DAGUPAN CITY, Philippines – The Nationalist People’s Coalition on Saturday accused the Aquino administration of harassing its party member, Pangasinan Governor Amado Espino, in anticipation of the 2013 elections.
“It was timed after a survey that says their (Liberal Party) candidate will not win against Governor Espino,” former Pangasinan Representative Mark Cojuangco, NPC provincial chairman, said in a phone interview.
Espino is seeking his third and last term against Alaminos City Mayor Hernani Braganza, the LP’s gubernatorial bet. Thirty-nine of Pangasinan’s 48 town and city mayors are NPC members.
On Friday, Bugallon Mayor Rodrigo Orduña filed a plunder case in the Office of the Ombudsman in Manila against Espino who, he claimed, had accepted P900 million in payoffs from “jueteng” operators in the last 10 years.
“If he [Orduña] claims that he was the one giving the money he collected to Espino, why didn’t he tell [authorities] where the money was coming from?” Cojuangco said.
He said Interior Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II should look for the source of the alleged payola which Orduña claimed to have delivered to Espino.
“Why single out Governor Espino as if he is the cause of all jueteng [operations] in the whole country? That is not right. It smacks of harassment because their candidate has no chance of winning,” Cojuangco said.
In 2007, the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office proposed the Loterya ng Bayan, which was supposed to be an alternative to jueteng, he said.
“But nothing happened with [the proposal]. If they were really serious about [eradicating jueteng] then, we should not be talking about this anymore now,” he said.
A former University of the Philippines official also questioned the timing of Orduña’s exposé.
“Why only now? Why didn’t he do that earlier? Very political. He just would like to destroy [Espino’s] image because I think he is a strong candidate,” said Dr. Perla Legaspi, former director of the UP Center for Local and Regional Governance and former vice chancellor of UP Diliman.
“There will always be issues of all kinds against a candidate during elections. That’s why we should be very vigilant when it pertains to governance. Let’s not wait for the elections,” said Legaspi, who is now program head and professor at Lyceum-Northwestern University here.
In a news conference on Friday, Espino said town mayors transacted directly with operators of jai alai, a legal gaming operation that Orduña claimed was a front for jueteng, an illegal numbers game.
Espino said: “There was an issue in Manila about my meeting Mr. Charlie Ang. The man who introduced me to Ang was Mayor Orduña of Bugallon. Mr. Ang sought my permission to visit the mayors so he could apply for business permits to operate jai alai gaming stations.”
“The ones who issue permits are the mayors. Let me repeat that. I did not issue any permit to Mr. Charlie Ang. So how can I ask anything from him?” the governor said.
Provincial records showed that 45 of 48 towns and cities of the province allowed jai alai to operate in their areas, after it was introduced in 2010 by Ang, a consultant to Meridian Vista Gaming Inc.
Meridian hosts jai alai games in the Cagayan Special Economic Zone and Freeport and operates online betting stations outside the zone as sanctioned by the Games and Amusement Board.
Dasol Mayor Noel Nacar, president of Pangasinan’s League of Municipalities, said these mayors issued business permits to Meridian to operate jai alai betting stations after submitting the proper documentation.
But Nacar said the betting station in his town had not drawn enough patronage since it opened in 2010.
Senior Superintendent Mariano Luis Verzosa, Pangasinan police director, confirmed that jai alai operations in the province were played like jueteng, although the police had not touched them because “they are not illegal.”
Verzosa said Pangasinan was “96 percent jueteng-free” because jai alai operations had become dominant in the province.
“Jai alai betting in the province is like betting in jueteng,” he said. He said in jai alai, a bettor chooses a combination of three numbers from one to 10.
However, in Pangasinan, Meridian allows a jai alai bettor to choose a two-number combination from one to 38. When playing jueteng, gamblers choose a combination of two numbers from one to 37.