MANILA, Philippines - Past presidents have failed to stop it so why not legalize it? This is the argument of former president Joseph Estrada in asking President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III to legalize the illegal numbers game "jueteng."
"Past administrations failed to eradicate it," said Estrada, who was tried and convicted of the crime of plunder for receiving protection money from jueteng operators.
The former president said that when he was first elected mayor of San Juan City, he filled the municipal jail with collectors and gambling operators of the illegal numbers game.
"Nag-standing room ang municipal jail pero kinabukasan, standing room din ang office of the mayor," he said in an interview on ABS-CBN's Umagang Kay Ganda.
He said that after the incident, he thought of an idea and immediately met with known jueteng operators in the municipality.
Estrada said he told the operators that they can continue with their jueteng activities under the condition that they will divert the protection money that they have been giving out to police and local government officials to the municipal treasurer's office.
He said he used the money to aid the poor residents of San Juan City and to provide benefits to the policemen.
"Tumino lahat ng mga pulis, naging tagumpay," he said.
He added: "With due respect to the church, we can stop jueteng only if we can give alternative livelihood to jueteng workers."
Billions in revenue
Estrada added that when he was president, he asked the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) to study benefits of legalized jueteng operations.
He said the PCSO found out that the government will have an additional P5-billion in annual revenue if the numbers racket was legalized.
Aside from the billions worth of revenues for the government, legalized jueteng can also provide more jobs for the poor and allow them to become members of the Social Security System.
The former president said legalizing jueteng can also eradicate corruption in government, particularly in the Philippine National Police.
Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz, meanwhile, said all kinds of gambling, legal or illegal, is immoral.
"'Pag sinasabi na nabubuhay kami sa sugal... Mukhang napakababa naman ng dignidad ng mga tao na iyon," Cruz said.
Cruz, who has been leading the fight against gambling, said the appointment of former Naga City Mayor Jessie Robredo to the Department of the Interior and Local Government is a positive development in the fight against jueteng.
"Ang mamang ito ay malinis at matapang. Kami po ay umaasa na at may pag-asa na kami laban sa jueteng," the bishop added.
Robredo has said that aside from moving against big-time jueteng lords, he will also order a review of the STL (small-time lottery) operations.
The STL was put up by the government to replace jueteng. However, there were reports that local jueteng operators bagged the rights to operate STL and used the numbers game as a front for jueteng.