Saturday, May 14, 2005

'Jueteng' suspect to snub Senate

CITY OF SAN FERNANDO-A suspected "jueteng" operator in Pampanga, the province described by Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. as the "Vatican of jueteng," said he was not testifying in the Senate's investigation into the new protectors of the illegal numbers game.

Melchor "Ngongo" Caluag said contrary to reports (not in the Inquirer), he has not volunteered or agreed to cooperate as a witness.

Caluag said he has not received an invitation from any senator or from Sen. Manuel "Lito" Lapid, chair of the Senate committee on games and amusements and former Pampanga governor, to appear in the inquiry.

Should he receive an invitation, he said he would decline it, explaining he was not anymore involved in illegal gambling.

Caluag, 28, is the barangay captain of Dolores, this city's prime commercial district.

Police sources in Camp Olivas said Caluag, one of the revisadores (number reviewers) of suspected jueteng lord Rodolfo "Bong' Pineda, ventured into the game in this city and other Pampanga towns when Pineda lost his grip on jueteng operations in Central Luzon.

Pineda's control over jueteng operations waned when his supposed patron, former President Joseph Estrada, was ousted in January 2001 on the heels of the Juetengate scandal.

Pineda, according to police sources, had reclaimed some of his jueteng territories in Central and Northern Luzon after the May 2004 elections, easing out Caluag or allowing small operators to exist through franchises at a minimum of P1 million monthly. Close relatives of Pineda denied the reports.

In March, however, there were still tension between Pineda and Caluag, indicated by the slay attempts on Caluag and his driver. The Pinedas have also denied any hand in the slay try on Caluag.

Caluag said he preferred leading a quiet life. He said he is engaged now in the distribution of grocery items.

But a police memorandum on May 5 showed he was still on the watch list. The other names on the list were Pineda, Mario "Marga" Garcia and Otto Balboa in Pampanga; Jimmy Lacsamana in Tarlac; and Abet Viceo in Bulacan.

Other names on the list were Mark Halili, Vivian Gutierrez, a certain Mr. Rafing, a certain Luding, Fernando "Paris" Casupanan and Nene Roxas.

For the second week since May 2, the game continued to be suspended throughout Pampanga and five other Central Luzon provinces, according to Chief Supt. Alejandro Lapinid, regional police director.

Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon Desk

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