Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - A town mayor who ratted on Pangasinan Governor Amado Espino Jr.'s involvement in "jueteng" in the province yetserday filed plunder charges against his erstwhile boss and political ally, alleging that Espino accepted 900 million pesos (US$21.87 million) payolas from operators of the illegal numbers game.
Under tight security, Mayor Rodrigo Orduna of Bugallon town in Pangasinan province went to the Office of the Ombudsman to personally submit a sworn affidavit containing his knowledge of Espino's role in jueteng operations in Pangasinan.
Orduna, who admitted to having served as Espino's jueteng bagman since 2001, claimed his former boss had amassed as much as 900 million pesos in protection money from gambling operators.
Espino denied Orduna's charges, saying the allegations against him were "politically motivated."
Wearing a signature shirt, the white-haired Orduna appeared relaxed despite the danger to which he had exposed himself by playing whistle-blower for the Aquino administration's fight against official corruption.
Orduna had asked Interior Secretary Mar Roxas for government protection, and Philippine Palace said yesterday that Roxas had the full backing of President Aquino in going after the protectors of jueteng.
"The president has directed Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel "Mar" Roxas to build a strong case and ensure the safety of witnesses who will testify against jueteng operations and the alleged involvement of Governor Espino in the province of Pangasinan," presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said.
Lacierda said Roxas had ordered the reshuffling of the police command in Pangasinan "to determine culpability, if any, and to guarantee that the [investigation will not be whitewashed]."
"We are determined to pursue this case to its logical end . . . and [it] should serve as a warning to syndicates and coddlers of illegal gambling operations to stop or be stopped," Lacierda said.
But Lacierda was mum when asked by reporters if Espino was an ally of the Philippine Palace.
In April, Espino led allies of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in bolting from the former President's Lakas-Kampi-CMD party and moving to the Nationalist People's Coalition (NPC) of businessman Eduardo "Danding" Cojuangco, President Aquino's uncle.
Espino said then that the former Arroyo allies' joining the NPC was intended to consolidate support for Aquino's administration.
"The NPC supported the President in the 2010 election, and the party continues to support him," Espino said.
Orduna and his lawyers met with Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz, leader of the People's Crusade Against Gambling, before proceeding to the Office of the Ombudsman.
"You should not come near me. You may get hit if Espino's hit men suddenly attack me," Orduna told reporters, smiling.
Describing himself as Espino's "trouble shooter" and "collector," Orduna did exactly what Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis "Chavit" Singson did in 2000 when he decided to come out and blow the whistle on then President Joseph Estrada's involvement in jueteng.
Singson's explosive testimony about his former drinking buddy's role in jueteng operations eventually led to Estrada's downfall in a popular uprising in January 2001.
Besides Orduna, confessed jueteng operator Fernando "Boy Bata" Alimagno also surfaced and filed an affidavit corroborating the mayor's accusations.
Accompanied by Cruz and Bishop Deogracias Iniguez of Caloocan, the pair appeared in a news briefing at Camp Crame with Roxas and top officials of the Philippine National Police (PNP).
Roxas assured Orduna and Alimagno of protection from the government and directed PNP chief Director General Nicanor Bartolome to immediately reshuffle police officials in Pangasinan to make way for an impartial investigation of Orduna's disclosures involving Espino.
"I understand that their decision to come out and disclose what they know about jueteng had put their lives and the lives of their families in danger. I will use the authority of my office in accordance with the law to investigate this matter," Roxas said.
He said that unlike previous investigations involving jueteng, the investigation of Espino's involvement in jueteng in Pangasinan will have a "logical conclusion."
When asked if he would order Espino's immediate suspension from office, Roxas said he would let the Ombudsman decide Orduna's complaint.
But he said the Office of the President had the authority to suspend local government officials facing administrative cases.
"We will not prejudge anybody here. We will observe and respect the proper processes. Even the accused has the right to explain and air his side," Roxas said.
"After this (the press conference), I will call up Governor Espino and advise him to get a good lawyer, because this cannot be solved through politics," he said.
Cruz welcomed Orduna's decision to turn against Espino, emphasising how difficult it was for whistle-blowers to come out and admit their involvement in illegal activities.
"We should show our support for Mayor Orduna and Boy Bata because they decided to make a stand against illegal gambling. We must watch after them because they have put their lives at risk," Cruz said.
Orduna's implicating an incumbent local government official in jueteng should prompt President Aquino to order a nationwide crackdown on the illegal game, he said.
In his four-page affidavit written in Filipino, Orduna narrated how he collected Espino's weekly take from jueteng operators in Pangasinan.
He said he started to collect Espino's share when Espino was elected representative of the province's second district in Congress in 2001.
At the time, Orduna said Espino, a retired officer, was getting 3 million pesos a month in payoff from jueteng operators in his district.
"As agreed, I collected 3 million pesos a month from the jueteng operators. I received 750,000 pesos from them every Saturday. If a month had more than four Saturdays, then Espino would get more than 3 million pesos," he said.
Gaining full control
He said Espino gained control of jueteng operations in Pangasinan when Espino was elected provincial governor in 2007. Espino's take, he said, increased to 10 million pesos a month.
He said Espino installed himself as "big boss" of the gambling syndicate that controlled jueteng in the province.
Orduna said Espino directed him to seek the help of Alimagno, Lito Millora and Bong Cayabyab in running jueteng.
In his own affidavit, Alimagno said Espino started to receive payoffs from jueteng in 1997 when the late Batangas Governor Armando Sanchez was the jueteng operator in Pangasinan.
At the peak of their operations in 2001, Alimagno said their group collected up to 12 million pesos a day.
Other officials, too
During the news briefing, Alimagno said they gave payoffs to local government officials and PNP officials in Pangasinan.
He said they also gave payoffs to journalists in Pangasinan and Metro Manila.
Asked if they were also giving protection money to Camp Crame officials, Alimagno said, "We were giving 825,000 pesos every month for Camp Crame."
He said a certain Supt. Wilson Lopez collected the protection money for senior police officers based at PNP headquarters in Camp Crame.
Lopez is logistics chief of the regional police office in the Ilocos region.
"But I cannot say if the money we set aside for the PNP was really given to the police officials," Alimagno said.
Because of Alimagno's disclosures, Bartolome ordered the relief of Lopez.
When Cruz told a Senate hearing in September 2010 that jueteng had returned to Pangasinan, Orduna said the syndicate was forced to temporarily stop its operations.
But Espino was able to revive jueteng in the province through the help of Charlie "Atong" Ang, who introduced jai alai in Pangasinan.
He said Alimagno introduced Ang to Espino last year. In a meeting at the Capitol Resort Hotel in Pangasinan, Orduna said, Ang promised the governor million in monthly payoff.
Ang then put up jai alai operations in Pangasinan as a cover for jueteng, Orduna said.
"I was assigned to explain to the mayors the new systems of Atong Ang. We had a meeting where Ang himself explained his operations to the mayors," he said.
"Because of that meeting, we were able to revive the operations of illegal gambling in Pangasinan which continue until now. What we used to call jueteng is now known as jai alai," Orduna said.
Leonido Pulido, lawyer for Orduna and Alimagno, stressed that contrary to what were previously reported in the media, a charge for plunder does not only concern public funds.
"Plunder is defined as the accumulation of ill-gotten wealth through a series of overt criminal acts. It does not say [the] ill-gotten wealth [should come] from public funds," Pulido said.
Told that the President himself had publicly stated that stamping out jueteng was not a priority of his administration, Cruz said, "That's why I really wonder why the man in Malacanang (Philippine Palace) is not committed to eradicate jueteng."
Cruz said he had grown tired of challenging Aquino to put an end to jueteng. "I think he is not in control, but he's the one being controlled," Cruz said.
With a report from Michael Lim Ubac.