Manila Times Exclusive: ‘Jueteng,’ illegal logging hound Isabela – Padaca

Despite making great progress in governance and electoral reform, Isabela Governor Grace Padaca said she faces much unfinished business in her fight against illegal gambling and illegal logging.

Padaca, who became popular for ending Isabela’s 40-year political dynasty of the Dy family and for recently winning the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service, said the illegal numbers game jueteng is still rampant in the province.

Part of her difficulties is the public’s perception that “jueteng is a victimless crime” that provides livelihood for many people, she said during an exclusive roundtable interview with The Manila Times.

And she conceded that her success depends on whether “higher officials want it stopped.”

For example, Padaca told The Times that she asked the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office to establish a small-town lottery in Isabela, hoping that will become a substitute for the illegal game. But so far, no dice.

She added that most “jueteng operators talk to previous leaders [of Isabela],” making it harder to stop illegal gambling, because her political rivals remain influential and are capable of offering protection.

Illegal logging

Like jueteng, the governor said the province needed to provide legitimate livelihood to draw people away from illegal logging. She estimates that between 10,000 to 12,000 people are involved in illegal logging, and “many of the people involved in illegal logging are poor people.”

The province looked at providing those people with piglets, but many of them are so poor that they cannot wait for the three months for their animal to grow up.

Instead, Padaca said she approached private companies and nongovernment organizations, like Haribon Foundation and the League of Corporate Foundations, for help in establishing a reforestation program that will create jobs—as well as replace the denuded parts of the northern Sierra Madre.

The governor said the province has confiscated about a million board feet of illegally cut down trees—worth about P150 million in the black market.

With the help of Secretary Lito Atienza of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the confiscated wood is to be auctioned, and the proceeds due the provincial government would be used to fund livelihood programs, the governor said.

Tourism business

Padaca said illegal logging not only robs the environment of valuable resources, but also opportunities to develop eco-tourism in Isabela.

Of the one-million-hectare land area of the province, about 360,000 hectares are in the northern tip of the Sierra Madre mountain range.

Isabela has much to offer nature lovers, Padaca said, adding, “We even have a bonsai forest.”

And there is a lot of variety in the province, where there are a number of beach resorts that rival the world-famous Boracay in central Philippines, she said.

One such place is Honeymoon Island in Divilican town, she added.

But she concedes that infrastructure, like hotels, is still lacking.

Answering critics

Padaca said it’s unfair for her critics to brand her as anti-poor for her campaign to eradicate jueteng and illegal logging.

Her government has enrolled 130,000 people in the PhilHealth insurance program, which has raised some P73 million for her province, she said. That money has allowed the government to buy much-needed hospital equipment and fully equipped ambulances, she added.

Padaca is also working on a deal with the provincial government of Manitoba, which will hire 10,000 to 20,000 people from Isabela to work in Canada. The workers in demand are welders, accountants and restaurant crew, she added.

And Isabela has a scholarship program, the KTK or Kursong Trabaho Agad program, which helps young people take up vocational courses that help them get a job.
— Camille A. Bersola (Manila Times)


My Take:

Padaca ang Panlilio’s experience proves one thing, even a government official like them can never combat illegal gambling if someone higher than them, and someone who controls the guns and goons are in favor of it.

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