Police ordered to close down Cagayan jai alai; 36 arrested
Riding on a Court of Appeals order, Robredo on Monday said he had directed the Philippine Natonal Police to close down jai alai betting centers inside and outside the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority.
Apparently to show the government means business, police arrested 36 people in separate raids on jai alai outlets in Cavite and in Bacolod City over the weekend.
Interviewed by the Inquirer, Robredo also said he would order the creation of a PNP team from Camp Crame to enforce closure orders against all jai lai off-fronton betting outlets.
“We want policemen from outside to come in. That’s why the team will come from Camp Crame,” Robredo said. “But we have to make sure they’re honest before they are deployed. We’ve had complaints from provinces that they’re not really closing down the jai alai but extorting money.”
Link to ‘masiao’
Robredo issued the directive after the Court of Appeals handed down a temporary restraining order (TRO) suspending jai alai operations for 60 days.
A favorite pastime of Filipinos in the 1970s and 1980s, the ball-and-wicker game is now played only at the Cagayan free port.
Robredo has said he had received reports that results of jai alai games were being used as basis for the winning combinations in the illegal numbers game “masiao,” which is popular in the Visayas and Mindanao.
In March this year, the Games and Amusement Board (GAB) ordered jai alai operator Meridien Vista Gaming Corp. to shut down all its betting stations outside the Cagayan free port. But the Aparri Regional Trial Court stopped the GAB from enforcing its order.
The Court of Appeals then stepped in and, in a TRO on June 23, suspended the implementation of the order issued by the Aparri RTC.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima last week said the Department of Justice (DOJ) was investigating “reports” that Meridien was owned by Charlie “Atong” Ang, a former gambling buddy of former President Joseph Estrada.
Robredo said he met with GAB officials last week to discuss the operational details of closing down Meridien establishments without GAB permits.
PNP Director General Raul M. Bacalzo said he had ordered all regional police units to implement the joint directive issued by the DOJ and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) to stop jai alai operations.
“CIDG (Criminal Investigation and Detection Group) reported to me this morning they have conducted two operations already. Let us give regional police offices some time. I just received the directive last Saturday,” Bacalzo told reporters.
In a statement, CIDG Director Samuel Pagdilao Jr. said he had ordered all CIDG commanders to stop jai alai operations and arrest bet collectors in their areas.
Senior Supt. Rhodel O. Sermonia said 24 people were arrested by the CIDG in a raid on Meridien betting outlets in Barangay Bagbag I, Rosario, Cavite, on Saturday.
Operatives also arrested 12 people at a Meridien establishment in Barangay Handumanan in Bacolod City on Sunday night.
Confiscated during the raid in Cavite were cash worth P7,990 and gambling materials, including bundles of betting papers, computers, fax machines, calculators and a generator set.
De Lima called the Court of Appeals order a “legal victory” that “complemented” the government efforts to curb illegal gambling.
“These are complementary, but bold moves to address this problem of illegal gambling,” she told reporters.
Raul Banderas, Meridien’s spokesperson, questioned the timing of De Lima and Robredo’s directives.
In an e-mailed statement, Banderas said some unscrupulous personalities who wanted to perpetuate the illegal numbers racket “jueteng,” including public officials, could be behind a smear campaign against Meridien.
“There is clearly a malicious campaign to bring down [Meridien] and paint jai alai as a menace when the real menace is out there— jueteng—continuing to line the pockets of officials in government,” Banderas said.
“While government officials, like De Lima, have set their sights on a legal operation, they have continued to turn a blind eye on the shadowy network of jueteng,” he added.
Why not jueteng?
Banderas surmised De Lima’s order was released in preparation for the launch of the Loterya ng Bayan, a new numbers game to replace the Small Town Lottery.
He also claimed that the Philippince Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) “may be viewing jai alai as a threat to Loterya ng Bayan, exerting all means to clamp down on a legitimate operation instead of stamping out… jueteng.”
“The timing of Secretary De Lima’s sudden interest in [Meridien] is highly suspicious. It comes amid the continuing operations of jueteng over which the government appears helpless and worse, tolerant,” he added.
Banderas also said the appellate court’s order was not meant to stop the entire jai alai operations of Meridien, saying the GAB “has not questioned the legality of the jai alai games.”
“[R]ather, it (GAB) is insisting that it is vested with regulatory and supervisory powers over the game,” the Meridien official said.
“The case revolving around GAB’s attempts to exercise regulatory powers over [Meridien] is one of a simple regulatory issue and is not an order to shut down jai alai or [Meridien] operations.”
But Banderas admitted that the issue of Meridien’s jai alai operations “is pending before the Supreme Court.”
“[W]hile this case hasn’t been decided upon, all parties are expected to observe status quo out of respect for the highest court of the land,” he said.
In an earlier phone interview, Solicitor General Jose Anselmo Cadiz said the appellate court’s resolution also covered the jai alai games and betting activities within the Cagayan free port.
Cadiz said the appellate court’s order directed the Aparri RTC not to implement its orders blocking the GAB from implementing its March 3 cease and desist order that prohibited Meridien from operating jai alai games and betting centers.
The GAB also questioned the legality of Meridien’s franchise.
In a phone interview, Robredo said the GAB was right when it refused to issue permits to Meridien to run jai alai games at the Cagayan free port.
Robredo said it also appeared to him that GAB had “no intention to grant permits to Meridien.” With a report from Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon