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Make Yourselves a New Heart and a New Spirit

A Joint Pastoral Letter on Gambling

Beloved People of God in Northern Luzon:

As a result of our pastoral reflection in Laoag City, from December 9 -11, 1993, the exhortation of St. Paul comes to our mind:  "Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness; rather expose them ..."  (Eph. 5:11).  And so, aware of our sacred duty as your Pastors to teach and instruct on matters of faith and morals, we write you this letter on an issue of grave importance.

The issue is rampant gambling in Northern Luzon, particularly in the form of jueteng.

As we listened to reports from various northern Luzon dioceses we came to realize more than ever before how widespread and insidious rampant gambling is in our northern region.

The Situation of Gambling in the North:  A Social Cancer

It is rampant not only in cities and big towns but also in the barangays and sitios of almost every province.  Gambling agents are everywhere, at street corners, in front of school gates, near churches, and in markets.  They go from house to house, from office to office.

People from all classes of society, from various professions, and the poorest of the poor contribute some of their income to the gambling till, for a chance at winning.  Even school children with their meager daily allowance for the day are not spared from the temptations of gambling.  In many places the cycle of gambling is at least 3 times a day, everyday of the year.

Its operations are managed by powerful people whose profits are untaxed.  It hires thousands whose earnings are a mere pittance, compared to the gargantuan illegal profits that the operators and maintainers get.  It is the way of easy money.  Its clientele are thousands upon thousands of citizens, most of them very poor people, who dream of a "pot of gold at the end of a rainbow."

Unprecedented in its frequency, widespread in its coverage, its profits are also incalculable.  Popular estimates of gross income per day per province in our northern region runs into millions of pesos.  Billions of pesos are lost every year by our people -- and pocketed by gambling operators.

The Evils of Rampant Gambling

The moral evil of such large-scale, systematic gambling is not simply because it is illegal.  It is truly immoral under the circumstances that it operates and in the evil effects that it has spawned.

Today, gambling is, indeed, a social cancer, gradually and surely destroying a great many of our positive social and moral values.  It is a social scourge that is debilitating even our moral sense, our ability to distinguish right from wrong.  It is deeply infecting us as a people.

Rampant gambling, particularly in its form of jueteng, has become a way of life for many.  People no longer care or dare to condemn it because:  (a)  no effective action against gambling has ever been taken by our political and police authorities, except through some token occasional raids against small-time gambling operators; and (b) very powerful people operate gambling.

Yet, if we still have a modicum of moral sense, we have to be appalled by the callousness of big-time gambling operators, by the blatant openness with which they conduct their illegal operations, and by the shockingly huge amounts of money that are involved.

The truth is:  The victims of gambling are the many thousands of credulous and generally poor people who risk their hard earned incomes to face odds that are heavily stacked against them.  The situation is even aggravated, according to popular belief, by the manipulation of winning numbers -- a likely possibility, given the secrecy with which winning numbers are often determined.

The whole racket constitutes a systematic fleecing of the poor.  Whether the victims are willing or not, the end result is the same --  objective exploitation of the poor by the powerful.  As in our economic system in general, so in jueteng:  the rich, powerful and apparently untouchable operators get richer while thousands of poor bettors get poorer.  A situation which recalls the social evil condemned by the prophet Amos:  "They trample the heads of the weak into the dust of the earth and they force the lowly out of the way"  (Am. 2:7).

For such social and moral evil to exist, can graft and corruption be far behind?

The popular belief has never been disproved that protection money is handed down in liberal proportions to police, military, and political officials.  It is even said that the control and operation of gambling are in the hands of some politicians.  If what many people say are true, and there seems to be no solid reason to disagree, then we have in the North a social plague of unrivalled scale.

The fact that gambling operations employ some thousands of  people in the whole North has become an excuse for government officials not to abolish gambling.  They stop searching for alternative and productive sources of employment.

Furthermore the popular belief remains that jueteng profits serve as bottomless "election war chests" from which unaccountable amounts of money are freely withdrawn to support political candidacies.  Again, whether true or not, such a belief among ordinary people points to the values that have grown out of the vice of gambling.

Through jueteng and other forms of rampant gambling, values are distorted.  Hard work, rational reflection and planning that are trademarks of responsible human work are substituted by irresponsible risk-taking.  Laziness is promoted while the dream of easy money becomes an obsession.  The poor are exploited.  Power and money are used to protect--as well as to enforce submission to --the system.   The values of the Gospel and of the Kingdom of God are put aside for the sake of profit.  So long have we complained about the disappearance of such values as industry, thrift, truth, honesty and integrity, and justice.

Such a terrible situation is hardly to be helped by casinos.  In fact, casinos give even more occasions to lose more money.  Businesses have collapsed because of casino gambling.  Jobs have been lost.  Families have been broken.  And in some cases, deaths and suicides have resulted.

We must moreover open our eyes to the close connection between the poor values promoted by rampant gambling and the disvalues (or lack of values) in public and private lives, that have wrecked great havoc on our country.  A liberal attitude towards rampant gambling is linked to a permissive attitude towards graft and corruption.  Because we do not act against one social vice, we tend not to act on other vices as well.

Declarations Related to Gambling

In the light of such a deplorable social situation we recall the strong words of the Lord through the prophet Ezekiel:

    I  will judge you...  each  one  according  to  his  ways, says  the  Lord...  Cast  away  from  you  all  the  evils  you have committed  and  make  yourselves  a  new heart and a new spirit... Return and live!  (Ez. 18:30-32).

Therefore, as Bishops of Northern Luzon, we jointly make the following strong declarations:

  1. We condemn all rampant gambling, especially in its form of jueteng, as destructive of the moral values of our people.
  2. We urgently call upon our government officials to dismantle all gambling operations, including casinos.
  3. We call for the immediate prosecution of all persons who operate illegal gambling, especially those that are known as big-time gambling operators.
  4. We urge government officials to create and promote alternative sources of gainful employment for people displaced by dismantled gambling operations.
  5. We call upon educational institutions, churches, and social agencies to institute moral renewal programs to repair the great damage  done by rampant gambling on our moral values.

In days of old, the prophets of God in Sacred Scriptures regularly called the people and their leaders to turn away from their evil paths and unto the way of God.  Today, we call the people of God to a way of renewal and conversion, of holiness and righteousness.  "Live as children of the light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth"  (Eph. 5:9).

May everyone hear and heed this call to renewal.  "Let us not grow tired of doing good..."  (Gal. 7:9).  We call upon you, beloved sisters and brothers, to reflect, pray, and act together in solidarity to dismantle structures of death and build up structures of life.

May the strength, the power and love of the Lord be with us in this sacred crusade toward His kingdom of truth and justice, of peace and love.

Bishop of Laoag

Bishop of San Fernando, L.U.

Bishop of Cabanatuan

Bishop of Ilagan

Bishop of Alaminos

Archbishop of Nueva Segovia

Apostolic Vicariate of Tabuk

Former Bishop of Bangued

(Sgd.)+OSCAR V. CRUZ, D.D.
Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan

Apostolic Administrator of Bangued

(Sgd.)+LEO M. DRONA, D.D.
Bishop of San Jose

N.E.Apostolic Vicar of Baguio

Bishop of Urdaneta

Archbishop of Tuguegarao

Apostolic Vicar of Bontoc-Lagawe

Bishop of Bayombong

Betania Retreat House
Tagaytay City

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