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As I See It

Is bingo an illegal numbers game or not?

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Politics has transformed bingo, that numbers game popular in low-income communities, into a heated controversy between Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim and the Manila police on the one hand, and Vice Mayor Isko Moreno, former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada and incumbent Vice President Jejomar Binay on the other. Moreno and his councilors had lately been holding bingo games in various communities, obviously to court votes for the May elections. The bingo cards being distributed had the names of Moreno and several councilors printed at the back.

A few days ago, the Manila police raided one such bingo game in the Blumentritt area. The police grabbed pieces of evidence, such as the tambiolo from which the winning numbers are taken, and cards, in the process of which there was a scuffle and the uniform of a policeman and the T-shirt of a Sangguniang Kabataan chair were torn. Several other villagers, including a woman councilor, claimed they were manhandled by the police and slightly injured.

The councilors phoned Moreno for help. He came running and BINGO! The police arrested him. As policemen were taking Moreno to a police car, the villagers grabbed him to prevent his being taken to headquarters. There was another scuffle, but the police eventually won the tug-of-war.

At headquarters, Moreno et al. were confined in a room, not in a detention cell, while they were being fingerprinted and the charges against them prepared. Estrada, Moreno’s running mate in the May elections, arrived to intercede. Later came Binay, the first of the UNA triumvirate (the others are Estrada and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile). Moreno and the councilors were charged with illegal gambling nine hours later. The city prosecutor subsequently released them for further investigation, for “insufficiency of evidence.”

Last Monday, Erap, Moreno, Manila councilors and their supporters, were at the Kapihan sa Manila at the Diamond Hotel to give their versions of the incident.

The crux of the issue is this: Is bingo illegal? The police say it is. Presidential Decree No. 1602 issued on June 11, 1978, considered bingo as an illegal numbers game that is prohibited. Erap, Moreno et al. say it is legal. RA 9287, passed on April 2, 2004, delisted bingo as an illegal numbers game. Mayor Lim also holds bingo games, they said.

Police: Those games have permits from City Hall.

Moreno et al.: In a decision on the Association of Barangay Councilors vs. Sison promulgated on May 18, 2012, the court authorized the operation of “Bingo sa Barangay” without need of securing permits from any national or local government agency.

Police: If there is betting, then it is illegal. How can you play bingo without paying for your card? That’s where the prize moneys come from

Moreno et al.: The cards were distributed free to the villagers, prizes were not money but household appliances.

Police: The cards have the names of Moreno and some councilors printed at the back. That’s premature campaigning. The campaign period for local candidates does not begin until next month.

Verdict: The culprit is politics. The contest for the top positions in Manila has become bitter, pitting friend against friend, splitting apart former running mates.

Later at the Kapihan, Erap was asked: “You are the kingpin of San Juan. Why did you decide to run for mayor of Manila?”

Erap: “I was born in Tondo, I grew up there. It is now the most decayed part of Manila. I want to help my Tondo brethren.”

Question: “You and Lim were close friends. You even appointed him to your government. His term as mayor is ending in three years. Why did you not just wait for his term to end so your friendship would not be destroyed?”

Erap: “I can no longer wait. Manila is decaying; the people are suffering. I have to do something.”

Question to Moreno: “You are the vice mayor of Mayor Lim; you were running mates in 2010. What made you turn around and fight him?”

Moreno: “Because he refuses to listen to us, the city council. We have given him everything that he asked for in the form of ordinances. But he does not want to reciprocate.”

Question: “Mayor Lim said Manila is being bypassed by developers because of an ordinance limiting the height of buildings there. The developers said they would lose money if they confined themselves to the height limit. Is there such an ordinance?”

Moreno: “Yes, but we will repeal it if he asks us to.”

* * *

KAPIHAN NOTES: Press forums are being invaded by fake journalists, poseurs and pretenders, those we derisively call the “hao shiao.” Yesterday, after I left the Kapihan, Erap called me and said somebody had approached him and told him that I had sent him, obviously for you-know-what.

I told Erap that I had not sent anyone, and to have the impostor arrested. It was a good thing Erap had the presence of mind to verify with me; otherwise, the impostor would have gotten away with his scam.

This is happening not only at the Kapihan sa Manila but also at other press forums. Not only do the hao shiao eat the free food and drink the free coffee, they also follow the guest panelists when they go to the rest-rooms and ask them for “something for the boys.” The polite ones are deceived. And if the one who had approached Erap was foiled, imagine how many could have succeeded.

For this reason, we are limiting admission to the Kapihan to legitimate journalists. Hao shiao, stay out.

Warning to everyone: Be wary of people claiming they were sent by journalists. They must be impostors. No respectable journalist will do that. If they show you a press ID, ignore it. If it is a National Press Club ID, the more you should be wary. The NPC is not the respectable club that it used to be. And the bigger the press ID, the bigger a fake the holder is. Legitimate journalists don’t even need press IDs.


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