When there’s smoke, there’s fire

 The smoke detectors at the Iloilo Capitol didn’t sound an alarm, but the smoke that belched out of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan caused a great deal of panic in the Defensor administration two weeks ago.

The “fire” wasn’t the type that hit the old Iloilo Capitol twice toward the end of Defensor’s first stint as governor; it was an expose by no less than an ally, 3rd District Board Member Licurgo Tirador about an attempted bribery to get him to vote “yes” on the proposed operation of Small Town Lottery (STL) in the province.

Tirador broke the story to the local media shortly after Defensor announced he had issued a “certificate of no objection” for the operation of STL in favour of Around D’ World Gaming Corp. He cited the resolution of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan which endorsed the entry of STL into Iloilo province as the basis for his decision.

Of course, we had known long before that Defensor and Eddie Gonzalez, the alleged jueteng lord from Bicol and principal financier of Around D’ World, had reached a deal on bringing STL into the province.

Tirador was one of four board members who stood by their principles and voted “no” to STL. According to sources, Defensor sent an emissary to Tirador to change his vote. An envelope containing a bundle of cash was hand carried by the emissary to “soften” the resistance of Tirador.

The grand old man was insulted by the attempt to bribe him, but kept quiet about it for a while. It isn’t known what provoked him to make this revelation to local media. In talking about the attempted bribery, Tirador went so far as to estimate the amount given as bribes to top officials of the Iloilo Capitol — P25 million.

When the story broke, Defensor’s firefighters quickly dosed the conflagration. Tirador was persuaded to avoid giving any more interviews. For several days, he literally hid from media. One week later, he stood before his colleagues before the Sanggunian to deny he said those things. He was just misquoted, he said.

The issue refused to die, however. Last week, Rep. Niel “Junjun” Tupas Jr. (5th District) wrote a letter to PCSO chairperson Margie Juico asking for an investigation. Why is it that bribery has to be employed to get STL to operate in the province? That kind of transaction taints the integrity of the accreditation process, he pointed out. Under the Aquino administration, that way of doing business should be rejected.

Defensor contends that this obstacle to STL operations for Around D’ World Gaming Corp. is a retaliatory move on the part of the Tupases. But is it? Long before he issued the certificate of no objection, we have already been getting reports that it was a done deal.  As early as August, Gonzales visited Defensor at his Mandurriao residence in the company of Samuel Jonathan Ng, a local businessman. A huge amount of money had been exchanged, sources said.

The character of Around D’ World is suspect. It was registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission only in April 2010. And it was granted a franchise by the old PCSO management a few days after the May 10 elections, when Defensor had been declared winner for the governorship.

It is a midnight franchise grant for all intents and purposes, but of course, Defensor doesn’t mind. Iggy Arroyo, a.k.a. Jose Pidal, had conveyed to the new governor a desire to expand jueteng in Iloilo province through Dr. Raul Banias, the provincial administrator. All that mattered to the governor was the color of the money.

Defensor’s defenders ridicule the Tupas complaint as “chasing ghosts”. What is there to investigate, the defenders say, when Tirador had “recoiled”  to borrow the words of The Daily Guardian’s “Resbak” column) from his original expose. Indeed, Tirador turned about face. But his excuse is much too shallow.

As the saying goes, “when there’s smoke, there’s fire.” It’s good it’s not the Capitol that is burning down, as a third conflagration will really be too much. But the true color of the Defensor administration is now becoming visible to everybody’s view.

Bribery at the Iloilo capitol

Licurgo Tirador, board member representing the 3rd district of Iloilo, seldom speaks publicly. But when he does, you can be sure it’s not gossip. A former OIC-governor of Iloilo, three-term congressman of the 3rd district and mayor of Pototan, Iloilo, Tirador can be described as an elder statesman in local politics. He can afford to speak his mind, and he doesn’t have to worry about stepping on toes.

Two weeks ago, Tirador created a minor tremblor at the Iloilo capitol when he exposed an attempt to bribe him and other members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan just to secure passage of the resolution ffavoring the operation of Small Town Lottery (STL) in the province. Tirador, along with board members Gerardo Flores (1st district), Demy Sonza (2nd district) and Nielo Tupas (5th district), had voted against the resolution. The expose came after Iloilo governor Arthur Defensor Sr. revealed he had given a certificate of no objection in favor of Around the World Gaming Corp. owned by known jueteng lord Eddie Gonzales and Iggy Arroyo, a.k.a. Jose Pidal.

The revelation confirms the information I have gathered that the STL operator promised P100,000 to vice governor Oscar Richard Garin Jr. and P25,000 each to board members to get the resolution approved. And once the STL operations commence, a steady monthly allowance will also flow into the board members’ pockets, my sources say.

That the expose came from Tirador mildly surprised me. Tirador is an ally of Defensor. But to the credit of the grand old man, he isn’t one who sacrifices his principles. Once he finds something objectionable, then he’ll not hesitate to express his displeasure. This is apparently what happened in this instance. Tirador found it hard to swallow that STL was granted an entry permit because of bribes. And it is now clear the bribe money didn’t just involve the provincial board. The office of the governor is a logical place for more money to be delivered. In the final analysis, it’s the governor’s signature and assent that mattered the most.

Defensor knew he had a crisis in his hands. How can he now deflect the issue of corruption? He made his comeback to the capitol on the issue of corruption. He had accused his predecessor of rampant corruption, although after six months, he hasn’t proven a single charge. His “Mister Clean” image is now being threatened. And the threat didn’t come from the Tupas camp. The expose came from within his own group.

Well, Defensor employed the usual squid-tactics. At once he held a press conference and disclosed a report of the Commission on Audit (COA) disallowing a P5-million purchase of medicines last year. He was decent enough to admit the COA disallowance isn’t final and executory. The Tupas camp still has six months to appeal and show that there wasn’t anything irregular about it. But it suited his purposes, and the media bit at his bait.

It also helped him that Tirador zippered his mouth almost as quickly as he had opened it. Tirador turned elusive when local radio stations tried to do interviews with him. We can only speculate that Tirador was discreetly requested by his ally to shut his mouth up, because it will blow Defensor’s cover of a clean administration.

But the lid has been blown off. Tirador’s revelation is proof that STL is bringing dirty money into the hands of Capitol officials. I’ve been told Defensor was visited by Eddie Gonzales in August to seal the transaction. Gonzales was accompanied by Samuel Jonathan Ng, who was also involved in the Syjuco anomalies (cellphone, computers, etc.). Ng’s own wife delivered the money to the board members, my sources said.

I was told a partial delivery of P5 millon was made, which is why Defensor pushed hard to obtain a favorable resolution from the Sangguniang Panlalawigan. Another P15 million is supposedly due upon the issuance of the governor’s certificate of no objection. Easy money.

I’m hoping the media will not shelve the issue too soon. The integrity of the Iloilo capitol is now put into serious question. The source of the bribery issue isn’t a lightweight. He detonated a nuke right in Defensor’s office, and the governnor can no longer hide and escape culpability. The more troubling thought is that in this case, Defensor was a party to the bribery. The money given to the vice governor and board members came with his imprimatur.

Defensor rolls out the red carpet for STL

After being kept out of the province for more than five years since it began operating, Small Town Lottery (STL) can now send out its bet collectors to the 42 municipalities and one component city to bring this numbers game into the daily lives of the people. This came about after Iloilo governor Arthur Defensor Sr. revealed he has issued a “Certificate of No Objection” in favor of Around the World Gaming Corp. to do business in Iloilo anytime now.

Defensor insisted he specifically chose Around the World Gaming Corp. “because it’s the only one with a franchise from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office.” But everybody knows that the corporation was granted a midnight franchise by the PCSO just before its principal’s sister-in-law, then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, was due to step down at the end of her term on June 30, 2010. PCSO has since cancelled the franchise for Around the World Gaming Corp., thereby opening the numbers game to whichever company is given a permit in the weeks ahead.

Defensor’s announcement was not unexpected. From the start, it was widely known that Defensor had struck a deal with Rep. Iggy Arroyo, the principal owner along with jueteng lord Eddie Gonzales of Bicol, to invade Iloilo province shortly after he won the election on May 14. The PCSO granted Around the World its questionable franchise on May 18, 2010. According to sources, Defensor was going to get a substantial cut of the jueteng proceeds along with his provincial administrator, Dr. Raul Banias. Banias served as the liaison between Arroyo and Defensor, the sources said.

STL has been reported to be a cover for jueteng operations in other parts of the country, especially after Gonzalez was exposed as a principal partner in the enterprise. Retired Dagupan archbishop Oscar Cruz pointed to Gonzalez as one of the biggest jueteng lords in the country today.

The question now is whether Defensor will honor his own approval once he finds out that Around the World has been taken out of the game. In several interviews over Bombo Radyo Iloilo, PCSO General Manager Margie Juico indicated that the Arroyo-owned company has been stripped of the authority to undertake the numbers game in Iloilo province.

A matter of courtesy

A loud, collective gasp filled the session hall of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan last Friday when an official of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) told the legislative body sitting as a committee of the whole that the issue of small town lottery (STL) operations for Around D’World Gaming Corp was just being presented before it “as a matter of courtesy.”
It stunned senior members of the Sanggunian like board members Licurgo “Curging” Tirador and Demetrio “Demy” Sonza who rightfully took the statement as an insult to the legislative body.
The statement incensed Tirador, who immediately accosted PCSO Visayas operations manager Willian Medici if he had heard the latter right. Apparently, the statement sounded very much like the whole process was a mere formality in the eyes of PCSO.
Realizing that he had committed a grave blunder, Medici mumbled an apologetic explanation that it wasn’t intended as such.
But the phrase “a matter of courtesy” was a presumptuous act of arrogance on the part of PCSO, and glaring evidence that these officials, along with Governor Arthur Defensor Sr. and provincial administrator Dr. Raul Banias, considered the matter of Around D’World Gaming Corp.’s application a “done deal”.
It doesn’t matter much that nine out of 10 resource persons who spoke before the SP committee of the whole expressed strong opposition to allowing small town lottery, and not just Around D’World Gaming Corp., to operate the numbers game in the province.
Defensor and Banias will make sure the arguments against allowing STL into the province will be swept aside just to accommodate Around D’World Gaming Corp., for this is a business deal they had with jueteng lord Jose Francisco Gonzalez and Jose Pidal, a.k.a. Iggy Arroyo.
Indeed, the question must be asked: how and why did Around D’World Gaming Corp. manage to obtain a “midnight franchise” to operate STL in Iloilo province on May 19, 2010 before it could get a favorable endorsement from the local government unit?
For five years, nobody had gotten a PCSO franchise simply because the Iloilo provincial government under Governor Niel Tupas Sr. refused to approve it. In a split-second maneuver, these guys circumvented the rules and rushed approval of the franchise while Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was still President of the Republic.
After all, as early as May 12, Defensor was already governor-elect, and he assured the Gonzalez-Arroyo combine it was okay to proceed. There was a deadline to beat: June 30, 2010. That was when a new board would assume office, and they could no longer curry favors from PCSO. For them to wait for Defensor to formally assume the top seat at the Capitol would have been too late.
Defensor is telling everybody the province has no choice because Around D’World Gaming Corp. already has a franchise. He’s wrong. The new PCSO board cancelled the award of the franchise and required Around D’World to secure the requirements of an endorsement from the Sanggunian and the governor before its franchise can be acted upon. Technically, it has no franchise to speak of.
But then again, of course, it’s a done deal as far as Defensor and Banias are concerned. They will cajole Tirador and Sonza to forgot they heard those words, “a matter of courtesy”, from the PCSO officials. They will sweep all opposition under the rug and proceed with the business they want to bring to the province to make their old master happy, and reap the rewards of their favorable endorsement for the project.

The plot thickens

As far as I know, STL operators are granted franchises to operate in a province or city only after it has secured favorable endorsements from the local government unit. That’s the reason the local STL operator in Iloilo City never got to operate openly outside the territorial boundaries of Iloilo City since the numbers game was revived five years ago.

But in the case of Around D’ World Gaming Corp. owned by Eddie Gonzales and Iggy Arroyo, it pulled strings just as the Arroyo administration was about to step down and managed to obtain a PCSO board resolution granting the entity a franchise to operate in the Province of Iloilo on May 19, 2010.

This interesting discovery surfaced today when I was interviewed by anchorman Eric John Pamplona of DYSI Super Radyo on the issue of the pending “application” of the gambling company to operate in the province of Iloilo. The Sangguniang Panlalawigan has scheduled a public hearing on Friday, Oct. 22, supposedly to elicit the views and opinions of Ilonggos on whether or not STL will be allowed to operate in the province.

It is a classic case of putting the cart ahead of the horse. Around D’ World is seeking local endorsements AFTER it was given a franchise to operate. This discovery only bolstered my long-held view that Defensor, provincial administrator Raul Banias, Arroyo and Gonzales had already closed the deal even before the then governor-elect could assume office. If there are “midnight appointments,” then the franchise to Around D’ World is a “midnight deal” of the Arroyo administration with the incoming Defensor administration.

Arroyo, who is also known as “Jose Pidal”, pounced on the opportunity presented by the narrow victory of Defensor to bring jueteng to Iloilo province, considered a first-class market because of its size and economic status. He could not wait for Defensor to take his oath because by then, PCSO would have been under new management. So with the help of Dr. Raul Banias, Arroyo and Gonzales sealed the transaction with Defensor.

Interestingly, it was a press release from the hacker/plagiarist that exposed this missing link to the equation. I had not known about the PCSO franchise until today. Now I’m more than convinced that the so-called “consultation” is nothing more than a “zarzuela” being played out by Defensor and Banias to mislead the Ilonggo public that the transaction is transparent and above-board. Too bad for them, the evidence is pointing the other way.

Around the world of jueteng

My sources were proven right yesterday when ABS-CBN TV Patrol Iloilo ran a story about the “letter-request” of Around the World Corp. to Iloilo Governor Arthur Defensor Sr. for an endorsement to operate the small town lottery (STL) business in the province of Iloilo. The letter was dated October 5, 2010. This is a corporation owned by the combine of Jose Pidal (a.k.a. Iggy Arroyo) and jueteng lord Eddie Gonzales, with a top official at the Iloilo capitol as secret partner. It wants to introduce the province into big-time jueteng with STL as cover.

As already mentioned in an earlier post, Gonzales is a bigtime jueteng operator in the Bicol region who was among those exposed by retired Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz as one of the country’s jueteng lords.

According to Defensor, he wants “extensive consultations” with the people before he decides on the application. Of course, he is lying. The public hearings that the Sangguniang Panlalawigan intends to hold are only a formality. The issue has been decided several months ago. Defensor and his provincial administrator, Dr. Raul Banias, owe a debt of gratitude to their bosses, Mike and Iggy Arroyo, and quickly agreed to let Gonzales, an outsider from Bicol, to run the business here even if there is a local STL operator.

Mark my word: Defensor will not countenance any opposition to the STL business of Eddie Gonzales as cover for jueteng. This is the same Arthur Defensor who double-crossed the Iloilo health workers on the issue of the hazard pay, making his predecessor Niel Tupas Sr. look bad during the campaign and promising them a bonanza, only to renege on his word after he assumed office at the Iloilo capitol. This is the same Arthur Defensor Sr. who served as knight in rusty armor to defend Gloria Macapagal Arroyo when he was majority floor leader in the House of Representatives.

As the rest of the nation condemns jueteng, Arthur Defensor and Raul Banias are rolling out the red carpet for the jueteng business of Eddie Gonzales to Iloilo province.

Changing complexion

A very popular product these days is glutathione, which supposedly helps individuals with dark complexion turn lighter. In the province of Iloilo, it’s not this product that is about to change its complexion. It’s a game called jueteng in the guise of small town lottery. And the initiative to change the complexion of Iloilo province is coming directly from the Iloilo capitol.

For nine years, the previous administration under Governor Niel Tupas Sr. blocked the entry of jueteng into the province despite the many tempting offers. Just before the 2004 local elections, a group claiming to represent Ilocos Sur Governor Chavit Singson approached him to secure his approval for the illegal numbers game to operate in the province. In exchange, the group promised a monthly share of P1 million, “just for a start”, and this amount could go higher should the operation reap bigger profits. Governor Tupas asked his guests to leave his house at once, never to ever come back.

Governor Tupas was passionate about his campaign to stop all illegal activities in the province, and illegal gambling was on top of his list. When the PCSO granted a franchise for a small town lottery (STL) company to set up shop in Iloilo City, he was again approached for his consent to allow its operations to extend to the province.  STL offered a fixed share of its earnings to the province of Iloilo to help the LGU look after its indigents. It was all legal. But then again, Governor Tupas was uncompromising about his stand against illegal gambling. He said “no”.

This was the reason Iloilo became known as a “jueteng-free” province during the years Governor Tupas ran the province. He was one of a handful governors given an award by the Krusadang Bayan Laban sa Jueteng headed by the anti-jueteng crusader, then Lingayen archbishop Oscar Cruz. Governor Tupas is a believer that gambling is bad for the people, and he stuck to this position until his third term ended on June 30, 2010.

But that is about to end. A few days after Governor Tupas left the capitol, two or three illegal gambling operators set up shop in Pototan, Iloilo, known to be the bailiwick of the new governor. The message was instantly clear. These jueteng (known in Iloilo as “daily double”) had the blessings of the capitol. Who would dare operate the illegal numbers game from Pototan if he didn’t have approval from the governor? And right in his own backyard?

This was followed by negotiations to allow a new company to operate STL in the province. Dr. Raul Banias, the provincial administrator, formed a partnership with Jose Pidal (a.k.a. Rep. Iggy Arroyo) and jueteng lord Eddie Gonzales to operate this business, which will be a front for jueteng, in the province. During an informal meeting with municipal mayors last July, Governor Art Defensor Sr. began soliciting the support of local chief executives and board members.

The move is now being readied for the final approval in the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, but kinks have emerged when municipal mayors learned that the business would be monopolized by the Pidal-Gonzales-Banias combine.  The mayors had the impression there would be a “spirit of free enterprise” in the whole gambling business, in which they will be given a free hand to choose what company to operate in their jurisdictions. Defensor is caught in a bind, because he had already committed the business to Pidal and Gonzales through Banias.

Defensor, however, is confident the move to bring jueteng into the province will push through. He considers the kinks that slowed down the effort as minor irritants. He is determined to change the complexion of Iloilo province from “jueteng-free” to “jueteng country.”