Manila (AsiaNews) It is the example of Jesus who died for the truth that gives Mgr Oscar V. Cruz, Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan and vice-president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, his strength. For three years now he has used that strength in his uncompromising stance against bookmaking and gambling.
In an interview with AsiaNews, he said that despite the continuous death threats, "there is a need to tell the truth, to assert it with vigour . . . Jesus Christ was killed for telling the truth, because His truth strongly asserts the values of the whole of humanity and promotes social justice".
"The truth gives strength to the poor, courage to the timid and a direction to those who do not know where to go," he said.
Archbishop Cruz's main target is jueteng, the Philippines' main game. It has become a national phenomenon that generated business worth 13 billion pesos (over 185 million euros or close to 250 US dollars) last year and is in the hands of 14 or 15 'gambling lords' who divided up the Philippines 24 provinces among themselves and will do anything to protect their interests.
"About 85 per cent of this money goes into payolas, i.e. kickbacks, that protect the 'gambling lords' and are paid out to government, police, army and even media. If you don't like, you're not welcome in the country," the prelate explained.
For this reason, Archbishop Cruz has received threatening phone calls and letters as well as death threats. But he won't let up and give in to fear. "They are just trying to shut me up," he said.
"In the country, the phenomenon is so widespread because Filipinos have bought into a gambling culture. We are an agricultural country and farmers have long periods of free time. This way, rackets can set roots and play on people's hope for the big one as they spend their time having fun," he said.
Gambling is not only widespread among the poor but also among higher social classes, who are "more narrow-minded and tight-fisted" and play a "game different from jueteng".
"In the Philippines, the Philippines Amusement Gaming Corporation runs gaming on behalf of the government, but it is more like gambling because the people who run the gaming corporation are also in charge of illegal gambling".
Filipino priests and bishops are actively involved in the struggle against this phenomenon and the social problems that it entails.
"We are involved in an awareness campaign, explaining how gambling is corrupting everyone, from the top to the bottom of the social ladder," he explained.
"In 2005, the CBCP released a paper, Board Against Illegal Gambling, which tells the faithful of the negative impact and evil gambling causes. In the dioceses, there are information groups who study and explain it to the faithful."
"We strongly urge all the faithful not to play and not to listen to those who run the games. In the last three years, we have said that gamblers are always losers".