Gambling hub

Santiago City becoming ‘jueteng’ capital, says group

SANTIAGO CITY — Church officials and civil society groups on Saturday held a protest march here to start an all-out campaign against the illegal numbers game “jueteng” in Isabela.

Officials of the Good Governance Movement and Accountability (GGMA), a multi-sectoral movement, said they launched the protest action to prevent Santiago City from acquiring the tag as the country’s “jueteng capital.”

“The monthly take for jueteng in Santiago City alone has reached P22 million, which is by far the highest among the major cities that we have included in our study,” said Siegfried Balatan, GGMA president.

This figure, Balatan said, does not include monthly collections for the province’s second city, Cauayan, and the more or less 25 towns where jueteng is reported to be in full operation.

“Shall we just watch and let that our city retain this shameful title as the country’s jueteng capital simply because of the inaction of our government officials?” he asked.

The protest march was joined by leaders of Catholic, Protestant and Methodist churches and about 50 GGMA members from Isabela’s fourth district.

Balatan said they invited local officials in the fourth district, including Gov. Maria Gracia Cielo Padaca to join the march, but they declined due to previous commitments.

They marched around the city’s main commercial district, wielding placards that called for a stop to the illegal gambling operations here.

They assailed the supposed inaction and the “silence of provincial, city and town officials, allowing the open and rampant bet collection activities with draws held three times a day.”

As the protesters marched along city streets, residents by the roadsides showed skepticism if the GGMA campaign will make any dent at all on the illegal gambling campaign.

“(The protesters) should address their call to ‘jueteng’ lords and their protectors. They are staying in barangay centers, the city hall or town halls; they can easily find them there,” a store owner in Victory Norte said, hinting the alleged involvement of elected government officials in the proliferation of the illegal numbers game here.

This writer tried but failed to reach Padaca for comment on Saturday. Gloria Cecilia Franco, her executive assistant, said the governor was in Metro Manila for an official trip.

Mayor Amelita Navarro, however, lamented that she did not receive an invitation to the event.

“They should have called or invited me so that I could join them so the jueteng issue will be put to rest,” said Navarro, who was in Tarlac on Saturday.

In an earlier interview, Navarro said she would leave the job of stopping jueteng to the police. “That is their [responsibility], so I will give them a blanket authority [to stop jueteng],” she said.

She said the city government has initiated livelihood projects to wean jueteng bet takers from the illegal activity but many of them return to the trade.

Chief Supt. Ameto Gil Tolentino, Cagayan Valley police director, said police continue their campaign against jueteng and other forms of illegal gambling not only in Isabela, but also in the region.

“(On Friday), 10 persons were apprehended by combined police units in Santiago. A week or two earlier, several (anti-jueteng) operations were launched in Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya, Quirino and Cagayan,” he said.

Santiago Councilor Romeo de la Cruz blamed the failure of government to set aside public funds to provide jobs for residents who are forced into illegal gambling.

“If only the billions and even trillions [of pesos] of government money were spent to create jobs for our people, then bet collectors would not have to engage in illegal gambling, while bettors would not have to pin their hopes on winning,” he said.

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