+Orlando B. Quevedo, OMI, D.D.











Gambling and Political Will

Down with illegal gambling!  Imprison all gambling lords!  Support Secretary Jose Lina's campaign against illegal gambling!  That should be the battlecry of every member of civil society and the churches.

Secretary Lina seems to be a lone voice in the wilderness of officialdom. Thre is no political will to eradicate the network of gambling in the country.  I say this after my experience as an Archbishop in Ilocos Sur for 12 years, 1986-1998. There, the priests, lay leaders, the youth and I fought against jueteng with statements for the whole province, rallies in Candon, and even a letter to the then President Corazon C. Aquino. The Bishops of Northern Luzon issued an unprecedented common pastoral letter denouncing jueteng.

In Ilocos Sur, we finally succeeded in having a covenant against jueteng signed by both former Governor Chavit Singson and me before thousands of people in San Ildefonso, Ilocos Sur during Holy Mass on the feast Christ the King.  After a few weeks, Governor Singson informed me that the covenant was almost dead. For many local officials and police officers, jueteng had become a ready and all too generous source of extra income and electon campaign support – without any accountability.  This is a classic example of a structure of injustice and sin.

It took a "betrayal" and a threat to his life to do it, but I was glad that the Governor, even to the extent of damning himself, finally, honestly and courageously exposed the monstrous satanic form of jueteng, its shocking geographical coverage, the incredible amounts of money fleeced from the poor, and the terribly debilitating corruption of officials even allegedly of a former President.  Because it is our moral duty, we need to support Governor Singson in continuing the expose that he has begun.

Why can't jueteng be eradicated?  The conventional answer seems to be because gambling lords give protection and are protected, and that it will continue to operate so long as there are people who wish to place bets.  That answer is partly true.  But for me, the fundamental reason is the lack of political will.

On January 28, 1996, the Bishops of the Philippines issued a Pastoral Statement entitled "Development – the Fruit if Justice and Peace". The statement tackled three burning issues at that time: the expanded value added tax (VAT), gambling, rising criminality, and a proposed anti-terrorism bill.

Let us revisit what the Bishops said about gambling.  The Bishops denounced gambling on the basis of a fundamental social and moral principle, namely, that true human development requires the development of authentic human values, including moral and spiritual values.  But gambling erodes human values such as diligence and industry, accountability and transparency, an honest work ethic, integrity, and accountability.  In this sense, the Bishops called gambling a form of "de-moralization".  They stated that illegal and organized "gambling in whatever form is immoral, given our particular socio-economic, cultural and religious situation."

Gambling corrupts "officials, police and military officers".  It "fleeces the poor of hard earned money".  Jueteng is the poor man's "one-armed bandit".  Not only do millions of poor people lose their money, but the hundreds of millions of pesos they lose every month are meant to enrich the few and to corrupt public officials.  It is totally a losing proposition. Gambling exploits the gullibility of people who mistakenly place their trust and their money in the hands of "suerte".

Behind gambling is organized criminality and corruption. Even a lowly barangay kagawad, I am informed, may have a small monthly share. Reports say that the higher the official, the bigger the commission.  So, can it be that local, regional, and national officials may not be willing to sacrifice money or the association/friendship of jueteng lords whose support they might need at election time?

Today the Bishops have the same appeal that they had in 1996: that the investigation of gambling lords "be pursued relentlessly until these are brought to justice and the complicity of government officials, police, and military officers be brought out into the open and be punished."

Jueteng can be eradicated.  Political will is needed. When officials and law enforcers are determined to do their duty with a strong political will and do not waver from their sacred task, no matter the threat or the bribe/commission, jueteng would not have a chance.

I express my great admiration for the holy determination with which Secretary Jose Lina is campaigning against illegal gambling.  How truly sad and tragic if he does not have public support.  Public officials – from the President, the Senate, the House of Representatives, down to governors, mayors and kagawads, must show their support more actively. We need stiffer penalties against illegal gambling.  The government has to ensure more effective law enforcement and throw out scalawags in uniforms.  And all of civil society should play a strong and active advocacy role against illegal gambling.  If its members act in solidarity – as a form of "social auditing" – a local community can effectively throw out any form of illegal gambling from its midst.

Jueteng and other forms of organized gambling, illegal or not, form a deadly virus that eats into the innards of a moral society, gradually wearing out its conscience and its ability to distinguish right from wrong.  A strong republic we cannot be if we have such a virus in our bloodstream.




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