LINGAYEN, Pangasinan—Gov. Amado Espino Jr. on Friday denied a local official’s allegation that he is behind the illegal numbers game “jueteng” in the province.
Speaking at a news conference here, Espino said the accusation against him was “an old issue that I had answered before.”
“I deny all the allegations,” Espino said.
In a statement his office sent to the Inquirer in Manila, Espino said the allegations against him were “politically motivated.”
“I don’t receive any [payoffs] from gambling lords,” Espino said.
He said jueteng operations in Pangasinan had long stopped.
On Thursday Espino’s former political ally, Bugallon Mayor Rodrigo Orduña, named the governor as the jueteng “big boss” in Pangasinan.
On Friday Orduña filed plunder charges against Espino in the Office of the Ombudsman in Manila.
Espino denied Orduña’s allegation that he (Espino) revived jueteng in Pangasinan with the help of Charlie “Atong” Ang, who introduced jai alai in the province.
Ang is a consultant of Meridien Vista Gaming Inc., which hosts jai alai games in the Cagayan Special Economic Zone and Freeport and operates online betting stations outside the zone.
“It was Mayor Orduña who brought Mr. Ang to me because [Mr. Ang] wanted to ask permission to operate jai alai in the province,” Espino said.
He said he could not help Ang because it was not he but the mayors who issued business permits.
In his statement to the Inquirer, Espino said his meeting with Ang was brief. Ang, he said, asked for his help in making arrangements with the mayors.
Espino said he turned down Ang’s request and advised him to go directly to the mayors, as jai alai had been recognized as legal by the courts.
“The provincial government did not issue any permit to Atong Ang,” Espino said.
“I repeat, I did not give any permit to Mr. Ang to operate [jai alai] in the province,” Espino said at the news conference. “So how can I ask anything from him? I did not receive anything from him.”
“This is all politics,” he said, claiming that the allegations were politically motivated.
“Six months ago, they spread news that I died of a massive heart attack while I was in the United States,” he said.
“Then, they accused me of smuggling black sand, which is not true. And now, this,” he said.
Espino is running for a third term in next year’s midterm elections under the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC). His rival is Alaminos City Mayor Hernani Braganza, who is running under the administration Liberal Party.
“I will end here. I have answered all the three issues. My lawyers actually advised me not to say anything,” Espino said.
Vice Gov. Jose Ferdinand Calimlim said he was shocked to hear Orduña’s charges against Espino.
“But we in the provincial board still have our full confidence in Governor Espino because we know that there are no jueteng operations in the province,” Calimlim said.
Speaking at the news conference, Senior Supt. Mariano Luis Verzosa Jr., Pangasinan police director, said “96 percent” of jueteng operations in the province had been stopped.
“Those who do it conduct draws in Pangasinan’s boundaries with neighboring provinces,” Verzosa said. But he did not identify the areas where the draws are being held.
In his statement to the Inquirer, Espino said that Orduña, after severing ties with him, joined the Liberal Party.
Calimlim said he was aware of the strained relations between Espino and Orduña.
Orduña, now a vice mayoral candidate in his town, is a former sergeant in the Philippine Constabulary (not policeman as earlier reported) and served in Espino’s unit when Espino was assigned to Pampanga.
He first ran and won as Bugallon mayor in 2004. During his third term in 2010, he was elected president of the Pangasinan chapter of the League of Municipalities of the Philippines (LMP).
Orduña, however, resigned as LMP president last year after a falling out with Espino.
Espino’s statement to the Inquirer said Orduña was president of the Pangasinan Mayors League.
After severing ties with Espino, Orduña joined the Liberal Party, the statement said.
Calimlim said jueteng was stopped in the province because the police, provincial government, local governments and the Catholic Church worked together.
“Now that we have a legal game (jai alai), it is being given a bad image,” Calimlim said.
“But you know, this is now a time for politics, a time for mudslinging, a time for looking for a way to destroy whatever good things you have done in Pangasinan,” he said.
In 2010, former Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz, chair of the People’s Crusade Against Gambling, submitted to the Senate a list of jueteng operators and protectors, which included elective officials in Central and Northern Luzon and top officials of the Philippine National Police and the Department of the Interior and Local Government.
Espino’s name was on the list. But Espino denied he was involved in jueteng in the province.
No longer news
In an earlier interview, Cruz said reports of jueteng flourishing in Pangasinan were no longer news.
“The illegal numbers game never stopped notwithstanding the one-strike policy of the Philippine National Police. The police know, the simple people know, the media know,” Cruz said.
Cruz said four people in Pangasinan gave his group information about jueteng in the province.
“Jai alai and [small-town lottery] are just used as a cover for jueteng. They have IDs but those are bogus. . . . and the police know this,” he said. With a report from Yolanda Sotelo, Inquirer Northern Luzon
First posted 12:05 am | Saturday, December 15th, 2012