MANILA, Philippines—At least eight dioceses in Luzon and the Visayas are accepting money from “jueteng” operators as donations, Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz said Tuesday.
Jueteng is an illegal numbers racket played mostly by the poor.
Cruz, head of the People’s Crusade Against Jueteng, refused to identify any of the dioceses receiving jueteng money that his group had monitored.
“We know it among ourselves...we know each other,” he said at a forum sponsored by the Catholic Media Network in Intramuros, Manila.
Cruz reiterated that the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) had adopted a policy statement in 2005 denouncing illegal gambling in all its forms.
He said that it was also a CBCP policy to refrain from soliciting or receiving funds from any forms of gambling even if it were for the benefit of the poor.
Malacañang estimates that jueteng enjoyed gross sales of P37.7 billion a year, an amount bigger than the P1.7 billion in sales generated by the state-sponsored Small Town Lottery (STL), which is supposed to replace jueteng.
Cruz earlier said that seven officials of the Aquino administration were accepting bribes from jueteng operators. Two of the officials, in charge of overseeing security matters, were getting at least P2 million a month, according to the archbishop.
Since there has been a change in administration, his group is still monitoring where the “action” has shifted, the retired Lingayen-Dagupan archbishop said Tuesday.
Cruz said that his group also recently learned that bribe money often changed hands in rural banks.
He said rural banks were a fertile ground for clandestine transactions because they don’t usually ask for detailed documents from clients.
Malacañang has asked Cruz to name names. But Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, who has called for a Senate probe of jueteng, said the government should be the one identifying the officials involved in the numbers racket.
For his part, the archbishop remained firm that he would not reveal the names of officials accepting jueteng payoffs but said that the ex-general who approached Interior Undersecretary Rico E. Puno was already a “big lead.”
He said the Palace should find out for itself who among the members of Mr. Aquino’s official family were getting jueteng payola.
Puno, who admitted on Monday that he had been offered jueteng bribes, already has a lead that would help the executive department launch its own investigation and uncover other officials accepting payoffs, said Cruz.
Mr. Aquino’s problem
Mr. Aquino expressed frustration with Cruz’s claims as he remained clueless about the identities of the alleged jueteng protectors under his wing.
“You know, the problem I have with Archbishop Cruz...is that I have to respond to him but...I have yet to receive with all honesty any claim or information,” Mr. Aquino said at a news conference after the PNP turnover rites in Camp Crame.
“(And) perhaps that is not his function (but) it is primarily my function to enforce the laws,” he added.
The President said he was told that the retired prelate wrote the past Philippine National Police chief, retired Director General Jesus Verzosa, twice about the proliferation of jueteng but got no satisfactory response.
Apparently in response to Mr. Aquino, Cruz said he was sure that the information his group was getting from the field was right.
He explained how the People’s Crusade Against Jueteng was digesting information from the field: The group has at least two to three persons, who do not know each other, in every diocese in Luzon and Visayas.
To merit attention, the information must contain the same data, provided by volunteers. “These people don’t compare notes. We [group’s officials] are the ones who compare notes,” Cruz said.
“We will say, ‘Yes, this is it’ when the information is confirmable, accidentally and substantially the same information, coming from within or without. Otherwise, we don’t act on it,” he said.
Won’t appear in probe
Cruz announced that he would not appear at any congressional inquiry into his latest exposé because he said nothing would come out of it.
“We had been to [the House] and the Senate before. For three weeks ... we provided them names, how much [gambling lords] were getting ... but look at what happened. Nothing,” Cruz said, sounding exasperated.
He called on Malacañang, particularly Puno, not to wait for the Senate and the House to look into his disclosures as “this is a matter for the executive department to dig into it.”
Cruz said Puno must use the ex-general who had offered him jueteng money for campaign purposes as a guide to uncover other officials receiving cash from the numbers racket.
Benefit of the doubt
Cruz said he knew the name of the person who had approached Puno but declined to identify him.
He said he believed that Puno was telling the truth when the latter confessed that he was offered bribes but declined them.
“I give him the benefit of the doubt because at that time he was still new on the job and probably did not know the implications of the [incident].”
Senator Santiago expressed doubts on the belated claim of Puno that several jueteng fixers had tried to influence him.
Act of bribery
Santiago said this was clearly an act of bribery and Puno should have arrested them immediately.
“If it is true that he has been approached by jueteng fixers, why did he not kick and scream immediately? Those fixers who allegedly contacted him are guilty of the crime of corruption of public officials,” she said.
Santiago said this was proof of the resurgence of jueteng in the country.
Jocelyn Uy, Phil. Daily Inquirer