MANILA, May 23, 2005
 (STAR) By Christina M. Mendez - The recent controversy on jueteng might cause political uncertainty in the Arroyo administration that could derail anew the country’s economic growth, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) said.

PCCI president Donald Dee said statements coming from some members of the political opposition might again prompt investors to review their options from the Philippines because of the recent attacks on President Arroyo’s leadership, worsened by accusations that First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo and his son, Pampanga Gov. Mikey Arroyo, are on the take on jueteng.

Dee warned that any fallout arising from the recent attacks on the administration would shatter the country’s business environment since new investments might be reconsidered that would eventually mean lost opportunities and decrease in productive capital in the economy.

Dee noted a similar view was raised by a European Commission (EC) representative to the Philippines on persistent rumors of destabilization against the government are not helping at all.

"At this point, we have noted heartening signs that the Philippines is on the right track. Our April cash flow for government operations is positive; the E-VAT, while not a perfect bill has been passed, and this shows the administration’s serious intent to solve the fiscal crisis," Dee said.

Dee said the government’s sincerity in winning peace with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and other groups and, by and large, the oil price crisis has been acceptably handled. These three recent positive developments gave investors new interest in the country.

However, Dee said the positive perception by investors might be reversed by the negative reports coming out in the media amid accusations that the President’s husband and their son are receiving millions of payola from the illegal jueteng operations.

In a statement, Dee also sought the help of the media in reporting the controversial issue of jueteng. "I don’t think we can blame the media so much because they are only reporting this, although there is definitely room to exercise more prudence in reporting," he said.

Dee also issued an appeal to the politicians concerned to "behave in a more responsible manner and refrain from issuing inflammatory, unsubstantiated statements that project our country in a highly-negative light."

But Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile challenged the witnesses implicating members of the First Family in taking huge payoffs from jueteng operations to show proof that they indeed benefited from jueteng.

"If they cannot show proof then we should stop conducting any probe on the matter and instead ask the Philippine National Police to heighten its campaign to weed out illegal gambling," Enrile said in a recent interview.

Enrile, along with another opposition Sen. Edgardo Angara, also batted for the legalization of jueteng which operations remained unabated despite various government campaign against it.

Enrile noted that there are already existing laws to eradicate the illegal numbers game, saying further that government’s law enforcement agencies should simply implement an honest-to-goodness campaign.

The Senate investigation will only lead to nowhere, which was earlier voiced out by Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago. Apparently taking the side of the administration, Angara said jueteng should be legalized to allow government to regulate it in the same way as lotto is being operated by the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office.

"What is the difference of jueteng from lotto or the slot machines in the casino? These are all gambling (games of chance). I think, gambling has been legalized in several parts of the world because primarily, it is a source of funds to (sustain) social services," Angara said.

Angara added that jueteng can be a principal source of revenue, which is better for everyone rather than taxing the common people. "Halos ang tumataya ditto ay mahihirap. So we might as well legalize it so that we will be able to determine what to do with it and the proceeds from it," he said.

Once legalized, Angara said either the PCSO or the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp (Pagcor) should handle the operations, although he said he prefers it better if the government merely regulates these gambling operations, not directly oversee them.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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