December 3, 2023

(Editors’ note: The Midland Courier is reprinting the columns of the late Atty. Benedicto T. Carantes as a tribute to one of its long-time columnists. This piece was published on Aug. 2, 2015.)

Long before Boracay became a password for fun seekers among local and foreign tourists, and Tagaytay was nothing but a poor copy of the Baguio that we miss was once, Baguio was known as the exclusive summer capital of the country, and oftentimes referred to as the City of Pines because of the unmistakable scent that thrills the nostrils while ascending the zig-zag.

Over time, with four big universities and other reputable institutions of learning that had as much as 200,000 students in a semester, coming from north and south of Luzon, including Metro Manila and even from far away cities like Cebu and Davao, Baguio soon evolved into the educational center of the north.

Add the welcomed arrival of the multi-national companies that located themselves at the Export Processing Zone Authority and the entry of SM, its mall conveniently sitting atop Session Road, Baguio soon morphed from a vacation resort to bustling metropolis, teeming with more people than the city could handle.

Traffic went from tolerable to horrendous, as crime quickly became a cottage industry – drugs, petty offenses like snatching and pickpocketing, clearly Baguio’s small police force could no longer contain the proliferation, that now includes armed robberies and nightly burglaries, with hold-uppers getting away scot-free due to lack of police manpower, some of whom moonshining on the sly as gang leaders.

Because City Hall and law enforcement were looking the other way, gambling, like a snake that would later turn into a dragon that even St. George could not slay, treacherously crept into the city, even while the church was rejoicing because the casino decided to move its operations to nearby Poro, La Union.

The casino may be gone, but gambling is alive and well here and wherever.
Tong-its, mahjong, poker, jueteng – name it, the city has it. We can point out at least three e-bingo joints and one secret casino that caters to the young.
Pretty soon there will be no more students in the city, having lost their tuition and allowance in e-bingo, or some other form of gambling.

The biggest gambling lord in this country is not a certain ka Bong, it is the Philippine government, with its Philippine Amusement Gaming Corporation (Pagcor)-owned casinos and the lotto of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO).
But that is not the point. The Pagcor and the PCSO derive income from playing citizens, not from foreign investors. This means that entire families are affected because of gambling family members. Soon, no more money to gamble, players will resort to crime, go into debt, or sell family belongings to sustain their vice. It is a case where the means does not justify the ends.

And what’s this we hear about a signature campaign against gambling? Will a million signatures stop gambling? No way, except the church can proudly say that they have at least a billion followers, for the bragging rights or clout, you know. Monsignor, here is a better solution. Start a signature campaign against the reelection of all City Hall officials.
These people have become so familiar with each other, they have transformed themselves into some kind of Mafia. They do what they want to do, and are always ready with excuses. Sure, there are two or three good eggs in a basket full of rotten ones, but because they close their eyes to the wrongdoings of their colleagues, there should be some kind of collateral damage. Maybe this or that councilor didn’t vote for the e-bingo license, or does not receive 15-30, but why are their mouths shut against the mafia doings of their colleagues?
Monsignor, it is time to take the City Hall mafia out, and if your clarion call and signature campaign will bear fruit, then you shall have done something good for both yourself and God’s people.
As my favorite poker player puts it, “no look, all in.”
It should be the same with City Hall, “no look, all out.”