MANILA, Philippines – Manila Vice Mayor Isko Moreno and his allied councilors did not violate any election law when they sponsored a bingo game over the weekend in Manila, Commission on Elections (Comelec) Sixto Brillantes said on Monday.
Brillantes said Moreno, who were arrested last Saturday with five allied councilors in Sta. Cruz, Manila, is off the hook as far as the Omnibus Election Code is concerned since the campaign period for local candidates has not yet started.
The campaign period for local candidates begins on March 29.
"Sugal ang bingo basta mayroong perang involved. That's gambling. Bawal ho iyan. Pero sa ngayon ho, wala kaming involvement dito dahil 'di pa nag-uumpisa ang campaign period sa local," Brillantes told dzMM.
Nevertheless, Brillantes said Moreno may still face illegal gambling charges before the regular court.
Isko: No violation
Moreno, for his part, believes he and councilors Joel Chua, RE Fugoso, Jong Isip, Yul Nieto and Let-Let Zarcal did not violate any law on illegal gambling.
Citing Presidential Decree 1602, Moreno argues that the "wager" component was not met in the game where some 2,000 residents supposedly participated.
"Kapag nag-benta ka ng card tapos mag-papapremyo, tapos wala kang permiso sa Pagcor, bawal ho iyon," he said.
"Wala namang taya. Tinanong ko ang taong bayan: 'Sino sa inyo tumaya?' Nagsigawan ang mga tao: 'Wala! Walang taya rito.'"
Moreno also argued that his camp did not violate any election law, even as he admitted that the bingo cards bore his name and those of his fellow candidates in the May 2013 polls.
"Kung may lantarang violation ng Omnibus Election Code, dapat iyun ang [isinampa] nila," Moreno said. "There is no such thing as premature campaigning, walang ganoon."
Moreno noted that he was never arrested during the five years that he conducted the bingo activity.
"Iyan ay nangyayari na sa limang taon. Eh nung napaiba ang kulay namin, bawal na," he said.
He believes his decision to join the camp of former president and Manila mayoralty candidate Joseph Estrada, the main rival of incumbent mayor Alfredo Lim this May, is the reason behind his arrest.
"Hindi niyo pwedeng ituloy yan. May order sa amin sa itaas, bawal iyan," Moreno quoted the arresting police officers as saying. "Tumingin naman ako sa itaas, langit lang nakita ko."
Moreno and the councilors were released on Sunday supposedly due to lack of evidence.
Lim: Isko, et al are 'liars'
Lim, meanwhile, said Moreno and the five councilors are not yet absolved of the criminal charges.
He said his erstwhile political ally was only freed while a preliminary investigation into the case is being done.
"Ang sinasabi nila kaya daw sila pinakawalan eh wala silang kasalanan. Aba kasinungalingan na naman iyan," Lim said.
"Magkakaroon ng preliminary investigation, kaya sila ni-release. Hindi ibig sabihin wala silang kasalanan. Baka ngayong linggong ito ise-schedule na iyan, para patunayan na nagsisinugnaling sila."
Lim also belied Moreno's claim that he condoned the bingo activity when they were still allies. He believes Moreno only sponsored the game to attract voters.
"Noong kasama ko siya wala siyang sinasalihan na bingo. Ngayon lang ginawa 'yun dahil kapag nagpapatawag sila ng meeting walang dumadating na tao. Aba siyempre dadagsain ng tao yan," he said.
Lim also denied that he is harassing Moreno by ordering his arrest.