Philippines is gambling lords’ Eden

Bishops and church groups take “dirty-money” donations

The Philippines has become the gambling lords’ paradise. And the richest of these lords, albeit legal and government-owned, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor), is about to turn the most beautiful part of Metro Manila into the Las Vegas of the Orient.

Most of the other gambling lords are operators of illegal jueteng operations.

These, people and groups that became famous in the impeachment trial of President Joseph Estrada who was ousted primarily because he was accused of receiving bribes from jueteng operators, are also operating some—others say most—of the legal Small Town Lottery franchises. The Manila Times learned from a source in the industry.

The STL is granted to qualified gambling-operators by another government-owned gambling lord, the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO).

Pagcor is much richer than the PCSO. Pagcor casinos are all over the National Capital Region and the key cities of the archipelago. These casino buildings, brightly lit at night, look like palaces, glittering like small-scale versions of the ones in Las Vegas, Macau, Singapore and Malaysia.

But Pagcor has begun to build its Entertainment City—on the very land close to the Philippine Cultural Center and extending towards Pasay by the sea—which could, if all the investors do come and none of the usual Filipino contretemps wreck the project, rival what Macau and Singapore now offer.

The Pagcor and the PCSO are of course the “goodies” of this country’s burgeoning gambling industry. They are “goodies” because they do great works of charity—giving to hospitals, educational institutions, various foundations and every single charity and medical concern presented to them by governors, mayors and barangay officials that are favored by Malacañang and by congressmen and senators who are allies of the President.

They even give generously to charity projects for the poor run by Roman Catholic Church parishes and bishops.

Yet, they are officially not “goodies” to the hierarchy of the Church (and to most of the Protestant pastors too).

The doctrine of the Catholic Church on gambling is as neutral as her doctrine on alcoholic drinks—especially grape wine, without which no substance can be miraculously transubstantiated into the Sacred Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

The doctrine on gambling, as stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, says: “Games of chance [card games, etc.] or wagers are not in themselves contrary to justice. They become morally unacceptable when they deprive someone of what is necessary to provide for his needs and those of others. The passion for gambling risks being an enslavement. Unfair wagers and cheating at games constitute grave matter, unless the damage inflicted is so slight that the one who suffers it cannot reasonably consider it significant.”

In other words, you can gamble if you are not doing it as an addiction (an enslavement). And if you do not deprive your family—or anyone to whom you owe the duty of love and support—of your time, your attention and your money. It’s all common sense, really. You can gamble to excess, just as you can drink to excess and do harm to yourself.

Then you commit grave injustice. And your gambling addiction might even lead you to steal.

The Catholic bishops see much more than personal sins related to gambling. They wisely oppose both legal and illegal gambling because of the harm both forms have been doing to the Filipinos as a society and to the Filipino character—especially to the poor in the case of jueteng, masiao and the PCSO’s small town lottery.

CBCP vs. organized gambling

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (see “What Catholic Church’s doctrine on gambling says”) has issued a pastoral statement against organized gambling.

The bishops decry the “many attempts . . . made to legalize all forms of gambling, even as lotto and casinos are legal. But again for us as Pastors, given the fatal lure of gambling to the Filipino psyche, the legalization of organized gambling in order to raise funds, even for development, is a form of de-moralization—the gradual erosion of moral values necessary to a development-oriented work ethic, such as diligence and industry, accountability and transparency.

“The poor and the needy are victimized the most. They are often the most prone to gambling addiction, as the deadly attraction of easy and quick riches beckons them to disaster. Therefore, the legalization and proliferation of gambling establishments are nothing more than an abject surrender to a morally debilitating vice.

“For reasons like the above we strongly oppose organized rampant gambling, be it legal or illegal. Our development as a people is not merely economic. It has to be more. It must be moral and spiritual as well. We, therefore, strongly urge that the investigations now going on against gambling lords be pursued relentlessly until these are brought to justice and the complicity of government officials, police, and military officers be brought out into the open and punished.”

Bishops support Gov. Panlilio

About two-thirds of all the Catholic bishops are supporting the case Pampanga’s Governor Eddie Panlilio has filed against perhaps the most celebrated person to be accused of being a “jueteng lord.” He is Rodolfo “Bong” Pineda, and he and his wife, are among President Gloria Arroyo’s best friends and townmates. Mr. Pineda has appeared in Senate hearings and was mentioned in the impeachment trial of former President Erap Estrada.

But there is a new reality that has not reached the Philippine public, the same gambling industry source told The Times. Illegal gambling, especially jueteng, these days is no longer controlled by civilians. Someone in the Cabinet and his men all over the country who wield great power over law-enforcement agencies, is now the boss of bosses.

We in The Times have tried to verify this piece of information. And if we are told that it is again another nasty rumor meant to add to the dirt being thrown at the Palace we will not be surprised.