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On January 26, the Quezon City Philippine National Police reported that they arrested and detained 1,090 street gamblers from October 1, 2023 to January 15, 2024. Accordingly, an amount totaling P164,080 was seized by the QC police from 381 operations in different communities. The director of the QCPD declared that these arrests “exemplify our unwavering dedication in achieving strides to provide citizens a peaceful and well-organized community.”
While the goal is laudable, aggressive policing of illegal gamblers is an ineffective, costly, and iniquitous method to achieve the stated goals. First, many of these illegal gamblers, who play tong-its (a card game) and cara y cruz (coin tossing) in the streets, are first-time, non-violent offenders. The bail amount for the case of Presidential Decree 1602 which penalizes gambling is P36,000, which is beyond the means of many accused. Thus, 1,090 arrests will inextricably result in the congestion of the Quezon City Jail Male and Female Dormitories.
Studies show that individuals arrested for gambling end up being recruited by the four gangs in Quezon City, namely, Batang City Jail (BCJ), Bahala na Gang (BNG), Sigue-Sigue Sputnik (SSS), and Sigue-Sigue Commando (SSC). Once in the fold of the gangs, they are exposed to more hardened criminals such as drug dealers, kidnappers, and holduppers, which increases their risk of reoffending upon release. Thus, aggressive policing of illegal gambling furthers public insecurity.
Second, aggressive policing of illegal gambling is very costly to public coffers. Putting these non-violent offenders to jail will cost the government a lot of resources for food, clothing, medicines, and other expenses. For the food and medicine budget alone, the government spends P85 per day per inmate. Studies suggest that due to poverty, most of the accused cannot afford to post bail. Studies also show that on average, individuals accused of illegal gambling stay in jail for 6 months. Thus, for the 1,090 detained gamblers, where 500 did not bail out, the government spent: 6 months x 30 days x P85 x 500 = P7,650,000. This amount does not include the lost income for 6 months of incarceration. This money could have been used for other social services such as the health and education of young children.
Third, aggressive policing of illegal gambling disproportionately affects the poor and the individuals living in poverty areas. Many of these individuals simply lack areas of recreation, thus they resort to tong-its and cara y cruz as activities to kill time (pampalipas-oras). While there could be organized crime syndicates that run gambling operations, the organizers are seldom arrested, and the ordinary gamblers are the ones caught red-handed. Additionally, individuals arrested for gambling share in interviews that they were simply playing card games in their own homes but were mischievously reported by their nosy neighbors. Others report that police only filed the complaints against them when they were not able to “settle” the cases. Thus, aggressive policing of illegal gambling translates to discretionary use of police powers that may lead to extortion and other forms of police malpractice that disproportionately affects the poor and the powerless.
Fourth, aggressive policing of illegal gambling is a very hypocritical policy. Gambling is allowed and even promoted in the form of casinos and POGOs (Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators) for the rich and powerful. If you gamble with a tie and suit, you are portrayed as a decent individual luxuriously throwing away money and contributing to the entertainment industry. But if you gamble in the streets, you are portrayed as a threat to public safety and security, who are out there to terrorize the peace and serenity of the unsuspecting citizens. Such hypocrisy and differential treatment of the same behavior leads to cynical beliefs that gambling is “okay as long as you are close to the dispensers of political powers.” Thus, aggressive policing of illegal gambling is a concrete manifestation of the inequity and double standards in Philippine society.
The Philippine National Police in Quezon City and many other police departments should reconsider using the number of arrests of illegal gamblers as their key success indicator. Instead, they should use “quality of life” indicators in the community – number of people assisted (calls for service), number of conflicts mediated, etc., as these are the measures that actually contribute to peace and order in the communities.
The PNP should also realize that aggressive policing of low-level first-time offenders translates to a huge intake of cases which can overwhelm the prosecutors, judges, jails officers, and probation officers. Thus, they should develop alternatives to arrest and detention – they can issue warnings, citations, and reporting – instead of throwing these low-risk offenders unnecessarily into jails and prisons.
Finally, the local government should develop community recreation centers where citizens can come together and spend their free time. The Quezon City government and the local barangays should invest in infrastructure such as parks, playgrounds, and walkways, where citizens develop a sense of community. Pork barrels of politicians, when used effectively, can be the financial source of these initiatives. – Rappler.com
Raymund E. Narag, PhD is an Associate Professor in Criminology and Criminal Justice at the School of Justice and Public Safety, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale.