POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 23 September 2010, Thursday
Waiting on jueteng
It’s been decades, yet the flap on illegal numbers games refuses to die. The games are known as jueteng in Luzon, masiao in some parts of the Visayas, and by some accounts generate an estimated P30 billion yearly in revenues for the operators, who do not pay taxes to the government or otherwise contribute to the public or the state.
The forms of gaming that are legal in the country include casino gambling, cockfighting, and horseracing. These are regulated in various ways by the government to ensure fairness and transparency and the payment of direct taxes to state and/or local government coffers.
In addition to these are games that include wagering, such as poker games, which have surged in popularity in recent years, so much that the game has sponsored big-money tourneys aired on sports cable television channels.
Meanwhile, the government, through the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, conducts lotteries, other types of number games, and the ‘small-town lottery’ which is supposed to be a substitute for jueteng and seeks to gain its market so that revenues generated from that activity may benefit its charitable projects.
The 2009 revenues from gambling as a legal international commercial activity were estimated at $335 billion worldwide. This amount surpasses the 2009 nominal Philippine GDP at $167 billion. Many countries regulate gambling rather than forbid it in order to tap into this lucrative market that provides jobs and economic opportunities. Consider Las Vegas and Macau. The former was nothing but vast empty desert but is now a booming entertainment town. Macau was a sleepy colonial enclave revitalized with the influx of investments in casinos.
It is inevitable that debate will arise on the societal impact of gambling. Some sectors of the church have declared war upon it, such as retired archbishop Oscar Cruz, whose anti-gambling crusade extends to exhorting his fellow men of the cloth to refuse donations sourced from gambling.
As a clergyman, he comes at the situation from the bastion of his religion, although the Bible does not specifically condemn lotteries, gambling, or betting. The Bible passages most commonly cited warn against the “love of money” (1 Tim. 6:10, Heb. 13:5) and from attempts to “get rich quick” (Prov. 13:11, 23:5, Ecc. 5:10).
The arguments commonly raised against gambling even by the clergy are presented from a sociological perspective – that it wastes money, is addictive, that the gambling industry is a parasite because it does not create nor produce anything, that legalized gambling makes government a promoter of a “get something for nothing” attitude that is counter-productive to the good of society, and so on.
The most popular catch-all remonstrance is that gambling destroys morals, character, and leads to a decadent society – value-laden statements that are seldom backed with hard demographic data. Taking that as a given, for the sake of argument, then one must also look at the myriad human activities that have the potential, if abused or misused, of “destroying morals and character”.
For ages, philosophers have argued in circles about this matter to no end, because an argument can always be made for either side. It all comes down to choice. It is a person’s right to choose to whether to gamble or not, to smoke or not, to drink alcohol or consume addictive drugs or overeat to obesity or stay up way past the usual bedtime or not.
In the case of jueteng, because it involves an immense and renewable fount of easy money for the operators (not necessarily the bettors), the situation becomes murkier, with allegations of government and military corruption. Archbishop Oscar Cruz contends payoffs were made to Interior and Local Governments undersecretary Rico Puno and former Philippine National Police chief Gen. Jesus Versoza. Versoza’s lawyer, Benjamin de los Santos, scoffed at the allegations, saying “It’s just a piece of paper and does not prove anything…where’s your proof?” It’s like watching a tennis match – your serve, Archbishop.
It is an insult to intelligence to deny the reality of payoffs. The questions the Senate seeks answers to are who, what, where, when, and how, since we can pretty much surmise why. But beyond the finger-pointing, what’s next?
That’s always been the case with issues of this magnitude. The recent release of the Incident Investigation and Review Committee report on the hostage-taking tragedy at Quirino Grandstand was practically anti-climactic – the people to blame are these members of the media, local government, and police, and so on. Yet was anything resolved? Was it pointed out anywhere that the botched rescue by police was due to their inadequate training and equipment, a result of the years of neglect and corruption in that area by the previous administration?
The situation is the same with jueteng. These and similar problems were inherited from the Arroyo regime, and the Estrada one before that, and so on. They did nothing about jueteng; why are former leaders not being held liable for their neglect at least?
It’s obvious there’s a problem there. The question is, what to do about it – ban it, substitute STL for it, or legalize it? Make up your minds, guys. Give your fingers a rest from pointing and let’s see some action once and for all. Pag gusto may paraan, pag ayaw, maraming dahilan. Stop with the dilly-dallying. We’re tired of waiting. When are you going to get things done? ***