BY HARVEY S. KEH
I vividly remember one conversation I had with the late DILG Sec. Jesse Robredo. Last year I asked him how come the present administration hasn’t fulfilled its campaign promise to put an end to jueteng operations.
Robredo answered me by saying it’s not that the President doesn’t want to stop jueteng, he just feels that there are more pressing public order and safety issues, such as illegal drugs and rising criminal activities. I agreed with him at that time given that President Noynoy Aquino was just barely a year in office. As in any war with limited resources, one needs to fight battles one at a time.
However, as the coming 2013 national and local elections draw near, it is timely that recent events have put this illegal numbers game again in the limelight. While my previous experience with Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago during the impeachment trial of former Chief Justice Renato Corona wasn’t all that good, I have to give it to her now for having the courage to push through with a Senate hearing on how jueteng continues to proliferate in many cities and provinces all over the country.
She did this despite obvious pressure from Malacañang and its allies in the Senate to put a stop to the scheduled hearing where, as expected, the President’s personal friend and former DILG Undersecretary Rico Puno was again implicated as one of the coddlers of jueteng in our country. Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz says that he is disappointed that in this present administration, not much has changed in terms of pushing efforts towards the eradication of jueteng.
As mentioned by Santiago during the hearing, jueteng is a P20-P30 Billion industry that has continued to thrive due to the support of many of our local government officials and the Philippine National Police (PNP). This money can easily be used to elect not only local officials but even national officials such as our Senators and eventually, our next President in 2016. In Pampanga, former Gov. Among Ed Panlilio laments that there are no longer people who are willing to challenge the Macapagal-Arroyos and the Pinedas because of the massive jueteng operations that continue to thrive in their province.
I am sure that this isn’t only happening in Pampanga but in many other provinces. A sad reality that jueteng has brought about in our nation is that many good Filipinos whose heart is really for public service are no longer willing to run for public office because they feel that it is no longer possible to win with millions of pesos from jueteng operations funding their opponents.
One of my colleagues at Kaya Natin! always mentions that she is already getting tired of fighting money obtained from illegal sources with hard-earned personal funds. That is why she initially had second thoughts about running for public office again. If this trend continues, we might just wake up one day with our country being run by gambling lords. Is this the kind of country that we want our children to grow up in?
President Aquino always emphasizes that his administration is for the “Matuwid na Daan.” Now is the time for him to show his political will by immediately ordering the PNP and local government officials to stop jueteng operations all over the country or suffer the consequences. In short, it is time for our President to walk his talk.
If he wants upright leaders like him to win in the coming elections, he must use his popularity to do what is right and finally put an end to this growing menace. By doing this, he will level the playing field in the coming 2013 elections and encourage good Filipinos to run for public office. This is his opportunity to be known as the only President in our history to put an end to jueteng, pursuing this goal with the same vigor he showed in pushing for the accountability of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and former Chief Justice Renato Corona. When Aquino finally steps down in 2016, we hope the majority of our local and national leaders will be like him, an effective, ethical and empowering leader. But that will only happen if jueteng operations are stopped immediately and permanently in our country.
The moral fiber of our nation is at stake here, Mr. President. That is why jueteng matters in 2013.
Harvey S. Keh is the Lead Convenor of the Kaya Natin! Movement for Good Governance and Ethical Leadership and is also the Director for Youth Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship at the Ateneo de Manila University-School of Government. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/harveykeh