guilty will be punished,” Coloma said.
Key security posts
The two officials purportedly on the take hold key positions involving security matters. Their jobs include efforts to weed out jueteng operations.
Cruz said he would name the officials in the proper forum and after the Krusadang Bayan had collected even more information on them.
“It appears that they are both big beneficiaries of big-time jueteng operators,” he told the Inquirer. “One of them began getting his share ahead of the other, who came into the picture fairly recently.”
Cruz said that with Mr. Aquino barely three months in office, jueteng operations have proliferated mostly under the guise of the government-sanctioned Small Town Lottery.
“They have been left untouched and they have become political monsters,” he said, adding that many local officials had now assumed the role of jueteng lord, protector, or operator.
Eleven days after Mr. Aquino assumed office, the then newly named Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo said the President had “issued a very clear directive to stop jueteng.”
But the following day, Robredo clarified that his focus would be the empowerment of local governments.
Only recently was it revealed that the President had assigned Robredo to concentrate on local governments, with Interior Undersecretary Rico E. Puno given jurisdiction over the Philippine National Police.
Cruz said the arrangement at the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) would not allow Robredo, the long-time and multi-awarded mayor of Naga City, to utilize his strengths and track record to fight illegal gambling, particularly jueteng.
“Do you honestly believe that mayors would listen to a secretary?” Cruz said. “To stop jueteng, you need the cooperation of the PNP. When a police official declares, ‘Stop jueteng,’ it will stop.”
Cruz expressed reservations over the DILG’s resolve to stamp out jueteng, especially in the face of talk that Robredo might be replaced as interior secretary.
A stalwart of Mr. Aquino’s Liberal Party told the Inquirer on Friday that outgoing PNP Director General Jesus Verzosa would be a leading candidate for the sensitive post if Robredo were replaced.
“That’s the reason he is opting for early retirement,” said the party official, who declined to be named for lack of authority to speak publicly on the matter.
“Even before the President assumed office, the arrangement was for Verzosa to serve as DILG secretary. But the President eventually gave in to public pressure to appoint Robredo,” the source said.
As a compromise, the source said, Mr. Aquino tapped Puno, his longtime friend and adviser, to handle police matters at the DILG.
‘Forces of evil’
The 75-year-old Cruz is the most visible cleric in the Catholic Church’s antigambling campaign.
In August 2001, the then Lingayen-Dagupan archbishop issued circular letters condemning jueteng and branding its financiers and their cohorts as “forces of evil.”
In October 2002, he put up the Krusadang Bayan Laban sa Jueteng, a multisectoral antigambling watchdog that pushes public officials and police authorities to stop the illegal numbers racket. It also gives annual awards to government officials who fight jueteng.
In 2005, Cruz took part in the Senate inquiry into the operations of the underground game, providing information and presenting his own witnesses who explained how jueteng money had corrupted local officials.
He said jueteng money might have been used to help then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in her campaign for the presidency in 2004.
During the Senate hearings, Arroyo’s husband, son and brother-in-law (Jose Miguel Arroyo, Rep. Juan Miguel Arroyo and Rep. Ignacio Arroyo, respectively) were accused of receiving payoffs from jueteng operators. The three men denied the accusations.
Later in 2005, Cruz and his Krusadang Bayan published “Gambling in the Republic,” a 215-page book that explores the Filipino “culture of gambling.”
Cruz applied for retirement in March 2007, and tapped Archbishop Socrates “Soc” Villegas as chair of his antigambling group.
His application for retirement was accepted by the Vatican in September 2009, and Villegas took over the Lingayen-Dagupan archdiocese.
But retirement has not stopped Cruz from campaigning against jueteng.
Last July, he announced at a news forum that his group had identified “more than 30” active jueteng lords, and that he would provide Robredo the names to help the government eliminate the illegal numbers game.
Cruz also lamented that jueteng was very pervasive in the Luzon provinces of Batangas, Pampanga and Pangasinan.
“It’s a downright racket that impoverishes the poor. The ones who get rich from it are the racketeers,” he said. With reports from Inquirer Research and Norman Bordadora
source phil star