Jueteng is Embedded in Local Society and Culture
JUETENG HERE is an entrenched social system that is grassroots-based. Unlike other numbers games, the cobrador literally knocks at people's doorsteps to solicit bets Bettors do not have to travel all the way to a retail outlet. Winnings are also delivered straight to their homes by the cobrador.

Jueteng is a game whose outcomes are in the realm of the familiar. Jueteng aficionados are the next-door neighbor, the sari-sari store retailer, the tricycle mechanic, etc. Winning in jueteng, unlike other forms of gambling, is tangible. One's next-door neighbor wins, not someone from a distant province announced over the radio.

The game is also perceived as harmless because of the low amounts involved: a P1-bet can take in anywhere from P400 to P1,000 in winnings. Jueteng is also seen as some form of community charity. Villagers shell out spare change to aid the neighborhood cobrador who engages in jueteng to make ends meet. The jueteng operation and its extensive grassroots staff of indigents and the idle underemployed have been compared to a social welfare agency.

At the grassroots level, one reason for jueteng's permanency is its ability to reaffirm community bonds and community notions of trust and pakikipagkapwa or neighborliness. The betting transactions are natural occasions for community gossip. The cobrador doubles up as the town crier, updating fellow citizens with the latest sex scandal, political intrigue, personal tragedy or lucky break.

Betting on jueteng is an expression of Filipino magic-realism. Folkloric notions of malas and suwerte, of good and bad luck, permeate the betting transaction. Bettors look for lucky signs from dreams, from a sibling's birth date, or a combination of symbolic premonitions. Betting involves the ability to interpret supernatural forces and powers that influence the natural order of things.

Betting also indicates the bettors' own power to harness these forces by choosing the right combination and the right time to bet. In other words, Filipino betting is not just a question of fate. It is the choice of a deliberate set of actions by the bettor to act on a lucky hunch.

The Diskarte Psychology
In essence, jueteng represents a reciprocal relationship between conscious choice and the unpredictable winds of fortune. This is embodied in the concept of diskarte.

Diskarte means careful calculation in the face of given circumstances. Its success depends not only on the better's own skill but also on the character of the cobrador accepting the bet. Trust is an important part of the bettor's calculation. The fate of a cobrador, cabo or an entire jueteng network in a community hinges on trust and goodwill.

Diskarte is built into the game itself. A bettor can choose any combination of two numbers between one and 37. The lucky pair is drawn, and the winnings depend on how much and on which numbers other competitors have bet.

Diskarte is also expressed in the countless negotiations revolving around jueteng, transactions that are built on trust and goodwill. A bettor places his bet as part of a social ritual that revolves around the fate of the latest winner, the latest community gossip, intrigues in government, and the interpretation of anuncios or supernatural premonitions of a winning combination.

This ritual reaffirms the bettor-cobrador relationship. Jueteng does not involve receipts, the implication being that it revolves on a bond of trust stronger than any piece of paper.

Trust is an important part of the qualification of a cobrador and/or cabo. Woe to the former, if he or she is associated with cheating and lack of transparency. In other words, the mediator is as important as the bet he mediates. And community residents are quite meticulous about the credentials of their cobradores.

A cobrador is selected on the basis of the following:

  • Clan Credentials. He or she comes from a family of cobradores. Usually the former cobrador retires due to old age or sickness, and his or her children inherit the "career."
  • Active Recruitment. The potential recruit is highly trusted by the community. Cabos usually target those in charge of collecting abuloy or donations for sick community members or for the funeral expenses of a neighbor.
  • Walk-ins. On other occasions, an enterprising youths may actually walk in and volunteer to be a cobrador. Usually, their training ground would be experience in other forms of betting that involved extensive "community visitations."

From the point of view of the people, therefore, what makes jueteng legitimate is linked to the notions of trust and community goodwill attached to the betting transaction.

Network based on Trust
Membership in a jueteng network requires no written contracts. Relationships are built on trust. Entrants to the system are not required to submit written bio-data. What they need are endorsements from trusted members of the network.

In business terms, jueteng here is a medium-scale industry with a gross revenue of P6 million monthly. There are no formal management systems or written contracts, only countless informal negotiations. Ironically, these relations are mediated by an element of trust-distrust. The complex structure and negotiations of jueteng are not only about making the game work or earning lucrative profits; it is also about managing mistrust.

Jueteng is one of the least transparent of all gambling games. And there is a strong element of tension permeating the game. One reason is illegality and the inconvenience of arrest. But the other reason is the possibility of cheating.

Sonny is a master of this. In the past, he used to maneuver the winning combination in order to please his great-grandmother, a jueteng aficionado, during her birthdays. Unfortunately, his great-grandmother's servant got wind of the pattern and bet on the same combination. Of course, Sonny found out and fired the servant, accusing her of abuse of trust.

But Sonny says this was an exception. He claims that as a rule, he ensures that the draw is open to all cabos. Cobradores and even favored bettors are welcome to watch the proceedings. There are strong countervailing factors against cheating, he claims. A gambling lord with a reputation for cheating loses mass support for his game, suffers a decline in bets, and makes himself vulnerable to takeovers by other jueteng lords muscling into his stable of cabos and cobradores.

Altogether, these factors-protection, community goodwill, tradition, personalistic negotiations and mutually beneficial exchanges-make jueteng popular. In addition, the elaborate organization of the jueteng network and the game's limited transparency add to its allure. But it is these same factors that predispose jueteng toward its intimate engagement with politics.

From the point of view of good governance, public order and the rule of law, however, jueteng is illegal. But from the point of view of the Pangasinan politician, the protection of jueteng by public officials is just one of many transactions-among them the apportioning of public works contracts and other sources of patronage-which are arrived at through complex political negotiations and shifting alliances. Like these transactions, jueteng is imbedded in the dynamics of clan politics, political patronage and diskarte.

Jueteng lords have often been compared to the Sicilian Mafia, the Colombian drug lord, or the Kuomintang warlord. But perhaps reality is less conspiratorial than what these images suggest. Jueteng leaders take into account the factors that shape any political family's intervention in politics: electoral traditions, the language of patronage, access to national and regional powers.

Sonny survives not because he has some omniscient power over the politicians, but because he knows how to play the game of politics. He, too, practices diskarte.

Like political families, jueteng depends on grassroots support. Like politicians, jueteng lords are adept at tapping community notions of trust, familiarity, and goodwill. Take away the grassroots, and both jueteng and politicians fall like a house of cards.

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