DAGUPAN CITY—Pangasinan Gov. Amado Espino on Monday denied living on money from the illegal numbers racket “jueteng.”
“That is very unfair,” he said.
Espino, formerly the top police official in Pangasinan, said he was nursing a bruised ego and consoling a hurt family after being identified last week by a former political ally as the “big boss” of jueteng in the province.
That former ally, Bugallon Mayor Rodrigo Orduña, reported for work in his town on Monday under heavy security. He returned home on Friday night after filing plunder charges against Espino in the Office of the Ombudsman in Manila.
Espino said the charges were “politically motivated” and decried the airing of Orduña’s accusations in a news conference at the Philippine National Police headquarters in Camp Crame, Quezon City, with Interior Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II and PNP Director General Nicanor Bartolome on Friday.
“I should have been given a chance to answer the accusations first before these were announced to the whole world [by Roxas],” Espino said.
“I wasn’t treated fairly as an elected official. It was as if I was already convicted,” he said.
“I’m sad and a little stressed. My family is hurting because of what happened to me,” he said.
In a sworn affidavit he submitted to the Office of the Ombudsman, Orduña admitted to having served as Espino’s bagman since 2001 and charged that the governor had amassed up to P900 million in payoffs from operators of jueteng in Pangasinan.
A confessed jueteng operator from the province, Fernando “Boy Bata” Alimagno, submitted an affidavit to the Ombudsman, corroborating Orduña’s allegations.
Espino denied the charges, saying he had been operating trucking and construction businesses even before he became the Pangasinan police director in 1992.
He said that after retiring from the police service in 1998, he went into farming and poultry raising in Bugallon.
Espino denied any links to jueteng. After being linked to jueteng by Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz in 2010, Espino appeared at a Senate inquiry into the alleged involvement of public officials in the illegal game to deny the prelate’s accusation.
On Monday, he reiterated that he had always been against jueteng.
He said that when he was the police director, he and his staff shaved their heads to show their opposition to jueteng.
“For almost a year then, there were no jueteng operations in the province,” Espino said.
One of his officers at the time, he said, was Alan Purisima, now ranked deputy director general and appointed to become the next PNP chief.
Espino said there was no jueteng wherever he was assigned, including Angeles City in Pampanga, where he served as chief of the Metropolitan District Command.
They’re not close
Espino belied Orduña’s claim that they were close. He said it was Orduña’s brother Paterno, a retired police superintendent, who was “like a brother to me.”
He said he met Paterno Orduña when he was assigned to Camp Olivas in Pampanga, and they developed a deep friendship.
“I only met Ric (Mayor Orduña’s nickname) through Pat when I was assigned here,” Espino said.
“I won’t even recognize [Mayor Orduña’s] children if I saw them, because I really do not know them,” he said. “He is not really that close to me as he claimed.”
Orduña claimed that a quarrel over a basketball game between his son and Espino’s son led to his falling out with the governor.
On Monday, he said Espino’s denials were “just natural.”
If they meet, Orduña said, “I would tell him to stop lying.”
“He knows what I know and I know what he knows,” he said.
“I know I was involved [in jueteng] and I do not deny that I earned from [it], but not as much as he earned,” Orduña said.
Orduña, a new member of the ruling Liberal Party (LP), said politics had nothing to do with his disclosure, although he admitted that he consulted Alaminos City Mayor Hernani Braganza before coming out against Espino.
Braganza is the LP’s gubernatorial candidate in Pangasinan. Local commentators have said that Orduña’s disclosures would benefit Braganza’s bid for the provincial capitol.
Orduña said he had been planning to expose jueteng operations in Pangasinan for some time and he had been talking to some groups about it.
Those groups offered support, but he decided to open up only after he had consulted Braganza.
“I found someone I could trust only now,” Orduña said. “It just so happened that we belong to the same political party.”
Asked if he had received threats since coming come, he replied in the negative. “But I anticipate that threats would soon come,” he said.
“They should deal only with me,” he added. “I am their enemy. They should not involve my family. I pray to God to protect my family.”
Orduña had also implicated in the scandal the husband of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Jose Miguel Arroyo, then Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno and the PNP chiefs during the previous administration.
He said Jose Miguel Arroyo, Puno and the police chiefs regularly received payoffs from jueteng operators, though he never saw them actually receiving money.
Orduna described Jose Miguel Arroyo, Puno and the PNP chief the “Three Kings” of jueteng during the Arroyo administration.
On Monday, Malacañang said Orduña should back his allegations with hard evidence.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said the mayor would be asked to submit evidence to the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), which had opened an investigation into his disclosures.
“Obviously, there is no documentary evidence here. But if he has some oral evidence that can be supported, then that is something that the DILG will have to investigate,” Lacierda said.
He called on Orduña to disclose the other officials who took payoffs from jueteng operators and support his claims with evidence.
Only with hard evidence can the government make the charges against the accused stick, Lacierda said. With a report from TJ Burgonio in Manila