Won’t justices probe JBC on Sereno SALNs?
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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