The Manila Prosecutor’s Office has ordered the release for further investigation of Manila Vice Mayor Isko Moreno and four councilors (not five as earlier reported) who were arrested by the police on Saturday for sponsoring a bingo game in Sta. Cruz, Manila.
Moreno (Francisco Domagoso in real life), Councilors Ma. Asuncion Re Fugoso, Joel Chua, Ernesto Isip Jr. and Yul Servo Nieto, along with former councilor Manuel Zarcal, were initially brought to the prosecutor’s office to undergo inquest proceedings for violating Presidential Decree No. 1602 as amended by Republic Act No. 9287 or the antiillegal gambling law. On top of this, they were also charged with obstruction, assault on an agent of a person in authority and resisting arrest.
However, they were ordered released for lack of evidence by Manila Inquest Division Chief Elaine Yarra-Cerezo around 4 a.m. Sunday, almost 12 hours after their arrest.
Despite their release, Moreno and company were not yet off the hook, according to Supt. Ricardo Layug, commander of the Manila Police District (MPD) Quiapo station.
“They were not simply released but released for further investigation,” Layug told the Inquirer in a phone interview. “It means that instead of holding an inquest proceeding, there will be a preliminary investigation … so they will be summoned again to answer the charges against them.”
In a report submitted to MPD director Chief Supt. Alex Gutierrez, Layug said that when he and his men arrived on Tambunting Street, Barangay 384, Sta. Cruz, the bingo game—which the police said was a form of illegal gambling—had already been stopped by a team led by Blumentritt police community precinct head Chief Insp. Ed Morata. The lawmen gave the councilors permission to hold a raffle instead.
However, one of the councilors apparently called up Moreno who went to the area to question the police’s actions. The vice mayor has been at odds with Mayor Alfredo Lim ever since he agreed to become former President Joseph Estrada’s running mate under the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA). Estrada is eyeing the mayor’s post against Lim who is running for reelection. The four councilors arrested with Moreno, along with Zarcal, are UNA’s bets for city councilors.
Moreno, in a phone interview with the Inquirer, maintained that bingo was not illegal because former President Ferdinand Marcos had signed a letter of instruction exempting it from the anti-illegal gambling law when it is played as a parlor game.
“In fact, you no longer need a permit because of a decision made by the Court of Appeals in May 2012 that there is no need to seek a permit as this is just a parlor game,” he said.
“I’m just wondering why this administration is [focusing its efforts] on us [when] there are illegal bookies for horse racing, video karera and prostitution business operators in the City of Manila that they don’t arrest,” he added.
According to him, councilors have been holding bingo games in the last five years along with medical missions and feeding programs but it was only after they joined UNA that the police started harassing them.
Last week, Councilors Cristy Isip, Richard Ibay, Rafael Borromeo and Ramon Yupangco, along with former Councilor Erick Valbuena, figured in a scuffle with the police over a raffle event in Paco which did not have a permit. The councilors eventually filed a complaint in the Office of the Ombudsman and the National Police Commission against Gutierrez and several other policemen.
“Our lawyers are now studying the matter. We will only act within the bounds of the law. We will not take this sitting down, this tyranny at city hall. We will fight them peacefully, justly and without violence and threats,” Moreno said.
“The police said they were just following orders. From whom did it come from? There’s only one [man] who can give such an order,” he went on to say.
In response to Moreno’s insinuation that he was behind their arrest, Lim said in a statement, “That’s the problem with them. They commit a crime and when the police arrest them, they will put it down to politics. The question is did they violate the law or not?”
“The police are there to assert what is right against what is wrong. They cannot just close their eyes because the violator is a government official,” Lim added.
He said he would ask the Commission on Elections if Moreno and company violated the law against premature campaigning because the seized bingo cards contained his name as well as that of Estrada and the other councilors.