DAGUPAN CITY—Pangasinan Gov. Amado Espino, who was charged with plunder for alleged accepting payoffs from illegal gambling, has pointed to mayors in the province as the ones who transact directly with operators of jai alai, a numbers game that Justice Secretary Leila de Lima had said operated illegally outside Cagayan.
In a news conference a day after a plunder charge had been filed against him in the Office of the Ombudsman, Espino said it was the province’s mayors who allowed jai alai to operate in the province and dealt with Charlie “Atong” Ang, one of the personalities behind jai alai.
Espino, however, did not deny that he had met Ang, but said that he never received or demanded money from Ang, a former gambling buddy of pardoned plunder convict and ousted President Joseph Estrada.
“There was an issue in Manila about my meeting Mr. Charlie Ang,” said Espino in his press conference.
“Ang sought my permission to visit the mayors so he could apply for a business permit to operate jai alai gaming stations,” he said.
Espino added that Ang was introduced to him by Rodrigo Orduña, mayor of Bugallon town who turned whistle-blower against Espino and charged the governor with plunder at the Office of the Ombudsman for allegedly receiving up to P900 million in “jueteng” payoffs.
Espino said it was the mayors who gave permits to jai alai, which police said operates like jueteng.
“The ones who issue permits are the mayors,” said Espino in his press conference during which he refused to take questions.
“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.
Records at the province show that 45 of 48 mayors allow jai alai to operate in their towns or cities.
Senior Supt. Mariano Luis Verzosa, Pangasinan police chief, said police in the province cannot touch jai alai operations because “they are not illegal.”
But in July 2011, according to a report by the Inquirer, De Lima had declared jai alai operations outside Cagayan as illegal. In June 2011, the Court of Appeals issued an order that stopped jai alai operations for at least 60 days for being illegal.
Jai alai, operated by a firm called Meridian Vista Gaming Corp., has its headquarters at Cagayan Special Economic Zone (CSEZ), where it holds jai alai games. It has established betting stations, however, outside CSEZ which De Lima had questioned.
Noel Nacar, mayor of Dasol town and head of Pangasinan’s League of Municipalities, confirmed that the mayors allowed jai alai to operate.
Verzosa, the Pangasinan police chief, said jai alai is played like jueteng and had a key role in uprooting jueteng from Pangasinan.