Sunday, June 05, 2005

What’s so bad about “jueteng” anyway?

“Jueteng” for the uninformed is a grassroots numbers game being played almost all over the Philippines. The bank pays out 80 centavos for every peso that is bet. Pagcor's roulette, which is also stacked against the player with its zero and double zero, offers better odds, but only a tad better.

“Jueteng” gained infamy when it toppled the Estrada administration. “Jueteng” payola is once again in the limelight, dragging with it the names of members of the President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s family.

Some say that it is a boon for the Filipino poor while others say that it is a social evil, the root of corruption in the Philippines.

For the poor a peso can buy dreams of winning Php800 which can go a long way to supplement a family’s meager income. Critics, however, condemn “jueteng” as nothing but a criminal racket that victimizes the poor, co-opts police, bribes officials, perverts elections and threatens or kills those who oppose it.

Plunking a peso or two certainly won't rend the moral fabric of a bettor, after all for many “jueteng” is just a diversion, a means to easy money. But it is the web of corruption that the illegal numbers game spawns that is the problem. And we are seeing it now.

The police are corrupted. Local officials are corrupted. Even national officials, if we are to believe Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz, are on the take. Come to think of it, even the Catholic church admits to receiving donations from any source, even “jueteng” lords.

The Philippines has been a buzz with the constant rumors that the President’s family are on the take from the illegal gambling racket and that Pres. Arroyo herself received campaign contributions from known big time “jueteng” operators.

From a different viewpoint, it is quite easy for the government to stop “jueteng,” after all the big time operators are well known and one even resides in Arroyo’s hometown in Pampanga. But it is the big and relatively easy money that is earned from illegal gambling that is too hard to resist. “Jueteng” payolas are much larger than a civil servants pitiful salary and all they have to do is turn a blind eye to the illegal gambling racket. So the better approach should be obvious: remove the corrupting aspect of "jueteng" and the problem will solve itself.

There had been many attempts to legalize the numbers game in the past but all ultimately failed, probably due to the fact that the payolas would certainly be cut. But it can be done and legalization can be a means to an end to stem corruption.

Moral pundits say that gambling is a sin. So be it. It remains a sin whether it's legal or illegal. It's the corruption spawned by illegal gambling that worries us. After all Lotto and the sweepstakes are legal and it is a form of gambling, so why not “jueteng?”

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