BUT OF COURSE.
Archbishop Oscar Cruz, an indefatigable anti-jueteng crusader, revealed recently that eight to twelve Catholic dioceses are benefitting from illegal gambling operations. One wonders if the Diocese of Laoag is among them.
This sense of wonder is not without basis. A retired archbishop, the longest-serving leader of this lone diocese of Ilocos Norte, openly admits that his beautiful house was built for him by a known jueteng lord. My sources also attest that some structures in the diocese were either built or renovated with help from operators of the popular numbers game.
Note, dear karikna, that I am not against jueteng per se. As a sociologist, I have previously written that jueteng exists not much because government officials and the police allow it, but more because the people need it. Where the government and church fail, jueteng fills gaps and satisfies needs. It provides jobs, it gives people hope. “False hope!,” some people may point out, but false hope, dear karikna, is always better than no hope at all.
You see, jueteng to me is not among what I would consider as major, major social problems. What disturbs me is the patent hypocrisy by which the church deals with it.
“Receiving money from and betting on jueteng is a grave sin,” says Sergio Utleg, Laoag bishop, citing moral grounds.
A more candid stand, however, was made no less by the late Jaime Cardinal Sin, the most influential Filipino prelate ever. “If Satan appears to me and gives me money, I will accept the money and spend it all for the poor. It is not the practice of the Church to ask donors where their donations come from. Our duty is to make sure all donations go to the poor,” he posited.
At least, Sin had the interests of the poor in mind. Under Utleg, the first structure to be constructed was not a church and neither was it a facility for our impoverished brethren. It was, of all things, a capricious swimming pool by the bishop’s palace.
That the bishop and priests tasked to handle the finances of the diocese are tight-lipped on money matters only heightens suspicion. A colleague who regularly writes news about the Catholic Church complains having to go through the eye of a needle only to get scant data on how church funds are collected and spent. This is odd for an institution which demands transparency and accountability in governance.
Aside from mass collections, fees from church services, and donations mainly from abroad, the diocese and its parishes initiate raffle draws from time to time, which, to me, is just a sanitized form of gambling. Raffle draws are games of chance, too, like jueteng. You may say that they are for a good cause, but tell that to a person who does not exactly love swimming, and much less in ostentatious pools.
There are actually well-meaning, well-grounded men of the cloth like Pete Acoba and Ted Remigio, whose hearts bleed for the poor, but insiders say folks like them have become a laughingstock for other priests who spend more time attending parties than reaching out to the marginalized, and even more time navigating their high-end mobile phones and hanging around facebook than reading, reflecting on, sharing, and living out the good news of our salvation.
In a society where priests betray their vocation and leaders fail to govern, the jueteng operator emerges as messiah.