For one who had followed the Senate hearing on the PCSO and witnessed how Senators Lacson and Sotto took turns, along with Atong Ang and Sandra Cam, in bashing General Balutan, listening to the PCSO general manager at The Manila Times roundtable last Thursday was a surprising experience. Like a prizefighter (the simile recurs, what with Manny Pacquiao continuously lending his presence in PCSO brouhaha) floored a number of times, the general kept on bouncing back to begin throwing his own terrific punches. The mandirigma (warrior) was vocal, lucid and fearless in elaborating on issues, albeit in his characteristic level-headed manner.
General Balutan conceded that President Duterte may have really sent Atong Ang to the PCSO at the start of his stint at the agency, but this did not mean that the general is under any compulsion to take in the reputed gambling lord in whatever capacity.
“Alam naman natin kung sino siya (We all know who he is),” the general said, referring to Atong Ang.
According to him, Atong Ang wanted to take over the nationwide operations of the Small Town Lottery (STL), offering a guaranteed income of P200 million monthly. But Atong Ang’s offer was a no-no to the general. As borne by actual figures, the PCSO generates from STL more than P1.7 billion per month, which means that had Atong Ang gotten what he wanted from the PCSO early on in 2016, he would have pocketed for himself that enormous amount less his guarantee of P200 million, or P1.5 billion – monthly!
Easy money indeed, and a truly gargantuan amount, too: P18 billion by the start of 2018. That amount, to Atong Ang’s reckoning, was what has been denied him by the government because of General Balutan’s rejection of his bid when Sandra Cam first brought him to the PCSO general manager in 2016.
As one source puts it in the vernacular, “Kaya nagkakadaraiti na si Atong Ang. Bilyung-bilyung piso na ang nawawala sa kanya dahil sa pananatili ni Balutan sa puwesto. Dapat nang tanggalin. Demolition job sa media. Demolition job sa Kongreso. (That’s why Atong Ang has gone berserk. Billions of pesos are being lost by him because Balutan remains in his post. Time to remove him. Demolition job in the media. Demolition job in Congress.)”
Thus, might we stress, suddenly bursts into the surface the reputed bagwoman-turned-whistle blower-turned-back-bagwoman, making a mountain out of the molehill that was the PCSO Christmas party.
What is P6 million compared to the billions upon billions Atong was out to amass had he succeeded in penetrating the PCSO and taken control of the STL? Given his expertise at his trade, he could by now be on a binge, operating all imaginable numbers game under the sun – and this time around, enjoy the clout of legality.
Again, as the source earlier cited, “Banil lang iyan sa maruming kuko ni Atong Ang. (It’s just a speck of soil in the dirty finger of Atong Ang.)”
As General Balutan elaborated in the roundtable, jueteng is all there is to the controversy. He narrated that based on experience, jueteng has proven to be a hard nut to crack, so to speak. In fact, upon questioning by Senator Lacson in the Senate inquiry, General Balutan said he cannot solve the problem all by himself, for which reason he had seen to it to execute a Memorandum of Agreement with the police for a concerted action with local government units to eradicate the illegal numbers game.
The STL was conceived and eventually implemented with the aim in view of siphoning the huge money of hueteng bettors into the legal system, and this all for the better of PCSO’s delivery of its manifold charitable services. But there is no end to human greed, and when the STL instantly proved attractive to the betting public, thereby depriving jueteng lords of their huge takes from jueteng operation, they thought of seizing control of the PCSO legal numbers game. Operating through dummies, jueteng lords got franchises to operate the game through the agency’s Authorized Agent Corporation (AAC). That way, despite the legality of the STL, jueteng lords found themselves singing “Happy days are here again.”
The trick was simple. Assign a modest ingress for remittance to the government and pocket the rest. In short, it was as if jueteng was indeed back to where it used to be, with a little concession to the government. How much is the concession? Take it from Atong Ang, P200 million in return for the windfall of P1.7 billion, PCSO’s current monthly take from STL.
Then came General Balutan, a no-nonsense stickler to the good old motto of the Philippine Military Academy: “A cadet does not cheat, does not lie, does not steal nor tolerate any of these three.”
When Sandra Cam brought Atong Ang to the PCSO early on in the Duterte administration, they were up against a rock. They evidently were of the mindset that General Balutan is just like any of those bureaucrats who you can buy with that P200 million offer. (There is this story about the right to issue business permits in a certain export processing zone which had been gotten by a lawmaker at exactly that amount — P200 million, but reckoned yearly, for the potential of earning billions over that period.)
To the general, Atong Ang and his lopsided offer were not acceptable.
“Alam naman natin kung sino si Atong Ang (We all know who Atong Ang is),” declared General Balutan at the Times roundtable. “It is public knowledge that Atong Ang is jueteng lord. I told him he’s got no place in the PCSO.”
The jueteng duo did not make much fuss about the incident, but they did not surrender their intention. For all smooth operators, timing is of the essence. When General Balutan thought of rewarding PCSO employees with that Christmas party, he did not realize he was gifting Atong Ang and Sandra Cam with just that issue needed to damn him in public.
The question now is: Will Atong Ang and Sandra Cam succeed? But the more paramount question is: Will the mandirigma in General Balutan buckle down under the pressure?