Jueteng, plunder and death penalty

>> Friday, February 24, 2017

Alfred P. Dizon

BAGUIO CITY – Call it moro-moro. Despite President Duterte’s issuance of Executive Order 13 directing the Philippine National Police, National Bureau of Investigation and other law enforcement agencies to intensify the government’s campaign against illegal gambling including jueteng, the illegal numbers game is still up and about in North and Central Luzon as in other parts of the country.  
Interior Secretary Ismael Sueno had also ordered the PNP to stop jueteng, but it is still rampant in this summer capital, Benguet among other parts of the Cordillera including Regions 1, 2 And 3.   
Sources said jueteng lords have actually become bolder in their operations.  Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella earlier said the government is now cracking down on illegal gambling like jueteng as war on drugs took a back seat.
Abella said the Duterte administration’s campaign against crime and corruption is not limited to narcotics use and trade, but also includes other crimes, including illegal gambling.
“It’s part of the priorities of the President because his top priorities are drugs, crime, and corruption. It’s included,” Abella said in response to appeal of retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz that President Rodrigo Duterte also pay attention to illegal gambling like jueteng. 
Sueno has ordered the PNP to go after illegal gambling operators saying
illegal gambling operations deprived government of taxes, which could be used in programs to benefit the people.
Aside from the war on drugs, the PNP must implement the Oplan Tokhang principle in going after illegal gambling lords, this time to ensure that appropriate taxes go to government coffers,” Sueno said.
Abella noted that Duterte had expressed his disapproval of gambling and directed that the revenue of state-owned Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp., the country’s principal gambling regulator, be used for public health care needs.
Duterte also ordered Pagcor chairperson Andrea Domingo to cancel  licenses granted to online casinos because of its detrimental effect on people.
Cruz, for his part, said he was grateful at Duterte’s disapproval of gambling but insisted that gambling is morally wrong and giving gambling revenues to worthy charitable causes does not make it morally right. 
“Gambling is gambling and don’t tell me that these gamblers are saints and holy,” Cruz said in a recent radio interview. “It’s so hard to accept that gambling will be used to help the poor. The end does not justify the means.” 
This, as Sueno said as police intensify drive against illegal gambling, full abeyance to the rule of law must be observed by law enforcers.
Pundits are saying police will not go hard against illegal gambling like jueteng because most are on the take from jueteng operators.
To stop it, they say, a one-strike policy should be implemented on a regional basis.
This means, if just one case of jueteng is found in a region, the regional police director should be replaced immediately. This would instill fear on police directors to do their jobs right.
If Sen. Panfilo Lacson was able to stop jueteng during his time as PNP chief, police Director General Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa should be able to do it, if he is serious enough in stopping the menace, otherwise, like we said, all these pronouncements about stopping jueteng from top government officials are just hot air. Like  we said earlier – just “moro-moro.” 
Plunder is back in the list of offenses punishable by death, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said Tuesday following much hooting from the public.
The decision reportedly came after House leaders were apprised of possible irregularities in a casino contract between the government and a private group, during a hearing by the committee on good government.
Fact is, according to pundits, the Lower House didn’t include plunder earlier in the list as they were only safeguarding themselves should they be hauled to court for committing the offense.
Anyhow, Alvarez said the casino “contract is highly disadvantageous to the government. The amount involved is P234 million in taxpayers’ money. That is plunder. In view of that, we will retain plunder in the death penalty bill.”
He was referring to the November 2014 contract entered into by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) with Vanderwood Management Corp. for the opening of a casino at a hotel the latter is building at the old Army and Navy Club complex near Rizal Park in Manila.
The city government, which owns the property, leased it to Oceanville Hotel and Spa Corp. for P300,000 a month. Oceanville subleased it to Vanderwood, which in turn leased it to Pagcor for P13 million a month.
Alvarez directed the good government committee to recommend the filing of a plunder case with the Office of the Ombudsman against former Pagcor officials and private individuals involved in the deal, led by then chairman Cristino Naguiat Jr. of the Yellow Company under the administration of Kris Aquino’s brother.
Kris was reported to have texted President Duterte not to jail her brother who has kept a low profile after his exit from Malacanang. The Mamasapano Massacre cases will do him in, according to observers, but that is another story.  
So back. According to Alvarez, the anomalous deal has given him and his colleagues enough reason to keep the crime of plunder in the death penalty bill.
Last Feb. 8, House members agreed in caucus to delist plunder from the measure. The crime involves the stealing or misuse of at least P50 million in public funds.
Alvarez said the total amount involved in the Pagcor-Vanderwood transaction was P3.2 billion, the amount of rent the state gaming agency had committed to pay Vanderwood for 15 years.
The Speaker said Pagcor already paid Vanderwood P234 million representing advance rentals for 12 months and security deposit for six months.
“You’ve already given them P234 million even if you’ve not occupied even a single square inch of space of the leased property. Is that not highly anomalous? What you are leasing in effect is just air. Meanwhile, Vanderwood already used your P234 million,” he told Naguiat and other former Pagcor officials.
He said if current Pagcor officers honor the Vanderwood contract, they too would be liable for plunder.
Anti-death penalty lawmakers are pushing deferment of plenary debates on the revival of the death penalty bill while the Senate is still deliberating on the fate of the country’s treaty with an international human rights group.
Reps. Edcel Lagman and Raul Daza are urging Alvarez to hold off debates on House Bill 4727 while senators are preparing to vote on whether to uphold Manila’s commitment to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Second Optional Protocol.
“This is a bicameral legislature. No one acts solely without the consent of the other. We must suspend all proceedings in the House and avoid a clash. Otherwise, we will only be engaged in an exercise in futility,” Lagman of Albay pointed out.
Daza, who represents northern Samar, agrees. “I urge the House leadership to pause and rethink about the debates in the plenary, because all the time, energy and resources by the House on this bill will be laid to waste.”
Fourteen senators have signed a resolution saying any treaty or international agreement should not be valid without Senate concurrence.


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