Eyes on Arroyo family in Senate gambling probe - Sunday 12th of June 2005

World News, MANILA - Senators in the Philippines will begin hearings on Monday into an illegal numbers game, with opposition law-makers promising testimony that members of the president's family have taken payoffs from gambling syndicates.

The accusations echo the scandal that started the downfall in 2001 of Joseph Estrada as president, when he was accused of taking kickbacks from operators of "jueteng", the most popular of several underground lotteries among poor Filipinos. Nothing has been proved and corruption charges against the government are a common theme of Philippine politics. Analysts say President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo will not be under threat unless her opponents can prove her husband, eldest son and brother-in-law were involved in a racket estimated to be worth up to 30 billion pesos ($550 million) each year. Arroyo ordered an inquiry by the Justice Department into the allegations, which her family deny and describe as an attempt by the Estrada camp and other opposition figures to weaken the presidency.

Her son Mikey and brother-in-law Jose Ignacio are members of the lower house of Congress. Oscar Cruz, a Roman Catholic archbishop and vocal critic of all gambling, will be one of the first to testify when senators from the upper house of Congress start their own investigation at about 1 p.m. (0500 GMT) on Monday. Cruz said he had as many as eight witnesses prepared to link people "well beyond the level of congressmen" to jueteng "The important thing here is for the public to know up to where the jueteng payola reaches," Cruz said at the weekend.

Cruz earlier gave the Justice Department the names of 16 alleged financiers of illegal gambling in 24 of the country's 79 provinces, but he has said Arroyo and her family should enjoy the benefit of the doubt unless there is proof against them. This month, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported that two men said they had given gambling money to representatives of Arroyo's husband and son, or collected it on their behalf. Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales said last week Cruz had given "leads that could be used to pursue deeper investigation into involvement of several local officials in jueteng". Based on the information, Gonzales said the payoffs were huge, with one group allegedly doling out about 16 million pesos every month to local officials and police officers.

www.keralanext.com

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