kuwentong kalye: ay jueteng (at si mang bronson*)

Charles Bronson at the Cannes film festival.

Image via Wikipedia

MAKATI, Philippines – Mang Bronson is a jueteng cabo. Unlike the tough guy image of the “legendary” Charles Bronson, after whom he was named, Mang Bronson is a soft-spoken guy who is polite to a fault. He is someone who is well-respected in his community having risen through the ranks to be what is akin to being a supervisor in his jueteng organization. He started out as a lowly cobrador or collector, literally knocking on doors to collect bets.

Mang Bronson reminisces (not fondly) about those days when he was the low man on the totem pole. His earnings barely allowed him to eat two meals a day. He had a cigarette in lieu of dinner to ease his hunger pangs. He stuck to it because the only other alternative he had to earn money was to go back to being a day laborer at a hacienda. Some days there was work, some days there was none. He grimaces when he recalls many instances when he had to go several days without a decent meal.

It was a distant cousin who introduced him to the local cabo who was then looking for new cobradors to expand operations. It was tough at the start given his soft-spoken demeanor. But he persevered because what else could he do. When asked – “hindi mo ba naisip na masama yung ginagawa mo dahil bawal sa batas? Di ka ba natatakot na baka mahuli ka?” His answer is – “Me ilang beses na po na hinuli ako at ikinulong, pero madalas nakakalabas ka naman sa araw din na ‘yun.” I jestingly say – “Aba ang galing ng abogado mo a.” His response is revealing – “ay wala ng abogado Sir. Kadalasan ho nagtatampo lang yung mga pulis kasi nahuhuli yung para sa kanila pero pag nabigay na, labas naman kami kaagad.” And he goes on to say – “At saka palagi naman ho malakas si Boss sa Mayor. Maski papalit-palit sila, nandiyan pa rin si Boss. Mautak kasi ho yan at segurista. Bawat eleksyon lahat na kandidato na sa tingin niya ay puwedeng manalo binibigyan ng pangtustos ng gastos sa eleksyon. Kaya maski sino man yung Mayor, tuloy ang ligaya.”

When asked about the head of the local police force, he goes – “ganun din yung mga yun Sir. May palitan din sila. May iba na pag bago pa lang, maraming ek ek na kesyo malinis daw siya at mawawala lahat ng krimen sa bayan namin. Pero hindi katagalan, hindi rin makatiis, iwas-tingin din. May iba namang pulis diyan na ayaw talagang tumanggap pero hinahayaan na lang kami. Meron namang iba na sobrang gahaman akala mo kung sino.”

“So Mang Bronson anong tingin mo sa mga nangyayari ngayon na napagtutuunan na naman ng pansin ang jueteng?”

“Sanay na kami diyan. Iinit ng sandali. Sasabihan kami ni Mayor na tigil muna. Pero konting panahon lang – balik sa dating gawi. Ngayon nga lang medyo napa-isip isip na rin ako. 24 years ko na ‘to ginagawa at siempre sino ba namang tao ang hindi naghahangad na magkaroon ng marangal na trabaho. Pero dito sa amin, pati sa bayan – wala namang ibang puwedeng pagkakitaan. Maski gawin man legal o hindi siempre may takot ka rin na mawawala ang aming kasalukuyang panagkikitaan.”

“Sa tingin mo ganito na talaga ang buhay mo hanggang sa huli?”

“Mukhang ganun na nga Sir. Pero hindi pa naman ako tuluyang nawalan ng pag-asa na magbagong buhay. Kaya nga binoto ko si Noynoy. Siya talaga ang pag-asa natin.”

“Talaga? Bakit si Noynoy?”

“Madali naman hong mahalata sa oras ng pagkakampanya kung sino ang peke at sino yung tunay. Isipin mo sir, sa dami dami ng eleksyon sa atin, matututo ka na rin na maghusga sa ugali ng tao at masilip kung anong mangyayari pag nakaupo na sa puwesto. Unang tingin o dinig pa lang, alam mo na. Si Noynoy iba. Pag magsalita siya parang dama mo na ikaw talaga ang kinakausap niya. Ngayon, maraming nangyayari na kung sa panahon ni Gloria nangyari mapapa-iling ka na lang. Kay Noynoy tiwala ka pa rin na hindi niya kagustuhan yung mga nangyayari. Sana lang hindi siya masakop ng maruming sistema natin.”

“Tingin mo mangyayari yon?”

“Sa palagay ko hindi naman Sir, kasi kung lumihis ‘yan baka multuhin ng mga magulang.”

Laughter…

“Anong gagawin mo kung mawala yung jueteng?”

“Mahirap isipin Sir. May sabi papalakasin ang STL at lilipat daw kami dun full-time. Problema dun, wala namang may gusto ng STL sa mga tumataya. Mababa kasi yung jackpot. Kung wala na talaga napag-isipan ko ring lumuwas na lang tungong Maynila at magbabakasakali. Mahirap talagang isipin. Sana mapagbigyan naman kami ni Lord.”

Mang Bronson is one of millions of Filipinos who depend on these games of chance to put food on the table, provide shelter for their families and survive day by day. I hope our lawmakers and even we should think about their plight and the consequences of any decision made on the only real source of livelihood that they have.

Jueteng is not a law enforcement issue that can easily be solved by using the heavy hand of the law to stamp it out. It is a symptom of the deeper ills that pervade Philippine society. It is both a cause and an effect of corruption.

It is a multiple-headed hydra. A law enforcement solution stamping out jueteng will only drive people to other similarly illegal pursuits. Legalizing it is no guarantee that nothing similarly illegal will take its place.

I have not chosen to listen too much to the moral arguments against jueteng because the bigger immorality is the continuing plight of millions of Filipinos in poverty.  When we let symptoms of a bigger problem distract us, we only serve to prolong the sense of hopelessness of many of our fellow Filipinos.

You cure the root, you cure the symptom. Yes, it is easier said than done. But until we acknowledge that poverty is THE PROBLEM, until we devote all of our energies and resources to a common goal of eradicating poverty, when are we going to be able to give hope to people like Mang Bronson. When?

* Mang Bronson may be fictional in that I do not know a Mang Bronson but his thoughts, sentiments and lot in life are a reflection of the thoughts, sentiments and lot in life of thousands upon thousands of “Mang Bronsons” in the jueteng cottage industry.

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