The future for gambling in the Philippines got much more cloudy today as a pair of scandals--one involving an underground lottery game, the other involving bribes paid to cover it up--has led to the impeachment of President Joseph Estrada.
Estrada was impeached by the country's House of Representatives and will face a trial in the Senate
on charges of bribery and corruption which stem from allegations that Estrada received P220 million as protection money from operators of jueteng, the illegal numbers game.
According to wire reports, Estrada is accused of taking the money to make sure the police force and other government agencies looked the other way. While jueteng is outlawed, officials simply look the other way.
To play jueteng, a player bets two numbers between one and 37. Small wooden balls, called bolitas, are placed inside a rattan container. One balita at a time is rolled out of the container for each of the two numbers representing the winning combination.
The lottery is usually done in backyards or inside private homes. The so-called cobradores, who take the bet and deliver the prizes themselves, announce the winning two-number combination.
The game has a wide appeal due to its easily affordable bets ranging from P1 to P200. The prize pool ranges from P350 to P40,000 depending on the number of people who bet on the winning combination.
Estrada was impeached today when House Speaker Manuel Villar announced the impeachment at the start of the day's session. A resolution was read approving the impeachment as soon as the regular prayers had been read at the start of the day's proceedings.
Members of the house raised clenched fists and shouted "Erap Resign" as the announcement was read. Erap is Estrada's nickname. Others booed while the motion was read. Leaders of the opposition party said 115 congressmen endorsed the motion, more than the required 1/3 of the 218-member House. With that kind of support the motion didn't need to be voted on, causing the President's backers the inability to delay the proceedings.
But voting patterns in the Senate, or upper house, later in the day indicated Estrada could survive the impeachment.
The 22-seat Senate will be begin the impeachment trial later this month after a 12-7 vote to replace the Senate President Franklin Drilon, who defected from Estrada's coalition at the same time Villar and 45 other congressmen did. The great defections came after charges emerged alleging Estrada had taken bribes worth millions of dollars from illegal gambling syndicates. With the defections the ruling government party was pushed into a minority in the House.
A two-thirds vote is needed for the Senate to remove Estrada from office
The new leader of the Senate, Aquilino Pimentel, said today that the allegations have not been proven.
"The charges against the president are just that for the moment -charges that are meant to be proven and established within the impeachment process," he said.
The impeachment proceedings come just weeks after Estrada found himself in the middle of another gambling controversy.
The impeachment could have a bearing on the future of Internet gambling based in the Philippines. President Estrada ordered the closing of Sage Casino, an online casino operated by Sport and Games Entertainment Group, but a court ruled the casino could stay open.
Estrada ordered the closure of most Philippine gambling operations after a government official testified he had paid the President kickbacks from gambling and tobacco taxes.
Many political observers felt Estrada made the move in order to win favor with church and other groups by attacking the gambling industry.
Hours before proceedings began in both chambers of the legislature, Estrada was still adamant in denying all the charges. "This is the last time I will be serving the public so would I do that? ... I did not become president to rake up money," the embattled former film actor said.