Bingo appears to be the latest weapon in the heated fight for the mayor’s chair in Manila, following Saturday’s arrest of Vice Mayor Francisco Domagoso on charges of illegal gambling.
Domagoso (formerly a popular actor under the stage name Isko Moreno) is running for the same office he now holds, but this time as the running mate of the country’s former president Joseph Estrada. The two believe the arrest to be politically motivated and ordered by Mayor Alfredo Lim.
Manila police claim Domagoso and several councilors sponsored a bingo game that brought together a crowd of around 500 players over the weekend.
The vice mayor vehemently denied any claims of illegal activity. “What is going on in the city of Manila? We are not doing anything wrong. We are not criminals. We were just talking to our supporters,” insisted Domagoso during a press conference on Monday.
“Out of 200 people, only six of us were arrested and their accusation was [a violation] of Presidential Decree 1602 (Anti-illegal Gambling Law). But they thought of the charges only nine and a half hours after our arrest,” said the indignant Vice Mayor.
While admitting to the game, Domagoso insisted that bingo could in no way be considered illegal gambling. According to the Philippine gambling laws bingo games may be organized by private individuals if they are held purely for fun or for charitable fundraising.
Interpretations of the law differ on whether local licensing is required in these cases.
Former president and current mayoral candidate Estrada made it clear that he saw the arrests as “pure political harassment.” He went on to claim that “of course, somebody ordered it,” without naming names. Manila police denies the accusations.
Mayor Lim stood by the police and challenged his political opponents to prove their claims. “Since you want my post, I will resign if you can prove that I ordered your arrest. But if you can’t prove it, then you should resign. I challenge you since you are fond of gambling anyway,” said Lim.
The fray is apparently more characteristic of the political than the gambling environment in the country, considering that Philippines gambling regulations are relatively relaxed and a decent range of gambling options are available, including online bingo. Punters can also play poker or bet on sports in the Philippines, including basketball, Asian, European, American football, rugby and a number of other sports.
At the same time gambling sites are separated by law into those reserved for foreigners and those to be used exclusively by local players, so online gamblers in the same town would be directed to different Filipino poker rooms depending on their nationalities.