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LITTLE VOICES: Talks on STL lobby money resurface in GenSan

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 01 April) — When the resolution consenting to the operation of the Small Town Lottery (STL) in General Santos City was first introduced in the Sangguniang Panglunsod (SP) on October 10, 2017, talks regarding lobby money took center stage, but mainly along the underground information highway.

The SP conducted a hearing on this proposed resolution on October 19, 2017 and on October 24, denied the proposed measure for the operation of STL in the city through SP Resolution No. 888.

The same talks on STL lobby money have lately resurfaced in GenSan but, this time, in a louder fashion when another resolution giving imprimatur to STL operation was again introduced in the SP on March 13, 2018, just five months after it rejected it.

The STL measure was revived by virtue of Sangguniang Panglunsod Proposed Resolution (SPPR) No. 1818-01906 presented for first reading on March 13 and immediately referred to the SP’s Committee on Games and Amusement, chaired by City Councilor Franklin Mabini Gacal, Jr.

SPPR N0. 1818-01906 seeks the concurrence of the SP on the application of the Philippine Charity sweepstakes Office  and Trento and Leisure Corporation to operate Small Town Lottery pursuant to Section 3, Rule VI of the rules and regulations implementing RA 9649 known as act amending RA 5412 or the Charter of the City of General Santos.

The City Charter requires the consent of the SP for the conduct of any gambling operations within the city.

A public hearing on this proposed resolution was held on March 19 but only 40 people, mostly local government functionaries, police officers, barangay officials and STL operators and financiers, attended.

There is a reason for the public to suspect that lobby money plays a role in the scheme of things. The passage of this same resolution was being worked out without the participation of wider sections of society.

Attended only by a handful of previously consenting barangays officials, local government functionaries and STL operators and financiers, the March 19 public hearing was no more than a workshop of  the willing.

It should be stressed that the provisions of RA No. 7160, requiring people’s participation in the adoption of any measure by the SP and other local law-making bodies, are not meant to be minimalist in character.

Through this, the crystallization of issues surrounding the proposed measure is ensured and the meaningful participation by the people in the processes of decision-making is guaranteed. Thus, a public hearing on the proposed measure is intended to be exhaustive.

But this is not the case here. The main oppositors to the passage of such consent resolution who are the representatives of the church sector, civil society groups and other community-based formations were not invited to the March 19 public hearing.

After conducting only one public hearing on March 19 and without approving the proposed STL resolution, the Committee on Games and Amusements indorsed the revived STL measure to the whole SP for its reconsideration, on second reading.

This means that, deviating from the usual process, the STL consent resolution is passing through the local legislative mill without any individual sponsor.

The revival of this dead measure becomes even more suspicious when it is being done when there are no notable changes taking place in the city’s socio-economic landscape since the SP rejected the same measure in October.

This fact strengthens the public’s suspicion that, indeed, lobby money from gambling operators and financiers may be warping our city legislators’ resolve for altruism in public service.

But this is not the only problem. For more than two decades now, there exists in the people’s consciousness a belief that death awaits anyone who would be critical against the prevalence of gambling operations within the city.

Fact or fiction, the reality is that this is sending shivers of fear to the collective spine of the people of GenSan.

This should not be allowed to continue. The time has comefor the people of GenSan to shatter this myth.

The fear of the unknown must not be allowed to suppress the people’s thoughts and prevent the flowering of their ideas as these are necessary abstractions in the processes of the city’s quest for what it shall become and where it is destined to be.

We need to oppose STL. This form of gambling is intrinsically evil because of its financially extractive nature.  STL siphons the financial blood of basic communities, rendering them financially anemic.

STL’s extractive nature results tothe slowing down of money circulation and in the movement of goods and services within basic communities. It also reduces the purchasing power of the masses.

Furthermore, STL creates a culture of dependency on “chances” among young people. STL is a game of chance.

This hindering culture of dependency on chancesstalls the young people’s drive for excellence and disrupts their quest for technical, social and economic artisanship on which the future of communities and nation depends.

It is important to note here that the members of the SP, in rejecting the STL last October, did not really delve on the moral, social and economic ramifications of the STL in people’s lives and in the governance of the city.

The SP merely banked on two main reasons: the STL operates in the city without first securing the consent of the SP; and STL operators and financiers did not attend the public hearings. They considered these acts as a display of disrespect to the SP.

Thus, it can be easily deciphered that in rejecting the STL, the welfare of the people and the city was not in the minds of the members of the SP but something else. This “something” could be lobby money. A red flag for this is clear.

There is no law or rule which prohibits the revival of a local measure immediately after it was rejected. But, following customary legislative norm, the revival of a dead measure is supposed to undergo more stringent tests and processes.

The intendment of this legislative norm is to ensure that public officials do not decide things in a haphazard manner and make sloppy decisions at the expense of public funds.

Moreover, this customary norm is also intended to prevent public officials from being tempted by material gains and benefits. The norm creates a situation whereby it would be very difficult for public officials to use their legislative and oversight powers to exact financial benefits from vested interest groups.

However, this customary norm is not being considered in the reintroduction of the STL measure in the SP.

Really, we cannot blame the people if they would believe that lobby money has become a propelling instrument for the revival of this dead measure.

Sadly, it is now becoming clear that the fight against the city’s gradual transformation into a mini-gambling state is speedily losing ground

If the people will not raise their voices to stop the SP from passing the resolution consenting to the operation of the STL, which it had already rejected back in October 2017, we will soon be seeing our city ending up as a mini-gambling state.

We should do something now before the city’s transformation into a mini-gambling state becomes irreversible. Tomorrow may be too late!

[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Ben Sumog-oy is Action Officer of In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement (iDEFEND) in General Santos City]


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