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Jueteng, greed, swollen head

All his professional life, Joseph E. Estrada has always been a leading man.
The decision handed down last Sept. 12 by the anti-graft Sandiganbayan Court has just reversed his role – to that of a character actor.
The Supreme Court will be making this dubious role permanent if it affirms Mr. Estradas Sandiganbayans conviction of plunder that will put the 70-year-old charismatic former leader behind bar for the rest of his life.
I have been a witness up close to his rise from being a matinee idol in the late 60s when I was an entertainment reporter of Pilipino Star up to his award winning roles in his action movies in the eighties.
When I became jobless after Marcos padlocked our newspaper, Estrada hired my services to promote some of his movies.
When Marcos opened some newspapers, I left my press relations job in his company and returned to my interrupted newspaper career.
I would be reunited with him when I was assigned by the Manila Bulletin” to cover the San Juan , Metro Manila police beat. Although, I am not supposed to cover him since local government was not part of my beat, I noticed that Mayor Estrada would often visit the police station when I did my routine visit to the police station just so we could talk and bond.
In my long association with him, I noticed that he has been pretty street smart and straightforward in his dealings with his business associates and other professionals.
He was very slow to signing anything, except an autograph. But if the court is right in its evaluation of evidence, I am surprised to learn that he accepted jueteng collections in personal checks issued to him by Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis Chavit Singson.
Although Singson said that his representative was taking suitcases of jueteng money to Mr. Estrada in the Presidential Residence, he abandoned the practice to escape detection.
This gave Mr. Singson an excuse to incriminate Mr. Estrada by issuing Mr. Estrada Singsons personal checks for jueteng cash. And this is Mr. Estradas tragic mistake – he was very careless in accepting checks.
Singsons checks were later traced in the bank accounts of Mr. Estradas wife, Sen. Loi Estrada and his common law wife, Laarni Enriquez.
Contrary to friends and lawyers of Mr. Estrada that jueteng monies are not public funds, I beg to disagree. According to the voluminous decision of the Sandiganbayan, Singson said that when Estrada was still vice president, they were already collecting jueteng money but not in all provinces.
But when Mr. Estrada took over the presidency, Mr. Estrada called Singson and Atong Ang to start jueteng collections in provinces without protection money.”
If this is true then it is very clear that the subsequent collections of jueteng protection monies have become public monies because Singson was able to expand his collection to the virgin territories at the behest of a sitting president.
If Mr. Estrada was not elected president, Singson would become a laughing stock if he dropped the name of Mr. Estrada to expand his jueteng collection activities because the governors and provincial commanders, who extend protection to jueteng lords, are not directly accountable to the vice president.
Nor can Mr. Estrada tell Mr. Singson to collect on his behalf nationwide when he was only a mayor or a senator. Meaning to say, if Dolphy or Manny Pacquiao will tell Mr. Singson to collect jueteng protection money from the jueteng lords in different provinces, the governors, the mayors and the regional and provincial commanders and the station commanders would only just laugh at Mr. Singson because Dolphy and Pacquiao have no power to relieve the uncooperative regional, provincial or station commanders.
When Mr. Estrada used his power to collect jueteng protection money when he became president that is a clear abuse of power. And whatever profit or gain that ensued for the misuse of presidential power becomes a public fund because power can generate money, bundles of it.
I can even hazard a guess that when Mr. Estrada asked Mr. Singson to collect money from jueteng lords, the jueteng monies that usually end up at the hands of regional and provincial and station commanders and governors and mayors were big losses to the bottom lines of these police generals and local government officials, who are allowing the illegal numbers games in their jurisdictions.
Dati rati, ang mga jueteng collection ay para lang sa mga provincial at regional commanders,” (Previously, the jueteng collections only end up at the level of the provincial and regional commanders.), one veteran police reporter told me shortly after Mr. Estrada was elected president.
Pero ngayon nakakarating na sa Malakanyang. (Now, it is reaching Malacanang Palace.).
When I had a chance to visit him in Malacanang that year, I asked Mr. Estrada if it was true that he was collecting jueteng money because generals were complaining, he vehemently denied it. Of course, I had to give him the benefit of doubt.
The generals who normally collect a very skimpy salary suddenly lost big chunks of their take home pays.
No wonder when Mr. Estrada asked for support from his generals, no regional or provincial commanders from the provinces came to his support during EDSA Dos.
As a friend of Mr. Estrada, whom I last visited in his detention in Tanay, Rizal in 2005 and who talks to him from time to time by overseas phone call, I am suggesting that if his jueteng collections are true, he should admit his mistake. He should not wait for the Supreme Court to affirm the Sandiganbayan ruling and suffer further embarrassment.
Only his lawyers will benefit in appealing his case.
As to the billions of pesos in the Jose Velarde Account, the monies that were illegally procured should be confiscated by the government. These are the monies that are deposited in checks. All the rest of the monies, mostly in cash that could not be proven to be illegally procured, are Mr. Estradas to keep.
To the present and future presidents of the Philippines , if you plan to accumulate slush funds, you should not accept checks. You should not be swell-headed and be too greedy to accumulate enormous wealth as to drop like a hot potato the people who helped you. Particularly, the people who could incriminate you just like what Gov. Singson did to Mr. Estrada. (_lariosa_jos@sbcglobal.net_)

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