Jueteng money and oral sex

Orly Mercado

Posted on September 18, 2007

It’s all in the mind…

When he was President, I used to hear Erap Estrada privately get snickers with a wisecrack about US President Clinton. He used to say that the difference between him and his US counterpart was that he got the sex and Clinton got the scandal. This was in obvious reference to Clinton’s problems during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

I have seen both leaders up close to validate the truth that both were great charmers. They were truly likable, if not controversial. But charisma was not enough to get Clinton off the hook, even with his televised assertion, that he did not have sex with Monica. My personal reaction to his statement then, was here is a man who believed he was telling the truth. That was understandable, considering that Clinton believed having oral sex done on you did not constitute sex. Of course, this is not true. As Dr. Phil of American TV fame puts it: “Anything you do with your sex organ constitutes sex.”

Fast forward to the recent decision of the Sandiganbayan convicting Erap of plunder. Aside from insisting that the verdict was politically motivated, he has repeatedly argued that he has not dipped his fingers in the public treasury. Erap is convinced that because the profits from “jueteng” (the illegal numbers game) did not come from the national treasury, his possession of the same did not constitute corruption.

I remember him telling the story of how he treated jueteng money the moment he became Mayor of San Juan. He called all the operators of the illegal numbers game. With the chief of police by his side, he told them to speak freely. He got out a yellow pad and asked the gambling lords specific questions. He asked how much they were giving the mayor, the vice-mayor, the police chief, the precinct commanders, and everybody else in their payroll. He added the amount up. Then he announced that he was creating a foundation for the benefit of his underpaid policemen and firemen. He then ordered them to stop paying individual officials but instead give it to the foundation. He had put the money to good use.

It was of dubious legality, but he got away with it. As mayor of San Juan he was able to discipline his police force and pay them better. His problem is that the anti- plunder law, which was debated and passed by the Senate we were both members of, is clear about the possible sources of illegal wealth. The public treasury was only one of them. Even if we grant that the intention of the accumulation of these funds were for an ostensible noble purpose, it still violates the law.

In a visit to Ilocos Norte in 2001, I had a chat with former governor Rudy Farinas. As we mused about what could have been achieved by the Erap presidency, he said: “You know, the problem was Erap was never President of the Philippines.” “What do you mean,” I asked. “Erap,” he explained, “ was Mayor of the Philippines.”

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