by Perry Diaz
If we have to believe — and I do — president Benigno “P-Noy” Aquino III’s mantra, “Kung walang corruption, walang mahirap” (No corruption, no poverty), then the government should get out of the gambling business including “legalized” jueteng in the guise of Small Town Lotto (STL). History has proven that where there is gambling, there is corruption. And among the “games of chance,” jueteng is arguably the most corrupt gaming system in the Philippines.
When P-Noy gave his marching orders to Jesse Robredo, the newly appointed Secretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), to stop jueteng, Sen. Edgardo Angara said that P-Noy might have given Robredo a “mission impossible.” Is it really a mission impossible? My article, “Jueteng: A Way of Life” (February 4, 2005), might provide the reader an idea whether it is a “mission impossible” or not.
Jueteng: A Way of Life
“Church admits it accepted money from gambling lords,” the news headline says. Responding to a congressional inquiry , a lawyer of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), admitted that the “Church accepts money from whatever source, whether lawful or illicit.”
Gambling is the favorite past time of most Filipinos. The term “anak ng jueteng” – son of a gambler — is as popular as its American counterpart, “son of a gun.” When former president Joseph “Erap” Estrada fell from power because of the jueteng-gate scandal, a joke was circulating around Manila: “Why are all the names of the sons of Erap start with the letter J?” The answer was: “They are all anak ng jueteng.”
Erap’s fall began when he illegally implemented — without the required Congressional approval — “Bingo 2-Ball,” a numbers game similar to jueteng. He forced the government-run Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) to take Bingo 2-Ball under its control. And then he appointed his friend Charlie “Atong” Ang to the Pagcor Board of Directors and put him in charge of Bingo 2-Ball operations.
Ang awarded Bingo 2-Ball franchises to some of the existing jueteng operators. Why not? After all, they had experience in the business. In return, Ang’s personal consulting firm received 27 percent share of the total collections from the gambling lords.
In August 1998, two months after he won the presidency, Erap met with then Gov. Luis “Chavit” Singson of Ilocos Sur, Ang, and Bong Pineda — the biggest jueteng lord in all of Central Luzon. It was alleged that Pineda was instructed to deliver Erap’s share — 3% from the gambling profits — of the jueteng protection money to Ang.
A few months later, Ang had a falling out with Erap and Erap asked Singson to take over as the collector of the jueteng “payola.” A “blue book” — found by the police who raided a gambling den in Ilocos Sur — provided details of jueteng payoffs in 34 towns in the province. That was the time that Ang was working on “Bingo 2-Ball.” The “blue book” contained valuable information about jueteng “payola.” Coded names of mayors and police officers were found on the “blue book.” Singson alleged that Erap received 32 to 35 million pesos in jueteng collections.
Then Singson decided to sing and expose the jueteng-gate. His exposé shook Congress and Malacañang. The people were enraged. On Jan. 20, 2001, Erap was forced to step down when the military withdrew its support and then Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. swore in then Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as president.
Gloria’s ascension to power didn’t put a dent on the lucrative jueteng operations which was estimated to generate at least P30 billion a year. All it did was remove Erap. Bong Pineda was alleged to be a “kumpadre” of Gloria. Both of them are from Lubao, Pampanga. However, there was no verifiable information that could connect Pineda’s jueteng operations to Gloria.
How jueteng works
What exactly is jueteng? Jueteng is an illegal numbers game played in almost all of the provinces of the Philippines. The word “jueteng” originated from the Chinese word “hue” (flower) and “eng” (to bet). Jueteng has been around since the Spanish era. The game is played by picking two numbers and placing a bet on those two numbers. Bets can be as low as 25 centavos. It is more popular with the poor and middle class Filipinos.
The numbers 1 to 37 marked in small wooden balls called “bolitas” are placed inside a bottle-like container usually made of rattan. The drawing is performed by a “bolero” and witnessed by “cabos.” The “bolero” shakes the bottle and takes out a “bolita.” The number on the “bolita” is recorded and the “bolita” is returned to the bottle. The “bolero” shakes the bottle again and takes out another “bolita.” The numbers from the two drawn “bolitas” are the winning combinations. Some operators pay P700 to P900 for the winning combinations for each one-peso bet.
In most towns, jueteng is played two or three times a day. The Las Vegas Gambling Magazine claims that jueteng “generates an average of P6 million daily per province, with 25% or P 1.5 million of collection going to “payola” — protection money — for law enforcers and public officials.” The 25% “payola” is distributed as follows: 60% to local and provincial officials and 40% to national officials.
Jueteng has been a way life for the poor Filipinos. They know that jueteng will never make them rich. However, they know that if they win, it will give them happiness even for just a day. Yes, to the hopeless poor, jueteng gives them a glimmer of hope… to dream for a better day. But to the jueteng lords, their profits provide them with high-flying lifestyle and the means to propagate a corrupt “padrino” system, and lord over the people they bleed with their meager earnings who barely make their ends meet.
For as long as there is poverty, jueteng will be around. But jueteng breeds corruption which is the root of poverty. Indeed, it’s vicious cycle that perpetuates a vice that is eroding the moral fiber of our society.
I must say then: “Kung walang jueteng, walang corruption, walang mahirap” — no jueteng, no corruption, no poverty. Is it an impossible mission? Not, if we try.