Hands off the cookie jar


    WHEN the Palace said that it would look into the word war at the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO), we hoped that it would also probe the alleged maneuverings of Charlie “Atong” Ang to undermine the Small Town Lottery (STL) and the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office itself. The STL has been one of government’s weapons against illegal gambling, primarily jueteng. And it has been effective, so far.

    While cynics point out that STL and jueteng are both gambling, it should be stressed that the key difference is between legal and illegal. STL is legal, and its revenues go the government. The PCSO paid P7 billion in taxes from January to November 2017 that was generated by its operations that include STL. Jueteng, on the other hand, is illegal. As such, there is no accounting of the monies earned, and worse, the funds could be financing nefarious and illegal activities, such as organized crime and even terrorism. Of course, there is also graft and corruption and other ways of undermining our democracy. Because jueteng has been around for generations, many Filipinos dismiss it and other forms of illegal gambling as benign. But they do so without actually grasping the grave social, political and economic consequences.

    Atong Ang concedes that he is a gambling lord, albeit a legal one. Repeatedly, he swears that he has never engaged in illegal forms of gambling. And yet, he has been unable to shake off that shady-character image ever since he entered the public’s radar. The country first caught a glimpse of Mr. Ang during the 1998 presidential campaign in a video released to the media showing him gambling at the Casino Filipino at the Heritage Hotel with then Vice President Joseph Ejercito Estrada. The latter went on to win that election, and Ang would later flee the country after he was accused, along with then President Estrada, of plunder.

    More recently, Atong Ang has been associated with Meridien Vista Gaming Corp. (MVGC). PCSO had ordered that company to stop its numbers game offerings, because it was competing with the government-sanctioned STL operations in Albay province. Also this year, PCSO accused Meridien of illegally operating jai-alai in Cagayan Valley. These were not the only times that Meridien has ran afoul of the government. In the past, local and church leaders have protested against it. To be fair, Mr. Ang swears that he is not the owner of Meridien, only its consultant. But apparently, the locals and the authorities have a different perception of his actual role.

    Actions and intentions
    Back to the PCSO. Atong Ang has been associated with Sandra Cam, whose claim to fame was that of a jueteng bagwoman-turned-whistleblower. She ran but lost as a senatorial candidate on the Duterte ticket, and was reportedly being considered – or was that aspiring – to be PCSO chairman. And when she was recently appointed to the sweepstakes board, Cam announced that she would clean up the PCSO.

    Well and good. But soon after her appointment, she reportedly visited PCSO chairman with Mr. Ang in tow. This story was supported by a photo of Mr. Ang in the chairman’s office that was released to the media and published in this paper. According to the PCSO, Ms Cam and Mr. Ang offered to operate STL nationwide in exchange for a monthly remittance of P200 million. At present, STL earns up to P2 billion a month. Not surprisingly, that offer was rejected. The new board member’s action begs the question, what is the nature of her association with Mr. Ang? At least in bashing PCSO and its present management, they have been working in concert. And what is their true aim? What has it got to do with STL and related efforts to eradicate jueteng?

    It may be naïve to expect clear and truthful answers. But without question, the PCSO should be off limits to those with vested interests and their puppets.


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