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MANILA, Philippines -- A former president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines who has been at the forefront of the campaign against illegal gambling testified at the Senate hearing into the role of resigned Interior Undersecretary Rico E. Puno in the anti-jueteng drive, and warned that contrary to the perception it is a harmless vice compared to illegal drugs or carjacking, “jueteng kills.”
The 78-year old former Lingayen Archbishop Oscar Cruz, declared simply, “Jueteng kills. It doesn’t fool around … It means business,” as he lamented the failure of authorities to resolve the brazen killing of one of his crusade’s best witnesses, former jueteng collector Boy Mayor, right on a busy part of Roxas Boulevard in Manila several months ago.
The risks were not lost on Sen. Miriam Santiago, who is chairing the inquiry.
She tried to coax the prelate to reveal more details about people in high places who may be feeding off the jueteng trough.
“Archbishop, You’re already 78-years old. Anything you say [that surfaces] after your death, will be considered hearsay.”
But, she added, since at 78 she presumes he is “now comfortable about the prospect of meeting your Maker,” would he want to reveal more to the committee while there’s still time to act on this? In short, she asked him pointblank, “Do you wish to make a statement, as a dying declaration?”
The archbishop, who has received death threats, black ribbons, and even “checks” that he knows are unfunded and are meant to just frame him, simply smiled at Santiago and shook his head.
Cruz was trying to explain to the senators -- Santiago, and Senators Koko Pimentel and Alan Peter Cayetano -- that the difficulty with his Krusada Laban sa Jueteng was that in all jueteng operations, “everything is done in cash,” meaning, a paper trail almost always does not exist.
Thus, the best forms of evidence have been in terms of testimonies by real insiders-turned-whistleblowers like Boy Mayor.
But, the archbishop added, it is clear, from the brutal killing of Mayor that jueteng lords do not tolerate anyone messing around with them.
Cruz also said that even schoolchildren around the country place jueteng bets, even giving up their lunch or snack money.
The prelate said jueteng has remained resilient because most regional, provincial, municipal and city police offices are in cahoots with the gambling lords.
“Hindi masusugpo ang jueteng dahil karamihan sa mga police officers sa ibaba, kilala ang mga jueteng lords, pero sa itaas hindi nila kilala, kaya patuloy ang lahat ng illegal number games (Jueteng cannot be defeated because most police officers in the lower ranks know the jueteng lords but those in the higher ranks do not, so illegal numbers games continue to operate),” Cruz said.
However, Santiago said jueteng can be eradicated if the leadership of the PNP and other agencies refuse bribes.
Resigned Interior Undersecretary Rico Puno, who is the subject of the Senate inquiry called by Santiago, professed ignorance of reports ranking PNP and DILG officials are receiving bribes from gambling operators. (with Karl John C. Reyes, InterAksyon.com)