Philippine leader accused of taking gambling bribes


MANILA, AFP

Philippine President Joseph Estrada on Thursday ordered a police crackdown on “all forms of illegal gambling” after an opposition legislator and a local official accused him and his relatives of receiving millions of dollars in bribes from gambling lords. Opposition senator Teofisto Guingona, in a privileged speech earlier Thursday, accused Estrada of “betraying public trust” by allegedly coddling operators of an illegal numbers game called “jueteng” in return for 10 million pesos (US$217,391) a month. The senator asked the Senate’s committee on justice to investigate Estrada. “I am determined to stop all further speculations about where our government stands on this particular issue,” Estrada said in a memorandum to national police chief Panfilo Lacson. “We are against all forms of illegal gambling, and we will use the government’s facilities and resources to carry out this policy, resolutely and with full determination,” Estrada said. Guingona accused Estrada of having “made arrangements to get money from jueteng collections.” The act was “not only illegal participation in an illegal business, it was also an enforced extraction in exchange for illegal protection accorded jueteng lords,” said the senator, whose speech is protected from libel because he made the accusations on the senate floor. Guingona said he had unspecified evidence that Estrada entered into a deal with the “jueteng lords” in which one of his political allies, who he identified as Luis Singson, the governor of a northern province, would collect the money every month. Estrada’s chief aide, Executive Secretary Ronaldo Zamora, said he was not personally aware of anyone at the presidential palace taking money from gambling lords. He said he would rather reserve comment on the issue until after conferring with the president. The jueteng bribes scandal hit the front pages of Philippine newspapers on Thursday after Singson quarreled with another Estrada friend, Charlie Ang, over control of a legal numbers game called “Bingo Two-Ball” which the government had designed to stamp out “jueteng.” Ang is a consultant for marketing and promotions of the government-owned casino operator, Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp., which licenses the Bingo Two-Ball operators. The numbers game is patterned after jueteng, in which bettors pick two numbers between one and 37 with the winning combinations drawn secretly by the operators, who would later pay the dividends. Jueteng is illegal because operators do not pay required taxes and are not covered by Manila’s Games and Amusements Board. Critics say the game has corrupted police and government officials who are allegedly bribed to look the other way. Singson accused Ang of allegedly siphoning off proceeds from Bingo Two-Ball into a private bank account. Singson also said he was willing to testify against relatives and friends of Estrada who have allegedly received gambling money. Asked earlier Thursday by reporters what he thought of the quarrel between his two friends, Estrada said: “I will not stoop to their level. Let them fight. I have nothing to do with that.”