The tragedy of jueteng
On Distant Shore
Lost in the jubilation over the conviction of Chief Justice Renato Corona and the national anger over the “greatest boxing heist” that led to the loss of boxing icon Manny Pacquiao to Tim Bradley was the recent revelation by retired Archbishop Oscar M. Cruz that jueteng, the scourge of many Filipino families, has actually flourished under the Aquino administration.
“Jueteng did not just boom, the operation is much stronger now. That’s because jueteng is exempted from the President’s ‘matuwid na daan.’ When he [President Aquino] assumed position, I asked how come jueteng can’t be stopped? He said it’s not his priority,” the bishop said.
Cruz said that the jueteng lords are even using the draws of the government-sanctioned Small Town Lottery to determine the winning numbers for the day. It seems the government, which had hoped to weaken jueteng by competing with it through the STL, is being friend on its own fat.
The Manila Times reported the day after Cruz made his revelation that two generals are on the take from jueteng lords. In 2010, Cruz said he gave Local Governments Secretary Jesse Robredo a list of jueteng lords and their protectors but nothing has been done about it. Is it because jueteng is not the administration’s priority?
But why should eradicating jueteng not be a priority under Aquino’s “daang matuwid” or his anti-corruption drive when we all know that jueteng would never thrive without the connivance of corrupt government and police officials? More than any corrupt acts, accepting bribery from jueteng lords should be a top priority of the “daang matuwid” should be stopped because it afflicts almost the entire government machinery – from the lowly barangays all the way to the Cabinet.
Some quarters are again proposing that since jueteng cannot be stopped, it should be legalized so that the government could regulate it and earn money from it.
Jueteng should never be legalized.
While jueteng, or any form of gambling for that matter, offers a chance of solving one’s financial problems in an instant, it gives people false hopes and buries them deeper in a culture of dependency. Worse, jueteng virtually robs money from the bettors – who are almost certain to lose since only less than 10% of the total collection is earmarked for winnings. That is the tragedy of jueteng.
The jueteng operator rakes in millions, the unscrupulous police and government officials make millions in exchange for turning a blind eye, the jueteng collectors make a little earning, and the poor bettors – millions of them – each lose thousands of pesos that should have gone to their family’s meals, to pay their bills, and to give their kids a decent education.
Proponents of the legalization of jueteng, like the top two Senate officials – Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Senate President Protempore Jinggoy Estrada --say that the vice has been there for generations, and that “buying dreams” for a few pesos wouldn’t hurt the bettors. So, instead of removing this “little joy” of poor Filipinos, why not just legalize it and make the government earn millions of pesos in taxes, instead of the money going to corrupt politicians? Besides, tens of thousands of bet collectors are earning income from jueteng, why deprive them of their livelihood?
If we are to follow this line of reasoning, the government might as well legalize the sale of shabu and other illegal drugs, too. And yes, prostitution, too. Thousands of shabu dealers and drug pushers earn a living peddling these illicit drugs. Why deprive them of their livelihood? Tens of thousands of pimps and prostitutes make bundles of money luring men for sex. Why deprive them of their livelihood? And why deprive the shabu users of their “little joy” and pastime? Why deprive the men of their “little joy” in the company of the sex-for-money women?
Imagine the money that the government would earn if jueteng, shabu and drug dealing, and prostitution would be legalized? All the money that jueteng lords, drug dealers, pimps and prostitutes pay as bribes to police, military, local and national officials would go to the government coffers. And presto, no more budget deficit and the gross national product (which would include monetary transactions from these three vices) would increase threefold.
It is the same mentality that jueteng and other forms of gambling have inculcated in the minds of Filipinos for generations – the chance to earn a quick buck. Indeed, with a magic wand that would legalize jueteng, the government gets to earn easy money from the gambling operators.
Jueteng victimizes the poor, indeed, the very poor. Jueteng deprives them of their hard-earned money. A jueteng bet gives them false hopes and false dreams. Every time the poor places his bet, he drowns deeper in the quicksand of hopelessness and despair, because the “little dream” turns to disappointment at the end of the day.
The country’s leaders must erase the mentality of “if you can’t lick ‘em, join ‘em.” The fact that it has not been able to stop the numbers game for generations does not give the government reason to legalize jueteng. It must muster the political will to crush this cancer that has gnawed upon the people’s moral fabric for years. It must put a stop to this biggest source of corruption in the country.
When asked how the jueteng can be solved years ago, Archbishop Cruz said bluntly: "President Arroyo only has to say the word, and jueteng operations will stop." The militant archbishop made it look too simple, but, on the other hand, come to think of it, all the country's problems could be solved or at least minimized if the national leadership would only be sincere and determined to wipe them out. It's called political will.
To paraphrase Archbishop Cruz: “President Aquino only has to say the word, and jueteng operations stop.” But does he have the will? If he has, he hasn’t shown it.
Archbishop Cruz, in exasperation in the lack of resolve of the Aquino administration to stop jueteng, said then: “The past administration was notorious for its patronage of jueteng. It is my hope that the present administration, which claims to be the opposite of the past administration, will be able to demonstrate its resolve and not just go ‘blah, blah, blah.’”
That’s the tragedy of jueteng. It has become the scourge of Filipinos, and not many seem to care, not even the President.
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