MANILA, Philippines - President Aquino yesterday ordered Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II to build a strong case and ensure the safety of the witnesses who would testify on the alleged involvement of Pangasinan Gov. Amado Espino Jr. in jueteng, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.
Espino, for his part, dismissed the allegations as “politically motivated” and “an old issue.”
“The resolve of government to eradicate illegal gambling operations is unwavering,” Lacierda said in a statement.
Lacierda said Roxas has ordered the reshuffle of police personnel in Pangasinan to determine culpability, if any, and to guarantee that there would be no whitewash in the investigation.
Roxas gave assurance that the investigation will not be influenced by politics, as a case of plunder was filed yesterday against Espino by jueteng whistle blowers Bugallon town Mayor Rodrigo Orduña and Fernando Alimagno, chairman of Barangay Poblacion in Candelaria, Quezon ,before the Office of the Ombudsman.
“We will bring this (investigation) to a logical conclusion,” Roxas said during a press conference at Camp Crame in Quezon City.
Along with Roxas, Orduna and Alimagno, Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz, Caloocan Bishop Deogracias Yniguez and police officials led by Philippine National Police chief Director General Nicanor Bartolome attended the briefing.
Roxas said his department will issue a show cause order to Espino to explain why an administrative case should not be filed against him in connection with the exposé. He assured the governor that he will be given due process.
Although the matter appeared to be “away negosyo (business tiff),” Roxas said the investigation would focus on the violation of the law by the people named in the complaints.
With the case already filed at the Ombudsman, Roxas said the exposé was not just “character attack” or “political assassination.”
Espino is running for re-election and is pitted against Alaminos City Mayor Hernani Braganza of the Liberal Party.
Orduña alleged that he acted as bagman for Espino in jueteng operations while Alimagno said he was a jueteng operator himself in the province when Espino was elected governor.
Orduña alleged that Espino has been receiving P10 million a month from the operators of the illegal numbers racket.
According to Orduña, Espina allegedly demanded that he be given P10 million, which would be sent to him on a weekly basis, meaning on the seventh, 15th, 22nd and 30th day of the month.
“Espina demanded that his P2.5 million weekly money be given to him every Saturday,” Orduña alleged, saying there were months with five Saturdays, thus jueteng operators have to raise additional funds.
Alimagno said he decided to surface because he had stopped being part of jueteng when he had a falling out with the governor.
‘An old issue’
Espino, however, yesterday denied the allegations, dismissing them as “politically motivated.”
“This is an old issue. I have answered them all before and they added here about jai alai in Pangasinan. The one who could answer that is the provincial police director so we invited him here,” Espino said in Filipino.
“I am denying that I had accepted anything from jai alai or jueteng, if there is any in Pangasinan now,” he added in Filipino in a press conference in Lingayen, Pangasinan.
Espino said it was Orduña who introduced him to alleged gambling operator Charlie Ang. Orduña used to be the president of the Pangasinan Mayors’ League until his ties with the governor soured, prompting him to resign.
Espino said Ang asked his permission to see the mayors and seek a business permit for his jai alai operations in Pangasinan.
As Ang’s papers were complete and appeared legal, he said he asked the provincial police director then, Senior Superintendent Boyet Ricaforte, if other provinces already had jai alai operations and he was told, yes.
“Since I was not the one who issued the permit, as the mayors were the ones who did it, I repeat, I did not give any permit to Mr. Charlie Ang, so how can I ask anything from him?” he said.
“I will have to consult yet my lawyers because I was just informed that a plunder case had been filed against me in the Ombudsman. So I hope you understand,” he added.
Espino did not entertain any more questions from the newsmen and left, leaving Vice Gov. Jose Ferdinand Calimlim Jr. and Senior Superintendent Mariano Luis Verzosa Jr., officer-in-charge of the provincial police, to answer media queries.
Verzosa said jueteng operations in Pangasinan are already 96 percent eradicated, adding that the rest are negligible “guerrilla operations” in the province’s border villages.
He admitted jai alai is operating in Pangasinan with business permits issued by mayors and “collectors now have dignity bearing their identification cards unlike before.”
He said they could not initiate any action against jai alai, as it is under the mandate of Games and Amusement Board.
“So the police could not act if we are not deputized,” he added. – With Cecille Suerte Felipe, Eva Visperas, Artemio Dumlao - By Aurea Calic