EDITORIAL - Once more with feeling

There goes the Philippine National Police again. On orders of Malacañang, the PNP is launching a renewed crackdown on jueteng operations. The order was issued amid reports that illegal gambling money is being used to finance the activities of private armed groups during elections.

The truth is that jueteng not only finances the operations of armed groups, but also bankrolls political campaigns. This is a fact of life in this country, where even police officers openly admit that they sometimes have to rely on jueteng money to finance legitimate law enforcement activities. Jueteng lords are among the biggest contributors to the campaign kitties of politicians, from the barangay level all the way to the highest post in the land. What’s a cop to do when the most notorious jueteng lords are political allies of the governor, the mayor and every member of the barangay council? And what’s a cop to do when the police provincial commander himself is tooling around in a brand-new sport utility vehicle, courtesy of the local gambling lord?

No wonder Interior Secretary Jose Lina develops amnesia each time he is reminded of his vow, made a year and a half ago, to quit if he failed to stamp out jueteng within a year. The renewed crackdown ordered by Malacañang, with the PNP chief threatening to sack police commanders who fail to curb jueteng in their jurisdictions, is the best proof that Lina’s campaign fizzled out.

Any administration that truly wants to stamp out illegal numbers games, which are hugely popular particularly in the countryside, should first push for legislation that would make gambling lords take the law seriously. As it is, the penalties for illegal gambling are so light they are laughable. The government can also push for the passage of tough laws against racketeering. But because certain lawmakers themselves or their political supporters are among the biggest beneficia-ries of jueteng proceeds, the interest in passing such pieces of legislation has always been tepid.

Lacking the necessary laws, any administration that takes this campaign seriously can hit gambling lords where it hurts, by prosecuting them for tax evasion. Despite the government’s dismal record in going after tax evaders, this could be fairly easy to do in the case of gambling lords. All it will take is political will – a crucial ingredient that has been missing in every crackdown on jueteng.











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