In My Own Words - Ron Centeno

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1/18/2009

Jueteng: Why it's so appealing

Written by Ron Centeno

In the U.S., baseball is the country’s long-time favorite pastime that dates back in the 1860’s. In the ensuing years following The Great Depression of the 1930’s, many financially grief-stricken Americans found themselves at the ball parks to find solace in playing or watching the ball game. Since its inception, the likes of the legendary hitters such as Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson became iconic by raising the popularity of the game. Relative to this increased popularity, game attendance followed by radio and television viewership later in years, have dramatically surged, enriching the league’s players.

In recent years, baseball’s great sluggers including Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds, all accused of steroid-abuse scandal of the mid-2000’s, have pushed the limit for the very fat salary offered by the team franchises. In turn, they have been put under pressure to break previous home run records and ultimately break the law in the process. Notwithstanding, baseball is America’s game, because for the most part, it is about tradition that connects the old and future generations at a time when different adversities divide them.

Elsewhere, the game of soccer is South and Central Americas’ all-time favorite. There is nothing more evident than the so-called Football War of 1969 between El Salvador and Honduras to prove such point. El Salvador is a small country with high population growth and a severely limited amount of available land. In contrast, Honduras is a larger country with a smaller population and a less-developed economy. By 1969, about 300,000 El Salvadorans had crossed over the border and squatted in the sparsely populated Honduras. The illegal incursion of the El Salvadorans had become a nationalistic sore point for Honduras.

To make up for his tarnished reputation, Honduran President Oswaldo Lopez Arellano (1963 – 71) revived a dormant agrarian reform law as a pretext to expel the El Salvadoran squatters from the country. The tale of the displaced refugees painted an ugly picture in El Salvador’s dailies and airwaves. In retaliation, when a soccer match was held in El Salvador, the Honduran team members were vilified and harassed by the Salvadoran fans. The ensuing event brought unintended or otherwise consequence called the Football War and as many as 2,000 people, mainly civilians, were killed in the action.

In the Philippines, their pastime is a uniquely different kind of game called jueteng. The game is an illegal numbers betting played by rich and poor alike. The mechanics of the game is to select a combination of two numbers between 1 and 37. Despite the high odds or 1/666 to be exact, the lucrative payout is nowhere difficult to resist which raises its mass appeal in all corners of the country. The game depends largely on the large number of wagers and there is no limit to the amount of the bets.

While the legion of wagers is bountiful, those who run the game have become extremely rich by sucking the hard-earned income from the poor. On the average, a mayor of one municipality who benefits from the game, earns a whopping P50,000 each draw. If my elementary mathematics serves me right, a mayor’s take home is about P150,000 given the three draws each day. One would wonder how much the country’s president gets a single day.

The exact amount is hard to determine. One thing is sure, however. In 2001, Erap Estrada was removed from office when Governor Chavit Singson, a known gambling lord in northern Luzon, blew his whistle and accused the former president of jueteng payoffs. Following their testimonies in the Senate, Estrada’s cobrador who turned state-witnesses, graphically described how they would unload sacks of money into Erap’s presence. In 2005,Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s relatives were likewise alleged to have received payoffs from jueteng operators.

What makes this game appealing to the very grassroots of the Philippine society?

Interestingly enough, the game of jueteng evokes the folkloric notions of good and bad luck. Wagers associate their dreams to the numbers from a combination of symbolic premonitions. For instance, if a bettor dreamed of his bald neighbor to have been shot dead with 45 caliber, and bald being represented by number 70 and 45 caliber being 45, the combination of 70 and 45 would be his notional winning numbers. The ability or inability to interpret such supernatural powers is perceived to influence forces of nature. Or so it seemed.

It is no coincidence that out of the three draws, morning, noon, and evening, the morning draw commands the most number of bets. The evening draw comes in second after the bettor took his siesta at noon.

The other reason for its apparent appeal is that the cobrador literally knocks at bettor’s door to solicit bets. This saves the bettor the time to travel to retail stores compared to say, lotto or other form of legalized gambling. A one peso bet translates into a prize-money of around four hundred to one thousand pesos. Winnings are then delivered straight to the bettor by the same cobrador.

The game’s rule of engagement evokes simplicity. Bettors do not have to sign any written contracts. The transaction between the bettor and the cobrador is done through informal negotiations. Despite the lack of any formalities, a relationship that is built on trust, provides security for the bettors.

Given the mass appeal of jueteng, it is no surprise that Filipinos from all walks of life, either tricycle drivers or parish priests, tambays or school teachers, mayors or the presidents of the country, have become part and parcel of what is now a cultural menace that would surely survive all the generations to come.

1 Your Thoughts/Comments Here::

Minnie said...

Unbelievable! Eto ang isa sa mga rason kung bakit di tayo umaasenso.

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