The senate hearing on jueteng has turned out to be a disaster for Interior Undersecretary Rico E. Puno, and it threatens to produce another disaster for the entire nation.
Still reeling from the embarrassment over the failed hostage rescue attempt last Aug. 23, Puno found himself again in the center of another controversy when his name landed on a list submitted by retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz to the Senate as one of the “ultimate recipients” of jueteng payola. Puno, who is in charge of police matters in the Department of Interior and Local Government, may have been wrongly accused, but he did not help disabuse suspicious minds with his evasive answers during the Senate hearing last Sept. 21.
Questioned by senators, Puno admitted that “friends and local officials” had tried to set up a meeting between him and some jueteng operators. At first he refused to identify the operators, saying that revealing their names would put to waste “months of surveillance” undertaken by the police, but later admitted that one of them was Bong Pineda, the husband of the Pampanga governor. However, Puno was adamant in refusing to name the operators’ intermediaries, lamely explaining that he could not remember their names anymore since he received so many visitors during the two months or so that he has been in his post. If only because there are now doubts about Puno’s integrity, President Aquino should seriously consider accepting his resignation.
But if Puno’s lack of candor was disappointing, the solution to the old illegal numbers game now being suggested by some senators is disturbing, to say the least. Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Sen. Jinggoy Estrada have revived the easy solution put forward by the President that jueteng brought down, Joseph Estrada, which is to legalize jueteng. This proposal reveals a sense of helplessness on the part of the Senate in upholding the law when criminal syndicates put it to a test. The call sounds like a declaration of surrender.
This illegal numbers game, the argument goes, has been around since time immemorial and has persisted despite countless attempts to stamp it out. If we allow the rich their excessively wasteful vices, why not let the poor enjoy some of their small indulgences? Besides, without jueteng, thousands of rural families who rely on this illegal numbers racket for livelihood will die of hunger.
We disagree. We are with Archbishop Oscar Cruz of Krusada Laban sa Jueteng in saying that jueteng can be stopped. Cruz says it’s just a matter of cutting off its “two legs” that bring it from one house to another, with impunity: the local officials and the police officers who tolerate or protect its operations. And he points to the communities in the country where jueteng (or masiao) can’t proliferate to prove this.
Indeed, jueteng must be stopped. Not just because like all forms of gambling, it erodes a people’s cultural and moral foundations and corrupts social institutions, including the Church, but more importantly because, contrary to what some people say that it is the least destructive of all forms of gambling, it is the worst.
First of all, it strikes into the very heart of our society, the family. Other games of chance draw “walk-in” bettors. This one is door-to-door pick-up and delivery. Nobody makes a living from visiting the houses of the poor and inviting them to a casino or to a game of tong-its or mahjjong.
Second, it is oppressive, of the poor most especially. In fact, it primarily targets the poor. Worse, it is a con game. Jueteng is not a game of chance, or a game of luck. The winning numbers are pre-selected before each draw, depending on which combination of numbers the smallest bet has been placed.
It is open even to the poorest man who is foolish enough to part with the last centavos in his pocket and to risk losing his family’s next meal for the chance to win in a game that is heavily stacked against him. Jueteng impoverishes the poor even more only to make the jueteng bosses super-rich, while the collectors doing the dirty work can’t provide their families a decent existence.
Simply put, jueteng victimizes the poor more than anybody. Legalizing it is tantamount to inviting them to entrust their day-to-day survival to chance. It is like legalizing deceit.
Gambling is pinning your hope on sure uncertainty. It is a clear manifestation of one's ignorance of God if one is an unbeliever. Or if one claims to be a believer, it is an evidence of one's fake trust in God, particularly in God's ability to bless and to provide for people's needs.
Gambling is sowing your seeds on the devil's ground, and on this ground everything you sow grows and multiplies so quickly that in no time you reap nothing but a thousand fold of curses -- poverty, crime, corruption, destruction of families, etc.
Do you want true prosperity? Prove the Lord by sowing your seeds instead in His field.
[Malachi 3:10] "Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it."
Except one thing, God needs nothing from us because He owns everything and has everything. What He needs from us is our faith in Him. To truly believe in the Lord through obedience to His word is the key to true prosperity. In other words, God's challenge to prove Him through our giving to Him is actually a test of our trust in Him. It is not the quantity of our giving that God is after but the quality of our heart towards Him. Isn't it true that when we truly love someone we give our best to that person? Likewise with God because in His economy love is the only currency and giving is its medium of exchange and prosperity is merely a side effect.
[Luke 6:38] “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be given to you. For with the same measure you measure it will be measured back to you.”
It is not only the temporal resources that gambling is able to take away from us -- wealth, health, time, family, etc. If gambling is not forsaken, ultimately it could steal away our faith in God and our future in eternity.