By Fe Zamora, Luige del Puerto
Inquirer News Service
THE P5.8 million paid as "agent's fees" to former police agent Mary "Rosebud" Ong came from pay-offs from jueteng, or the illegal numbers game, sources from the Philippine National Police claimed yesterday.
The cash payment to Ong was ordered last January by the then PNP chief Edgardo Aglipay after Ong accused First Gentleman Jose Miguel "Mike" Arroyo of stopping the PNP from honoring its "service agreement" with her and blocking the release of her agent's fees.
"It was jueteng money. Such transaction would not go unnoticed in Camp Crame," said a top PNP official.
Another source said he knew the officer who delivered the money to Ong in late January. He described Aglipay's courier as a graduate of the Philippine Military Academy.
Aglipay retired in March and was replaced by Director General Arturo Lomibao.
An unnamed top police official had told the Inquirer earlier this week that three relatives of a top government official, known by their code names M1, M2 and JS7, were the biggest recipients of payoffs from jueteng operations.
As speculations flew that M1 was Mike Arroyo and M2 his son, Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel "Mikey" Arroyo, the Senate mounted an inquiry to unmask the identity of the three alleged recipients of jueteng bribe money.
Reacting to the claim that the funds paid to her came from jueteng bribe money, Ong yesterday maintained that the money she received came from the PNP.
"I collected money from the PNP fund. That is far from being jueteng money," she said in a phone interview.
Ong said the allegations that she was paid from jueteng bribe money would have to be proven first.
She said she was aware of attempts to link members of the First Family, particularly the President's husband, to the jueteng bribe money controversy.
But she said the money that was paid to her came not from Mike Arroyo but from the PNP.
"Don't forget that I am the first one who bravely unmasked the face of FG [Mike Arroyo]. My collection was between me and the PNP, and it was FG who tried to block the release (of the money)," she said, adding that she supported efforts to stop the illegal numbers game.
Ong herself reported that P5.8 million in cash was delivered to her in the Camp Aguinaldo safe house where she was staying two weeks after she publicly accused Arroyo of blocking the payment of her agent's fees for two drug operations in 1998 and 1999.
Ong said she had been paid P5.8 million to cover her agent's fees, and another P1.8 million in interest accrued since 1998.
The payment effectively stopped Ong's media attacks on Arroyo.
At the time, Ong said she presumed the funds paid to her came from the defunct Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force (PAOCTF), which was once headed by Sen. Panfilo Lacson.
Ong, a former anti-narcotics agent of the government, turned state witness against Lacson, a former PNP chief, accusing him of money laundering and kidnapping for ransom.
Lapid needs more time
Sen. Manuel "Lito" Lapid meanwhile has asked for more time to decide whether he should inhibit himself from chairing or participating in the Senate inquiry into the latest jueteng controversy.
"He will decide next week," said Lapid's spokesperson and chief of staff Benalfre Galang.
The senator was asking for more time so he would "know what to do," Galang said.
His chief security aide said the senator was not available for an interview.
'Vatican of jueteng'
Opposition Sen. Aquilino Pimentel said the other day that Lapid, being a native of Pampanga, the center of jueteng operations, should recuse himself from the inquiry for his own good.
Lapid chairs the Senate committee on games and amusement that is conducting the inquiry.
Pimentel said that Pampanga, where Lapid was vice governor from 1992 to 1995 and governor from 1995 to 2004, was the "Vatican of jueteng." His son, Mark Lapid, is now the province's governor.
Pampanga, particularly the town of Lubao, is where suspected jueteng lord Rodolfo "Bong" Pineda lives. Pineda was displaced when his alleged patron, jailed ex-President Estrada, was ousted in the aftermath of the "juetengate" scandal of 2000. Estrada, who is now on trial for plunder, was accused of accepting bribes from jueteng operators.
Of the 1,419 police raids against jueteng operations made in 2001 in Central Luzon, Pampanga reported the highest number at 488.
In 2002 and 2003, it placed second after Bulacan in terms of the most number of raids and number of people arrested.
As of 2003, the police watch list of alleged jueteng operators and financiers in the region included Melchor Caluag, Regalado Balboa, Paris Tolentino in Pampanga; Bong and Ruben Pineda in Pampanga and Bataan; Crisologo Ballesteros, Bebot Roxas, Mark Halili and Jimmy Laxamana in Tarlac; Tony Santos in Meycauayan, Bulacan; Abet, Nonie and Jessie all surnamed Viceo in Bulacan; Lito Somera in Sta. Maria, San Jose del Monte and Bulacan towns in Bulacan; Onofre Valenzuela in Obando, Bulacan.
A certain Munti allegedly operated the illegal game in Nueva Ecija; a certain Aging in Olongapo; Peping Quiambao, Zambales; Larry Untayao in Bataan, Pampanga and Angeles City; and a certain Monette, also in Angeles City. Nine of the names on the police watch list were arrested in 2001.
With a report from Tonette Orejas, PDI Central Luzon Desk