EDITORIAL - Return of jueteng
Pampanga Gov. Ed Panlilio is complaining that jueteng is back in his province. His Church superiors, the Catholic bishops, are echoing his complaint and saying that the illegal numbers game is once again rampant nationwide. Church leaders would have reliable information about the extent of jueteng operations. They work with people at the grassroots and often personally know the bet collectors and bettors.
Panlilio has a tough battle before him. Jueteng has become so deeply entrenched in Pampanga that the last time a real, honest-to-goodness police crackdown put jueteng lords out of business, their workers openly staged a mass protest, decrying the loss of their livelihood. Police officials in other parts of the country have openly admitted that funds contributed by known jueteng lords finance legitimate police operations or augment limited police resources.
That kind of culture has led to proposals in recent years to legalize the popular numbers game, or else kill it through the introduction of a similar game operated by the government. But until legalization pushes through, jueteng remains illegal. And the dirty money earned from it breeds corruption and finances other crimes.
Amid the bishops’ complaint, the speculation is that jueteng is being used to raise campaign funds for the general elections in May 2010. Unless a serious crackdown on jueteng is launched, public suspicion will inevitably focus on the administration. Laws against illegal gambling have been strengthened and must be enforced. If gambling barons prove too slippery, they can be pinned down for money laundering, tax evasion and even bribery where applicable.
A nationwide crackdown cannot be successful without the full support of President Arroyo. Stopping jueteng is the responsibility of Ronaldo Puno, whose Cabinet position gives him supervision over the Philippine National Police and local government units. If Puno cannot order the PNP to conduct a genuine and sustained crackdown on illegal gambling, he risks drawing suspicion that he himself is on the take in lucrative jueteng operations. The President should show the sincerity of her administration in fighting illegal gambling by demanding results from her officials.