Saturday, May 14, 2005

Mayors, cops on the take

'Jueteng' all over Isabela, says governor
By Christian V. Esguerra Inquirer News Service

"JUETENG" thrives in all 36 towns of Isabela and mayors refuse to help wipe it out because they benefit from its operation, provincial Gov. Grace Padaca alleged yesterday.

Padaca said the local police could not crack down on jueteng because up to 80 percent of their operational funds came from the mayors, and urged the regional police from outside Isabela to carry out the raids on the jueteng dens.

Padaca spoke of the extent of the gambling network in her province during a press conference while seated beside Interior Secretary Angelo Reyes and Philippine National Police chief Director General Arturo Lomibao.

Lomibao said it had "not been verified" that local police were benefiting from alleged jueteng money received by mayors and that the supposed financial assistance for the local police was "between policemen and mayors."

"But per se, that is an illegal disbursement so we will not condone that kind of funds being given to them," Lomibao said.

He conceded that police, indeed, had an inadequate budget.

Padaca did not say how much mayors were allegedly receiving from jueteng operators.

Described as a P13-billion industry, jueteng has supposedly brought in millions of pesos for officials who have allowed it to operate under their noses. Allegations of jueteng payoffs helped bring down the government of former President Joseph Estrada.

"Out of the 36 towns of Isabela [there are 35 towns, 2 cities in Isabela—PDI Research], may jueteng sa lahat dito sa provincia [there is jueteng throughout here in the province]," Padaca told reporters after a closed-door meeting at the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines.

"So, even if the governor says no to jueteng, I am finding difficulty in fighting it because I cannot get cooperation from the mayors. On the side of the police, it is also difficult for them because 60 to 80 percent of their operation funds come from the assistance of the mayors."

Padaca said she obtained her information from talking with the mayors themselves.

She said the mayors were not funding the jueteng operations. "They just receive money from those who earn from jueteng," she said.

"They say since their budget is not enough for people who need medicines and for those who have no work, the [money from jueteng] helps them. But still it's wrong because jueteng is illegal."

On watch list

Replying to questions, Padaca said: "They [the mayors) did not directly admit that they were getting money but from what they are saying, that is what you can deduce."

Padaca's province is among 24 areas on the list of places where jueteng operates, which was submitted by Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz to a congressional probe panel.

Jueteng operations in Isabela are allegedly run by a man closely identified with a political clan in Central Luzon.

Padaca met with Reyes and Lomibao to try and solve her problem with mayors and policemen and turn Isabela into a "showcase" of the government's anti-jueteng campaign.

Also present were Archbishop Diosdado Tamalayan of Tuguegarao and Bishop Sergio Utleg of Ilagan, Isabela.

It was not clear what commitment Padaca got from Reyes or Lomibao.

During the meeting, Padaca said she asked that Lomibao allow the regional police office to raid jueteng dens in her province.

"Station commanders in the towns and cities usually can't stage raids because they feel uncomfortable with mayors, who help them [financially]," she said in Filipino.

"So it would be better if those who will conduct the raid are not from the town and are not under the mayors."

Cruz's list prompted the PNP to renew its lackadaisical, off-and-on campaign against the illegal numbers game.

Reyes yesterday said that the PNP had made "some major accomplishments in the reduction of jueteng in some specific areas."

As of May 12, Lomibao said jueteng operations had been wiped out in Tarlac, Aurora and Cavite. Cagayan Valley is now allegedly "50 percent jueteng-free."

He did not say how long they would remain "wiped out" in those areas.

Lomibao said only "guerrilla" operations were reported in Angeles City, Pampanga and in one town in Quirino.

"This is a concerted effort of the PNP, of the religious, and of the local officials," he said.

Raring to testify

Reyes said he was prepared to appear before any congressional inquiry into the jueteng issue.

"I'm willing to face all investigation especially in aid of legislation," he said.

Reyes said his department had issued several directives to Lomibao to intensify the anti-jueteng campaign.

A DILG fact-finding team which looked into the peace and order problem in Abra had reported to Reyes that jueteng operations in the province had the support of local executives and was contributing to the so-called reign of terror in the province.

"But reports show that jueteng is also experiencing a resurgence elsewhere, in other areas of the country," Reyes said.

Earlier, Reyes met with Archbishop Cruz to exchange information on how to deal with the problem. No details of the meeting were immediately available.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel urged Cruz to be more wary about discussing sensitive information about the anti-jueteng campaign over the phone because of the danger of wiretapping by unscrupulous police.

Cruz earlier complained of hearing "echoes and voices" on his cellular phone, making him suspect that he was being bugged.

Pimentel has included the name of a ranking police officer at the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in Camp Crame on the list of officials who might be involved in the illegal numbers game.

The officer is also among those expected to be invited to testify on the jueteng issue before the Senate committee on games, amusement and sports. The committee is to start its inquiry next week.

Sen. Richard Gordon, a longtime city mayor in Olongapo, said that the "de-nationalization" of the country's police force was one way of eradicating jueteng.

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