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Best chance

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 22:17:00 09/15/2010

Filed Under: Gaming & Lotteries, Churches (organisations), Government

WHAT IS retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz up to? In the latest revival of his crusade against jueteng, Cruz first accused two government officials holding key positions and trusted by President Aquino as protectors of the illegal numbers game. He said these officials were receiving at least P2 million as monthly payola from jueteng operators. Then he said that five local officials close to Mr. Aquino were also receiving bribes from illegal gambling operators. Now he has accused his fellow priests (and bishops?) in at least eight dioceses in Luzon and the Visayas of accepting ?donations? from jueteng lords. ?We know it among ourselves,? he said of the members of the Catholic clergy. ?We know each other.?

So what has the Church done about it? In 2005, the Catholic Bishops? Conference of the Philippines issued a statement denouncing illegal gambling. But beyond denunciations what have they done about it? More specifically what has the archbishop, who has turned his fight against jueteng into a personal crusade, done to clean up the mess in his own backyard?

By not sparing his fellowmen of the cloth, Cruz certainly gains added credibility for his latest revelations about illegal gambling and corrupt officials. But how will his enhanced credibility push his crusade forward if he does not take the next logical step of taking this to the proper authorities? What does he achieve by making exposés and denunciations and going no further? Because he refuses to name names, he won?t even be able to shame anyone into stopping the practice of accepting donations (in the case of priests) or bribes (in the case of public officials) from illegal gambling operators. Unless it is his intention to merely warn off everyone involved in the racket, the archbishop should share his information with the proper authorities.

Cruz is, of course, quite understandably wary of sharing his information with Congress. He went through the exercise in 2005 and presented several witnesses, who accused the husband, brother-in-law and son of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of receiving payoffs, but all their efforts went for naught.

But there is a new administration in Malacañang, and it is headed by a President about whom not even a whisper has been heard linking him to jueteng. President Aquino has promised to investigate any official Cruz would identify, ?no matter how little? the evidence he may have and vowed that ?if there is proof, they will pay.? And top administration officials are fully aware of the resurgence of the problem. Just three weeks after the new President took office, Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo already sent a memorandum to then Director General Jesus Verzosa directing the Philippine National Police ?to conduct a nationwide operation to stamp out jueteng.? The President knows that jueteng has grown into a P37-billion industry and has ordered Robredo to come up with a comprehensive plan to eradicate the problem even before Cruz made his claims public.

Of course, doubts have been raised about the capacity of the Aquino administration to solve the problem, especially since many of those mentioned as new protectors of jueteng have been described by Cruz as close to the President. But the archbishop himself seems to be unsure now about the guilt of some people he seemed to have alluded to in his initial disclosures. After Local Government Undersecretary Rico Puno publicly admitted that he had been approached by emissaries of jueteng operators but rejected their invitations, Cruz said he believed Puno was telling the truth and so he was giving him ?the benefit of the doubt because at that time he was still new on the job.? At the very least, that leaves one top official less who was getting P2 million monthly.

This not to say that Cruz is totally wrong. The reality is that jueteng continues to thrive, and it thrives because many police and civilian officials are on the take. But the President alone cannot stamp it out. He needs the cooperation not only of the police and local officials but also of citizens. We hope the archbishop and his group will give him their confidence and cooperation. With a President who cannot be tempted with dirty money, this may be our best chance of finally rooting out this plague which has corrupted the police, the local governments and at least two previous presidencies.

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