Puno, Verzosa named jueteng coddlers
MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) – Retired Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz on Tuesday named Department of the Interior and Local Government Undersecretary Rico Puno and retired Philippine National Police chief Jesus Verzosa as the two Aquino officials who are receiving monthly jueteng payola.
Puno, however, immediately denied the accusation and said his name is being smeared because he is working to strengthen the small-town lottery (STL) to wipe out the illegal numbers game.
"I deny receiving jueteng payola. When I assumed office in July 5, I knew that these things will crop up...Because I wanted to have an alternative to jueteng, they are hitting me because mawawalan sila ng kita," he said in a Senate hearing.
He added that the legal STL operations earn up to P10 billion a year while jueteng earns up to P30 billion a year.
Cruz revealed 12 names as jueteng lords, operators and recipients of jueteng payola during the Senate joint panel inquiry on the illegal numbers game.
The 12 are:
1. Governor Baby Pineda in Pampanga
2. Paul Dy in Isabela
3. Retired general Eugene Martin
4. Mayor Mauricio Domogan of Baguio
5. Danny Soriano in Cagayan
6. Retired General Padilla in Pasay, Parañaque, Muntinlupa and San Pedro
7. Governor Amado Espino in Pangasinan
8. Boy Jalandoni in Bacolod
9. Eddie Fontanilla
10. Rey Cachuela
11. Undersecretary Rico Puno
12. Retired General Jesus Verzosa
The first 8 names were identified as jueteng lords and operators in their respective areas. Verzosa and Puno were identified as recipients of "national jueteng payola flow."
Fontanilla was identified as a collector on the ground while Cachuela was tagged as intermediate recipient.
The list also identified two "good" sources of information for the government, namely Charlie "Atong" Ang for jueteng and jai-alai and Manoling Morato for STL.
Cruz said the names on the list were cross-checked several times based on information from private individuals and sources inside the Philippine National Police and DILG. He added that his group, Krusada ng Bayan Laban sa Jueteng, also has a separate list of other personalities involved in jueteng.
He also said that government can actually suppress jueteng if local government officials and the police cooperate.
"It is only when the local government and the police agree that jueteng flourishes...The problem of illegal drugs is getting bigger. That is illegal. Prostitution is also illegal and it is getting bigger. It is harder to stop drugs and prostitution. We have to try to stop jueteng because it can be done," he said.
Puno won't reveal names of jueteng 'emissaries'
During the inquiry, Puno said he is the target of a smear campaign by jueteng operators after he started reorganizing his staff in the DILG. He said that after the reorganization, he started seeing his name being linked to jueteng payola.
He said those leveling the accusations were actually recipients of jueteng bribes during the previous administration.
The DILG undersecretary also confirmed that he received feelers from jueteng operators that they wanted to meet with him to discuss how to continue the numbers rackets under the new administration. He said he received the invitations through friends who came to his office to congratulate him.
"Some would say, 'Would you like to have an appointment with these people?' I told them that I didn't have to talk to those people," he said. He said some of the people mentioned are on a PNP watchlist of suspected jueteng lords.
Puno, however, said he could not remember the names of the friends who asked him to meet with known jueteng operators.
"Because of the number of people who visited me, I can no longer remember the names...It was said in passing," he said.
His answer, however, failed to satisfy the senators who chastised him for his "selective memory." Sen. Loren Legarda noted that if Puno's visitors were friends, he should not have forgotten them since he has only been in office for 2 months.
She requested for a copy of the PNP watchlist of jueteng personalities and Puno's logbook of visitors in his office.
Cojuangco urges Cruz: Go easy on Puno
Cruz also revealed that a relative of President Benigno Aquino III asked him to "go easy" on Puno after he revealed that 2 officials close to the President were receiving jueteng payola.
At first, the retired archbishop could not recall the relative's name, only noting that it was the "boyfriend of a Barretto."
When asked if he was referring to actress Gretchen Barretto, he replied: "Yun po...yung partner niya." Barretto's boyfriend is businessman Tony Boy Cojuangco.
Cruz said Cojuangco told him to "be easy" regarding his jueteng expose.
"Hindi ako nangako na susundan ko siya," he added.
Puno later confirmed that he and Cojuangco are friends but denied asking him to call the retired archbishop.
'Boxing used to launder jueteng money'
The retired archbishop also revealed that gambling lords use international boxing matches to launder money gathered from jueteng operations.
"When there are big matches in boxing, there is a lot of money being used. They watch boxing events not just for boxing but because of money laundering," he said.
Cruz said jueteng payola is deposited in banks under different names and withdrawn by different people who are part of the gambling syndicates.
He also revealed that other witnesses wanted to join him in the Senate inquiry but are hesitant to come forward because previous Senate probes on the issue did not accomplish anything.
"May hinanakit sila. Some of them went to the Senate before and they laid out everything -- who, when and where. They had no lawyers, no security and then afterwards, nothing happened. They really feel bad that after they were used, they were just thrown out of the window so to speak," he said.
He said some of the previous witnesses lost their sources of income, wrecked their families and one even lost his life after testifying before the Senate.
Cruz urged senators to provide more protection for whistleblowers by passing the Whistleblowers Act. He said that until that happens, he could not guarantee that other witnesses would come forward since he also discourages them from testifying.
No need for executive session
At the start of the hearing, Cruz said he would only reveal the names of jueteng lords and coddlers in an executive session.
"I have the list and this if from sources which are validated and for what it's worth, I'm giving the list but please make this government do its job. I have done enough for this matter. I have faced the Senate before, brought all my witnesses without benefit of lawyer or security. We named names, we identified amounts, we said all circumstances and nothing. Even one of our whistleblowers was killed. Even to this day, we don't know who did it," he said.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, however, was not in favor of holding an executive session.
"It's about time we call a spade a spade. It's about time we really want to know the jueteng lords... I believe we should no loner waste our time. It's the moment of truth. Let's bring out the truth no matter how painful. We'll assume the responsibility for what you are going to do here," he told Cruz.
Enrile added: "If he [Cruz] wants me to be his lawyer. I think I've learned enough of the ropes in the courts, I'm willing to volunteer pro bono my services."
Sen. Francis Escudero thanked Cruz for "finding out" those involved in the illegal numbers but reminded him that the names can still come out.
"Maliban nalang kung papayag at magbobotohan ang kumite na ilabas at ilahad 'yung napag-usapan doon", said Escudero.
Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Robredo sent word that he cannot attend the hearing on Tuesday but will go to the next one.
"Whether we legalize or not, the problem is we go after the illegal forms of gambling because of the revenues lost to government, that should go to government that it could support pro-poor programs," noted Sen. Gregorio Honasan.
"We want to determine the extent of this criminal enterprise. How widespread it is, and how true the allegations are," said Sen. Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. – With a report from ANC