ON DISTANT SHORE
By Val G. Abelgas
Frustrated by the continued proliferation of jueteng in the Philippines, retired Arhbishop Oscar Cruz once said: “There are three things that are exempted in the President’s matuwid na daan: Jueteng, Hacienda Luisita and the KKK (kaklase, kaibigan, kabarilan).”
President Aquino has yet to disprove his allegations. Hacienda Luisita, owned by the President’s relatives, continues to defy court orders to turn over its land to the farmers by filing unending appeals before the Supreme Court. A prominent kabarilan and kaibigan, erstwhile DILG Undersecretary Rico E. Puno, seemed headed to a great escape with the President’s allies blocking efforts to investigate him over his alleged role in fraudulent arms deals and in the proliferation of jueteng. And jueteng has not only remained strong, but has actually flourished under the Aquino administration, according to Archbishop Cruz.
At least in the case of jueteng, Aquino tried to show this week that his administration is determined to stop the illegal numbers game. Although he did not say explicitly that the eradication of jueteng is a priority of his administration, the President said that it is one of the priorities of the Department of Interior and Local Governments under its new secretary Mar Roxas.
When confronted by Archbishop Cruz last year on the proliferation of jueteng, Aquino had said it is not a priority of his government.
Roxas seems a really nice guy and we just have to wait until his confirmation by the Commission on Appointments (which his predecessor, the late Secretary Jesse Robredo never got) and until he is ready to repeal his comprehensive plan to eradicate jueteng and other illegal numbers game.
Let’s hope Roxas’ “comprehensive” approach is not as shallow as the plan broached by the President during an interview in Lucena City on Sunday. Aquino said he has ordered the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office to stop the Small Town Lottery (STL) because it has failed to stop the proliferation of jueteng. Instead, he said the PCSO would put in place a new numbers game that would put an end to jueteng.
In other words, the administration would put back into action the same failed approach to end jueteng – a legal numbers game against an illegal numbers game. Aquino, echoing an earlier statement by his friend Sen. Panfilo Lacson, said the STL failed because the jueteng lords even used the STL to its advantage by using the same winning STL numbers to determine their own winners and even got STL franchises to legitimize their collectors. And what assurances will the new legal numbers game have that the jueteng operators wouldn’t outsmart the government again by adjusting their operations to that of the new game?
Why oust the jueteng lords by trying to beat them in their own game? Even if it succeeds in putting the jueteng lords out of business, the government will just be replacing the gambling operators as an instrument to putting the poor people deeper into the quagmire of poverty and making them forever reliant on luck to get out of it. Is the government interested only in taking the money from the jueteng lords and not on stopping the people from forming a gambling habit?
Maybe the government also wants to put up its own prostitution ring to put the pimps out of business, or its own drug cartel to bring down the drug lords?
If the Aquino administration is really bent on eradicating jueteng, all it has to do is to arrest all the known jueteng operators and all the police and local officials in their payroll, prosecute them and punish them to the full extent of the law. Of course, this is easier said than done considering the corruption that pervades among the police and government officials. But who said fighting corruption would be as easy as impeaching a Chief Justice?
But if Aquino is serious in combating corruption in his “daang matuwid,” he should start with these jueteng operators and the corrupt officials who are coddling them, all the way to the top. His drive against corruption should not stop with the ouster of Chief Justice Renato Corona, whose alleged corruption has not really been proved in a legitimate criminal court.
If he is really serious in his drive against corruption, why hasn’t he done anything against smugglers who continue to defraud the government of hundreds of billions of pesos annually? Why do the wealthy continue to evade paying the right amount of taxes, resulting in large shortfall for the Bureau of Internal Revenue month after month? Why is land grabbing still rampant in the country? Why are businessmen still complaining of bureaucratic red tape and corruption in every nook and corner of government offices?
If he wants the people to rally behind him in his reform agenda, he must show he has the political will to really curb corruption at its very roots. He can start by starting to go after those jueteng lords and their coddlers in the government.
The President cannot let the people believe Archbishop Cruz’s statement on the “daang matuwid” exemptions. He has to prove him wrong. He can start with jueteng and one of his KKK’s