‘Jueteng’ back as kickbacks from DPWH projects dry up – lawmaker
MANILA, Philippines — A Visayas lawmaker believes that jueteng and other illegal numbers games are on the rise because traditional sources of booty for representatives and local government officials, specifically hefty kickbacks from road projects, are drying up under President Benigno Aquino III’s anti-corruption “Daang Matuwid” (Straight Path) program.
Negros Occidental Rep. Alberto “Albee” Benitez said: “The President’s relentless anti-corruption efforts have been so broad and so relentless that some local government officials are resorting to other means to maintain their `livelihood’ under this administration. Since they can’t get their money from pork barrel projects anymore such as from the DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways) and Road Board, they encourage jueteng to keep their lifestyle.”
Benitez said the reforms implemented by Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson have virtually cut commissions from public works projects to razor thin margins.
“The road projects used to provide congressmen with their gravy from pork barrel projects. But when Secretary Singson pegged the maximum cost of building roads at roughly P8 million per kilometer, they lost their cash cow. Because if their contractor could not do it for that amount or less, Secretary Singson has state-sanctioned contractors that could do the work,” said Benitez in explaining why pork barrel and road projects have lost their allure under the Aquino administration.
“This is the reason why ‘jueteng’ and ‘masiao’ are flourishing because these people have to sustain their lifestyle with another income,” said Benitez.
Benitez is the richest member of the House of Representatives, second only to Sarangani Rep. and boxing icon Manny Pacquiao. His family owns the biggest chain of bingo halls in the country and on-line gaming business catering to high-rollers outside the Philippines at the Cagayan Special Economic Zone and Free Port where Charlie “Atong” Ang, the gambling buddy of former President Joseph Estrada, runs the jai-ala operations of Meridien Vista Gaming Corp.
Two lawmakers — Bohol Rep. Erico Aumentado and Isabela Rep. Napoleon Dy — have filed separate House resolutions last year urging Congress to investigate Meridien and its beneficial owner, Ang, for operating jai-alai fronton stations outside of the Northern Luzon freeport after these led to massive losses of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office’s (PCSO) small town lottery operations. The Court of Appeals stopped the operations of Meridian Gaming in August 2011 but it continues to operate pending Ang’s appeal with the Supreme Court.
Cavite Rep, Joseph E.A. Abaya said that DPWH’s reforms have been bearing fruit so far in the first two years of this administration but he could not say whether the rise in jueteng could be directly linked to zero graft from pork barrel. “I personally feel jueteng should be stopped and can be stopped. My father, former Congressman Del Abaya, a former PC (Philippine Constabulary) officer is adamant it can b stopped because they were able to do it while in the service, ” said Abaya.
Palawan Rep. Antonio Alvarez said: “If [Aquino’s] efforts to curb corruption are affecting the lifestyle of some influential people, then the option for them is to cease and desist or change careers.”
ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio disagreed that pork barrel commissions from public works projects have dried up under the Aquino administration.
“These new reforms and restrictions may still be subverted by politicians, DPWH personnel, and contractors. Hence, pork is still a principal source of kickbacks. The push to drive up jueteng profits is more likely due to the rising costs of running for political office,” said Tinio.
Benitez said he agreed with the concern of Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz that jueteng has been booming under the Aquino administration.
Benitez said jueteng has continued to proliferate in his own backyard, the Negros province, where gambling lords have reportedly used the STL as a front for their operations. He said “masiao” operators have likewise used the jai-alai special llave results to determine the winners in their three-number draws.
Both the PCSO and Meridien Gaming have denied being fronts for the illegal numbers game. PCSO has made efforts to weed out illegal operators from its franchisees while Meridien Gaming has insisted that its operations were sanctioned by the Games and Amusement Board.
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