PCSO opens applications for ‘jueteng’ operators

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OK, I’m actually really referring to the popular numbers game called small town lottery (STL), which is essentially jueteng, but given a legal garb in 1987 and placed under the supervision of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) on orders of President Corazon Aquino.

Amid the recent media ruckus over the allegedly suspicious number of lotto winners, the PCSO quietly put out a small inconspicuous ad in this newspaper which, sources claimed, point to a system by which corrupt big money is generated through the STL: selection of its authorized operators for the games and how they could easily cheat government.

To play this very popular game, a player chooses two numbers from 1 to 40, and if his chosen numbers match the winning combination drawn in any order for that particular draw, he wins hundreds of pesos on a P1 bet, depending on how many bets were received and how many correctly guessed the winning combination.

Its popularity is due to the small amounts of bet one could make, and its returns. An P800 win makes a big difference in a wageworker’s daily life. Yes, you haven’t heard much about it since it is mostly the poor in small towns which play it, with collectors (kubradors) even going to people’s houses to collect the bet.

Or pro forma only? The PCSO ad

Sen. Rafael “Raffy” Tulfo has created a controversy with his allegations about the shadiness of the PCSO’s lotto games under this administration, claiming that the agency has been declaring so many winners for the jackpot that it defies mathematical probability. I don’t know why Tulfo has to spend so much time interrogating hapless PCSO officials when all he has to do to determine if the lotto games were rigged is to get some expert to undertake an exhaustive forensic investigation of the PCSO’s computer systems.

Lotto

Lotto systems anywhere in the world follow the same procedure. Bets are entered at the outlet, which bet (data) are instantly inputted at the PCSO’s central computers. The draw is undertaken (through a system which includes witnesses of non-PCSO officials, impervious to manipulation) at 9 p.m., or two hours before the outlets close down, and no data can be inputted to the central computers anymore. If a bet is made after the draw, the system would easily discover this — unless there is massive collusion among the PCSO’s technicians, or a brilliant hacking operation is done involving time travel. I haven’t heard of such a feat being done anywhere.

I admire Tulfo’s audaciousness in undertaking an investigation of the lotto games. But I hope he investigates with the same tenacity the allegations about STL which since its establishment in 1987 has been suspected of massive corruption in the rigged process of choosing the operators who make billions of pesos by underreporting their revenues. This is said to be a real “jackpot” for PCSO officials — and their political patrons — the biggest, in fact, among all government agencies.

Tulfo must insist on monitoring how the PCSO will be choosing its operators and demand that these be publicly made known — through the media — with the owner of these firms identified. Many of the big operators in the provinces, for instance in Central Luzon, in fact, have been widely known to the masses addicted to the game and to the political elite, as they have become a prime source of funding in election bids. The wife of a longtime jueteng operator has even become governor of a province.

P4 billion

In a Senate investigation in 2018, then-senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson claimed the government was losing at least P4 billion a month, or P48 billion a year, to gambling lords operating STL outlets in Luzon by underreporting their earnings so much so that the PCSO was receiving only P1.7 billion monthly. The next year, Rodrigo Duterte ordered 21,000 STL outlets shut down, with his officials also quoting those figures.

While there was no formal order from Duterte lifting the ban, the PCSO quietly allowed the reopening of STL outlets. The issue faded into the background as the 2022 elections approached. The PCSO hasn’t even reported how many STL outlets have been authorized to operate by now.

The Philippine media has largely evaded reporting the STLs for two reasons. First, these operate mostly far from the metropolis, and unless one has inside sources, are difficult to cover. Second, behind the STLs are gambling lords with their armed “enforcers.” Not a few journalists have been killed by these gambling lords’ goons, either when they attempted to expose these lords — or blackmailed them.

The STLs though have played a big role in generating the culture of corruption in this country. Local officials and even the police get payoffs from gambling lords, which they justify by claiming that the game has even benefited the poor, as the odds of winning are bigger in jueteng, and the winnings are a big help to a poor family.

Control over a particular jueteng territory, in fact, has been the reason for bloody firefights among uniformed men, as in the case of a group of policemen battling a squad of Army Special Forces in Quezon province in 2013. “If jueteng has not been helpful to the poor for them to eke out a living, it would have vanished decades ago,” a mayor of a rural town said.

Goodbye, FOI?

Former president Rodrigo Duterte’s “freedom of information” (FOI) under Executive Order 2 — requiring the government to furnish information to citizens — appears to be nearing its demise under this administration. I hope not. So much to ask of this government.

It was a surreal moment in January 2024 when I received an email from the FOI secretariat which is run by the Presidential Communications Office. The letter was in response to an FOI request I made (asking for then-senator Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao’s college records) on June 25, 2021 — two-and-a-half years ago. The letter informed me that the office did not have the information I requested.

Last Saturday, I tried logging on to the FOI website intending to ask for information on some matter. My username and password — which I had used two years ago to log in and request for information — didn’t work. When I tried to sign in with a new username and password, the response was “Internal Server Error.” I tried logging in and creating a new account. Nada. I had someone try logging into the foi.gov.ph. Nothing, so I’m sure they’re not blocking me. I tried for three whole days.

And to think I had asked a colleague from my government days, the efficient Communications Secretary Cheloy Velicaria-Garafil a month ago if FOI was still in effect, and she said “yes.” Please fix this venue for citizens’ democratic exercise, Cheloy.


Facebook: Rigoberto Tiglao

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Dorina S. Rojas

    STL or any form of gambling never helps anyone to become a better person. Winning once or twice is one in a million times and the bettor gets hooked and it’s too late. FOI is good but those who implement it are also free to misinform because their brains are deformed.

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