Wednesday, May 04, 2005

'Jueteng' lords dish out P13B in bribes, says bishop

By Philip C. Tubeza Inquirer News Service

ABOUT 14 to 15 "jueteng" lords dish out P13 billion in payoffs every year to government officials, from the national level all the way down to the barangays (villages), a senior Church official said yesterday.

Appearing at a congressional hearing, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz submitted a sealed, white envelop containing the names of the gambling lords but asked the lawmakers to withhold publication of the list.

Tension rose when Pampanga Representative Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's son, questioned Cruz's findings. But the bishop stood his ground.

Cruz appeared before the House committee on public order and security a little over a week after the Inquirer published a report quoting a senior police official as saying that three relatives of a top government official were raking in millions of pesos a month in payoffs from the illegal numbers game.

"Definitely, jueteng is bigger now compared to the past administration,"
Cruz told reporters after the committee hearing.

"The collection remains centralized but they have new collectors. Some of these collectors are even bigger than those before."

Allegations that he received massive payoffs from jueteng lords spurred the impeachment of then President Joseph Estrada and triggered his ouster in a popular uprising in 2001.

Asked who the alleged jueteng beneficiaries were, Cruz said: "This concerns national officials. By and large, we have found out, without being presumptuous and with apologies to the PNP (Philippine National Police) officials present, a good number of payola go to that direction."

110 percent sure

"But the PNP officials have their own beneficiaries," Cruz added.

He said he was "110 percent" sure about the names on the list and 95 percent sure about the amount of jueteng funds they paid.

Cruz, head of the Krusada ng Bayan Laban sa Jueteng and former president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), said that the collection of jueteng payola remained "centralized" and went up to the national level.

"But I didn't say that this involves the President," he told reporters.

P20-M payola monthly

National officials alone received, as of March 15, a P20-million monthly payola "per province," Cruz said.

He said that the "14 or 15 jueteng lords" whose names were submitted to the committee operated in 24 provinces in Northern, Central and Southern Luzon.

Some of them control jueteng operations in two or three provinces, he said.

He refused to divulge their names but added that some were local officials. There were no policemen or national officials among them, he added.

Need to validate data

When asked after the hearing if the list included the three relatives of a top government official -- whom a PNP official had identified in the Inquirer report by their code names of M1, M2 and JS7 -- Cruz said his group had yet to confirm the identities of the trio.

Asked if Representative Arroyo's name had come up in their investigation of the "top 3" alleged beneficiaries, Cruz said: "That is what media is saying but we have not verified that. Pahapyaw lang (There was just a hint). We have to validate the data of our sources."

He said he submitted the list to the lawmakers so that the authorities could verify the names on the list and take the necessary action.

Representative Arroyo questioned Cruz's claims and his group's list, particularly the credibility of his sources.

Arroyo counter-attacks

He said that it seemed that Cruz's group did not gather its information scientifically and that it only amounted to hearsay and rumors.

He added that Cruz had once been mistaken when he claimed that Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. employees had acted as guest relations officers during First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo's birthday bash in June last year. The congressman noted that Cruz was even charged with libel by Pagcor employees for making that claim.

The bishop, however, maintained that he was correct on both the jueteng and Pagcor controversies, adding that he had separate sources for the two claims.

"And I don't listen to hearsay and rumors. I have other things to do," Cruz said.

Are they ghosts?

"The only thing we marvel [at] is that everybody knows them [the jueteng lords], even my barber, but they seem to be ghosts [to the government]," he said.

Cruz said the sources for his group's jueteng findings came from both private and public officials, some of them even national police officials.

Krusada has 62 chapters nationwide which helped in information gathering, he added.

"Our sources are second-hand. They are not within the jueteng circles. However, they include high-ranking members of the PNP who themselves feel guilt about this," Cruz said.

"But whether outside or inside government, the sum total of the information and their responses are substantially the same," the bishop said.

Asked how he felt about Arroyo's line of questioning, Cruz said: "It's OK. I'm not offended. I have no problem with that."

'A good man'

"He's a good man," Cruz said, and then laughed.

While the House hearing was being held, an urban poor group held a rally to demand an investigation of those involved in the payoffs.

"If we criticized Estrada before, we must also slam them for the wrong that they are doing against people," said Kadamay chair Carmen Deunida, referring to the current jueteng beneficiaries.

Reviving Jose Pidal

Among other things, Kadamay called for an "impartial and serious" investigation into the Jose Pidal accounts, the subject of a series of exposés by Senator Panfilo Lacson in 2003 which had targetted the First Gentleman.

Lacson had accused Ms Arroyo's husband of using the Pidal accounts to allegedly launder some P200 million in campaign contributions for the President. The First Gentleman strongly denied the allegation, which has remained unsubstantiated.

Deunida also called for a probe into the alleged P5.8-million payoff Arroyo had supposedly given to whistle-blower Mary "Rosebud" Ong to discredit Lacson.

The group gathered around 11:30 a.m. on the corner of Perea Street and Paseo de Roxas in Makati's Central Business District.

They were supposed to march a few meters to Perea Street to hold their rally near the Lourdes Tuazon Arroyo Building.

But they were met by 130 policemen from the Southern Police District's Civil Disturbance Management Group and officers from the Makati Police Department, who blocked them.

Unholy Trinity

"We just received reports that a group is going to hold a rally here, so we fielded our officers. We are here just to prevent them from disrupting business establishments around here," said Superintendent Efren Ysulat, Makati's deputy police chief.

Carrying placards calling three relatives of Ms Arroyo "The Unholy Trinity," the protesters held a peaceful 30-minute rally.


"We cannot say that we are surprised at the government's lack of eagerness to pursue an investigation on the matter since they are closely related to President Macapagal-Arroyo and, thus, like the mafia, are untouchables" said Deunida.

The group dispersed peacefully at noon. With a report from Tarra V. Quismundo

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