Local Lotteries in Philippines Under Fire Following Recent Assassination

It seems a war of sorts may be brewing in the Philippines. On one side is the country and its legal lottery operations. On the other are illegal lottery and gambling operators who, by assassinating a lottery vendor last month, proved that they’ll stop at nothing to take control.

A sign welcomes visitors to Cotabato City, Philippines
A sign welcomes visitors to Cotabato City, Philippines. The city is halting legal lottery sales as criminal gangs operating illegal lotteries threaten the area. (Image: Langyaw)

The mayor of Cotabato City, Bruce Matabalao, ordered the immediate halt of Small-Time Lotteries (STLs) as of Monday, according to local media outlets. This comes as the result of concerns over increasing threats local STL vendors in the city are receiving.

Matabalao made his announcement Sunday evening, responding to an influx of reports from STL vendors. More than two dozen confirmed that they have received threatening messages, leading Cotabato City police director Colonel Querubin Manalang to recommend Matabaloa take action.

Senseless Murder

Almost a month ago, an unknown assailant shot and killed an STL vendor in cold blood. At the time, 24-year-old Rizia Mae Pardillo Ycot was simply manning an STL booth in the city.

As she stood outside the booth, the assailant pulled up and shot her once in the head. Ycot died at the scene and there were no reports of theft.

Vendors around the city, as well as in other locations, have come together to inform the authorities that they are increasingly under threat by illegal gambling outfits. These are primarily led by organized crime factions operating autonomously in various areas of the Philippines.

Ycot’s death, assert some, was a way to send a message. The STLs aren’t welcome, and those that continue to be a part of it could receive the same fate.

STLs are legal lotteries authorized by the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO). Criminal gangs believe the lotteries are muscling in on their turf, putting their illegal operations at risk. As a result, no one is out of reach, with a mid-level PCSO executive having received warnings as well.

The police are still looking for the assassin in Ycot’s death. In the meantime, Matabalao is cutting off all lottery sales, even legal ones. He wants police to arrest anyone selling any type of numbers lottery until the authorities can figure out how to proceed.

Police, Politicians Supporting Crime

Cito Beltran, writing an opinion piece for The Philippine Star, doesn’t believe the criminal gangs are acting completely on their own. In his estimation, they’re receiving support across all ranks of the government.

The STLs, he asserts, are nothing more than a legalized version of a numbers racket run by an illegal gambling operator. These operators, including illegal e-sabong operators, continue to back “mayors, local officials [and] police,” through financial support designed to help them gain office, or stay in power.

One of these illegal operators, according to Beltran, “is in cahoots with several mayors” to keep the illegal numbers racket – jeuteng, as it’s known locally – alive and well. Those politicians who aren’t willing to play ball pay the price. That could be what happened to now-former Negros Oriental Governor Roel Degamo. Assailants shot and killed him at his home on March 4.

Authorities are still investigating and gathering clues, and have emphasized that they have no solid motive in that case. Degamo only recently became governor, finally taking over after the former governor, Pryde Henry Teves, refused to leave office. Armed men reportedly took up positions around Negros Oriental in support of Teves following his loss in an effort to force Degamo out.

Going Rogue

Last Friday, police raided five houses in the province, seizing pistols, ammunition, and at least one grenade. While that may not lead anywhere, the location of the find is unsettling. It was the house of Arnolfo Teves, Pryde’s older brother, himself a Philippine congressman.

The younger Teves has denied any wrongdoing, but remains under investigation following the murder of three people in 2019. The older Teves, as of Monday morning, hadn’t given a statement. He’s currently in the US undergoing medical treatment.

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