Won’t jus­tices probe JBC on Sereno SALNs?

The Philippine Star - - OPINION - The STAR

In­com­plete sub­mis­sion of State­ments of As­sets, Li­a­bil­i­ties, and Net Worth. That’s the rea­son eight of 14 Supreme Court jus­tices booted out last week Chief Jus­tice Maria Lour­des Sereno. These days the jus­tices are more con­cerned with thwart­ing her ap­peal for case review. Also, with pun­ish­ing her, likely with dis­bar­ment, for speak­ing pub­licly against them dur­ing the quo war­ranto hear­ings.

The an­nual SALNs are a mea­sure of in­tegrity for SC nom­i­nees who are gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, the jus­tices ruled. CJ nom­i­nees in 2012 had been re­quired to present ten years’ SALNs, if ap­pli­ca­ble. Yet the Ju­di­cial and Bar Coun­cil sup­pos­edly waived the rule for Sereno, who al­legedly could turn in only three SALNs. Should not the jus­tices make the JBC ex­plain that pur­ported spe­cial treat­ment?

At that time Se­nior As­so­ciate Jus­tice An­to­nio Car­pio was act­ing CJ, as Re­nato Corona had just been un­seated. But since he was nom­i­nated for per­ma­nent CJ, he re­cused from chair­ing the JBC search com­mit­tee. Five other SC jus­tices were nom­i­nees as well: Pres­bitero Ve­lasco, Roberto Abad, Ar­turo Brion, Tere­sita Leonardo-de Cas­tro, and the new­est of them all Sereno. The task of head­ing the JBC search fell on the most se­nior un-nom­i­nated jus­tice, Dios­dado Per­alta. He was one of those who ousted Sereno last week.

Per­alta had tes­ti­fied at the House of Reps com­mit­tee on jus­tice about that 2012 search. The JBC pub­lished the need for SALN sub­mis­sions for ten years. Car­pio, hav­ing been jus­tice for eight years and Mala­cañang of­fi­cial prior to that, gave a com­plete set. So did long-time of­fi­cials Ve­lasco and de Cas­tro. Had he known that Sereno’s sub­mis­sions were lack­ing, Per­alta swore, he would have moved for her dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion. As it hap­pened Ve­lasco with­drew his ap­pli­ca­tion, so only five SC jus­tices were in­cluded in the short­list handed to then-Pres­i­dent Noynoy Aquino. Three oth­ers were men­tioned, Rep. Ronaldo Zamora, law school dean Ce­sar Vil­lanueva, and then-Solic­i­tor Gen­eral Fran­cis Jardeleza. Aquino chose Sereno.

Who in the JBC au­tho­rized Sereno’s ex­emp­tion? It couldn’t have been Jus­tice Sec­re­tary Leila de Lima. She was a CJ nom­i­nee too, so didn’t par­tic­i­pate in the de­lib­er­a­tions. Was it one or more of the other JBC mem­bers? Or was it merely the search sec­re­tariat, as sus­pected?

In get­ting to the bot­tom of this, the SC would be able to set­tle the is­sue.

* * * Gov­ern­ment’s Small Town Lot­tery is beat­ing the il­le­gal num­bers games. Fig­ures from the Philip­pine Char­ity Sweep­stakes Of­fice tell the story:

• There used to be only 18 STLs, mere fronts of jueteng op­er­a­tors in Cen­tral and South­ern Lu­zon. Brib­ing PCSO crooks, gam­bling lords cor­nered STL fran­chises to keep com­peti­tors out. PCSO then in­creased the li­censees to 56 Lu­zon-wide. New gen­eral man­ager Alexan­der Ba­lu­tan ex­panded STL into turfs of masiao in the Visayas and pares in Min­danao. There are now 81 STL agents na­tion­wide.

• The hand­ful of STL jueteng fronts used to re­mit only P20 mil­lion each per month to PCSO. The to­ken re­mit­tances cov­ered up the il­le­gal gam­bling take of P400 mil­lion a month. PCSO’s an­nual STL earn­ings were only P4.5 bil­lion. When Ba­lu­tan li­censed more agents, STL grew to P6.7 bil­lion in 2016, then P15.8 bil­lion in 2017.

• In time, STL li­censees them­selves ex­posed rem­nant jueteng, masiao, and pares op­er­a­tors in their lo­cales. The po­lice went af­ter the lat­ter, as the il­le­gal bet col­lec­tors of­ten­times also were the neigh­bor­hood drug push­ers. STL re­mit­tances be­gan to hit P2 bil­lion a month this 2018, so it could reach up­wards of P20 bil­lion by yearend.

• The en­try of more STL agents, cou­pled with tech­nol­ogy, won lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties’ trust. Jueteng draws, of­ten rigged with mere bingo tiles in old liquor bot­tles, used to be held il­lic­itly un­der mango trees or aboard mov­ing jit­neys. To­day STL pub­licly is drawn in ac­ces­si­ble of­fices, us­ing PCSO elec­tronic ma­chines, with civic lead­ers as wit­nesses, cov­ered by lo­cal ra­dio-TV sta­tions and streamed live on­line. Ninety per­cent of STLs are drawn lo­cally, some up to three times a day; only 10 per­cent de­pend on na­tional draws, tele­cast live.

• Thirty per­cent of STL sales go straight to char­ity. Where vice lords used to give a small prize to bet­tors then pocket the bulk, STL also pays taxes. PCSO paid P3.6 bil­lion taxes in the first quar­ter of 2018; last year it set­tled more in ar­rears.

Jueteng had thrived in Lu­zon since the last few decades of Span­ish rule. The Amer­i­can colo­nial regime out­lawed it, with the Con­stab­u­lary go­ing af­ter fi­nanciers. Still it fooled bet­tors aching to win a few hun­dred pe­sos from P1-bets. Masiao and pares sprouted in the other re­gions. All be­came ma­jor cor­rup­tors of lo­cal po­lice­men. In the late 1990s a na­tional ca­bal even cen­tral­ized jueteng in Mala­cañang.

Ini­tial STLs failed due to in­fil­tra­tion by gam­bling lords. At­tri­tion of age soon over­took the lat­ter. Batan­gas, once among the worst jueteng-in­fested prov­inces, now re­mits P124 mil­lion a month to STL. In Bu­la­can bet­tors were used to three jueteng draws a day; to­day it’s the STL that does that, un­der strict com­mu­nity mon­i­tor­ing.

PCSO also draws rev­enues from na­tional lot­tos that pay out mul­ti­mil­lion-peso jack­pots. To­tal in­come in 2017 was P53 bil­lion, from 2016’s P37 bil­lion.

Ba­lu­tan, a re­tired Ma­rine gen­eral, knows that vice lords are try­ing to re­gain lost ground. On them he lays the blame for oc­ca­sional fake news to den­i­grate the PCSO. He ex­pects them, along with narco-politi­cians, to bankroll crooked politicos in next year’s lo­cal elec­tions.

* * * Catch Sapol ra­dio show, Satur­days, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

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