Saturday, May 21, 2005

Pimentel: Arroyo benefited from jueteng

But no proof of link, says senator

By Michael Lim Ubac, Juliet Labog-Javellana
Inquirer News Service

SENATE Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. yesterday said that while he had no hard evidence to implicate President Macapagal-Arroyo in "jueteng," he could only presume that she "benefited" from operations of the illegal numbers game.

Pimentel, who, along with Senate President Franklin Drilon, had sought a Senate inquiry into allegations that members of the First Family had been receiving protection money, was responding to the question of why he thought Ms Arroyo had not directly ordered provincial police commanders or governors to stop jueteng operations in their areas.

"I can only surmise that she benefited from jueteng," he said.

But in an ambush interview after the Rembrandt news forum in Quezon City, Pimentel said: "For the present, I have nothing. But for the past, it was a matter of public knowledge that the propaganda materials for Gloria in her campaign for the vice presidency, especially that poster that pictured her in a seductive pose like Nora Aunor, was reportedly paid for by Bong Pineda."

He said that since Pineda was "notoriously known by people as a jueteng lord, you [will] somehow [wonder], if those posters were paid for by [him), where did Bong Pineda get so much money that he can afford to have those posters printed for Gloria's campaign?"

At the start of the forum, the senator-lawyer said he had no proof to back allegations by a supposed jueteng operator and two bagmen that the President's husband Jose Miguel "Mike" Arroyo and their elder son Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel "Mikey" Arroyo, had received protection money.

24 witnesses

"I don't have the evidence to link the President directly to jueteng money, so as I said, you people in media can say that, but I cannot. I will stick to my stand that when I say something, I can back it up," he said.

Pimentel said that apart from the 24 witnesses to be presented at the Senate inquiry, five more were willing to talk about the people on the jueteng take.

"The best that I can tell you is this: Even my witnesses, who are now hiding, can only [say] up to a point [the names of] jueteng lords and [government] officials receiving money," he said, adding:

"We can never tell if [directly linking the Arroyos is] going to happen in the investigation. The question will be answered when the witnesses appear."

Not pawns

Pimentel said the "luxurious" campaign posters that portrayed Ms Arroyo as "another Nora Aunor in politics" showed they were "paid for by Bong Pineda."

However, he stressed that he and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz, who is leading anti-jueteng crusade, were "not pawns in any political game, especially as regards the desire to topple Gloria."

"I know that Gloria does not deserve to be there-she was elected fraudulently. But it does not mean that I will use extra-constitutional means to kick her out of office," he said.

Vital ingredient lacking

But Pimentel, who was Senate President during the aborted impeachment trial of President Joseph Estrada, said the present confluence of events still lacked a vital ingredient that would bring down the Arroyo administration.

"The difference is there was a [Ilocos Sur Gov.] Chavit Singson who linked Estrada directly [to jueteng]," he said.

Pimentel also said that even before Ms Arroyo became president, he had been advocating a shift to a federal system from the present presidential form of government.

"There's a sharing of power [in a federal form], triggering the fastest economic development in the country, and there would be less coup [attempts] by military adventurists," he said.

Under threat

The supposed jueteng operator and two bagmen for influential people are seeking protection from the Senate, where they intend to spill the beans on people on the take from jueteng lords.

Even before they could come out in the open to testify, the jueteng men said they were "under threat" from people they were likely to implicate in the illegal numbers game.

A jueteng lord, whom the Inquirer report dubbed as O1, reported unwanted visits by unknown men to his house somewhere in Luzon since he and two bagmen spoke with the Inquirer and GMA 7 last Wednesday.

While he said nothing would stop him from testifying at the Senate, O1, who described himself as "very well known in the jueteng industry," said he was worried for his and his family's safety because he knew he was up against powerful persons.

P9.2M monthly

O1 has said he had been giving as much as P9.2 million a month in jueteng protection money for officials of the Philippine National Police, provincial police directors and other PNP officials, governors, mayors, and even members of the media through two conduits in Camp Crame in Quezon City.

On the other hand, the bagmen, dubbed B1 and B2, said they collected payola supposedly given to the Arroyo father and son-a charge vehemently denied by MalacaƱang.

B1, B2 and O1 wanted to testify at the jueteng investigation to be conducted by the Senate. But they have yet to contact Senate officials or to make their appeal formally to the committees on games and on public order, which are to conduct the inquiry.

The committees, chaired by Sen. Manuel "Lito" Lapid and Sen. Manuel Villar respectively, have not even come up with a list of guests or individuals to invite.


B1 expressed hope that they would be given protection for their testimony.

"If possible, they should protect us because we are still working for our families," he told the Inquirer. "People whom we are implicating have the capacity to harm us."

O1 agreed: "I hope the Senate or Congress can provide protection for people like us who are exposing anomalies in the government."

Aside from possible physical harm, O1 said they were also certain of being discredited by their foes.

"What happens is, if somebody comes out to talk about illegal activities, his entire life will be scrutinized. What the defense does is destroy your credibility. Our appeal is for [authorities] to verify what we are saying, and if they can prove that we lied, then they can jail us," O1 said.

He added: "But we should not be treated or asked questions like we are criminals, or asked everything about our families. Who would want to expose irregularities if they will be treated this way? They will go against rich people who can have them killed."

O1 recalled the case of the Land Bank of the Philippines employee, Acsa Ramirez, who exposed a tax scam but was herself charged.

Silencing them

"It's so sad, isn't it? Now, if there is protection, many people will come out to talk about not just jueteng but [also] corruption and thieves in government," he said.

An official who declined to be named said government agents were after the jueteng witnesses to keep them silent or force them to retract their planned testimony.

This was the official's take on Ms Arroyo's order for the investigation of the jueteng expos‚ against her husband and son, and Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez's order to identify the witnesses.

"The purpose of the order is to identify the witnesses to control them. They are being tracked down ostensibly to be offered protection. but the intention is to make them retract," the official said.

Pimentel said at least five of his own witnesses also feared for their lives.

"Takot na takot (So afraid)" was how he described them.

"Some of them have been moving to different houses," he said in a phone interview.

But according to Pimentel, the Senate does not have its own protection program for the potential witnesses. He said they could be admitted to the government's Witness Protection Program administered by the Department of Justice.


In another phone interview, Pimentel said jueteng whistle-blowers should not detail their first-hand knowledge about the illegal numbers game in the media to avoid being discounted outright.

Any disclosure by the potential witnesses before the start of the official Senate inquiry would run the risk of being dismissed by gambling operators and protectors, he said.

"I'm a little worried about this development. Obviously, there might be an attempt to explore the extent of their knowledge about jueteng and to limit it. It can be a ploy either way," he said.

He stressed that any testimony would be best aired during official inquiries.

With a report from TJ Burgonio

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