Jueteng lord for President?
Jueteng lord for President?
By: Harvey S. Keh, The Manila Times
In his first few weeks in office, President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino 3rd categorically stated that eradicating jueteng will be one of the least priorities of his administration. This statement raised many eyebrows particularly from the leaders of the Church and some of the political allies of Aquino in the Liberal Party such as former Pampanga Gov. Ed Panlilio and former Isabela Gov. Grace Padaca who lost in the last elections due to the billions of jueteng money which was used by their political opponents.
For a while Aquino probably thought that this issue would simply go away but just a few weeks ago, the growing problem of jueteng became a major test in his young administration after Archbishop Oscar Cruz and Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago both named DILG Usec. Rico Puno and former PNP Chief Jesus Versoza as protectors of jueteng lords. According to Cruz and Santiago, these two very close allies of Aquino who were receiving millions in protection money every week. Both have already denied any involvement in this illegal numbers game that continues to pervade our society most especially those belonging to the lower income strata. Yet, in a television interview, DILG Sec. Jesse Robredo mentioned that as early as the first week of August, he had already sent formal communications to Versoza and Puno telling them that there were already rumors linking both of them to jueteng and asking them to immediately resolve this issue before it gets out of hand. Did we see any action from Versoza and Puno? None. Why didn’t they do anything? Your guess is as good as mine.
Now, Aquino is left with a dilemma, while Puno is a very good friend and trusted ally, many are now calling on him to sack Puno not only due to these allegations of his involvement in jueteng but also because of his poor performance during the August 23 hostage crisis. The IIRC led by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima clearly pointed out that Puno and Versoza were among those who were found to have been lacking in their response to the hostage crisis. Some quarters are complaining that while Aquino sacked former Pagasa Director Prisco Nilo just after one strike, Puno it seems will not be relieved even if he already has two strikes, major ones at that. If I were Puno, I would save my good friend from this burden by at least taking an indefinite leave of absence until the jueteng investigations and operations are already resolved.
An unsolicited advice to Aquino would be to move Puno to another less sensitive department if he wants to continue to hold on to his friend. I am not one to second guess the President on why he continues to trust Puno but unless he shows people that he can hold his friends accountable for their actions, many Filipinos will eventually end up disappointed with this present administration.
For those who continue to ask why jueteng should be considered a national security issue, one can only look at the experience of former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada who was ousted from Malacañang due to allegations that he was on the take from jueteng lords. In the last elections, good and upright leaders like Panlilio and Padaca were both defeated due to the massive electoral fraud that happened in their provinces. These cheating machineries used by their opponents were funded by jueteng money thus, it was no longer surprising when Cruz revealed that current Pampanga Gov. Lilia Pineda and current Isabela Rep. Pol Dy were among those who are being tagged as jueteng lords in their areas. I am sure that Panlilio and Padaca’s experience wasn’t isolated, as I believe there were many other good and deserving leaders who also lost to their jueteng lord-supported opponents. These experiences clearly show us how jueteng can influence our politics and put leaders who are corrupt into power. Now it’s jueteng, soon it will be illegal drugs and prostitution. We have seen the experience of Mexico and Columbia wherein drug cartels are now so influential that they are able to elect government leaders even in the national level. If we don’t resolve this growing problem of jueteng soon, we might wake up one day having a jueteng lord as our next senator, vice president or even president. Is this the kind of society that we want our children to grow up in? I hope not.