In the last years of U.S. rule, this synergy of provincial politics, police corruption, and illegal gambling led to a succession of scandals. But few could equal the spectacular, yearlong controversy that erupted in Iloilo, then the country’s second largest city.
In June 1928 two rising media magnates, Eugenio and Fernando Lopez launched their first newspaper, the Spanish-language El Tiempo, with a crusade against urban vice, branding the city’s leading Chinese gambler, Luis “Sualoy” Sane, as the “Emperor of jueteng.” Within months every edition printed the illegal lottery’s winning number in a boldface box on page one, an implicit accusation of political protection and police malfeasance. By October El Tiempo began to charge that Governor Mariano Arroyo and his allies, Iloilo City’s police chief Marcelo Buenaflor and his brother representative Tomas Buenaflor, were protecting illegal gambling through “corruption and bribes.”
The main object of this attack, the Arroyo family, had enjoyed a meteoric political rise since 1916 when Mariano’s brother, Jose Ma. Pidal Arroyo, ran for the legislature from Iloilo’s second district, launching a political career that soon made him first vice president of the ruling Nacionalista Party. After he became a senator and his party’s regional leader, Jose Arroyo discovered the political power of illegal gambling when the “banker” (banquero of jueteng) Luis Sane, already known in Manila as the “terror of Chinatown,” arrived in Iloilo to become, as Arroyo put it, the “impresario of a game called jueteng.” In a letter to his leader, Quezon, Senator Arroyo warned of the political threat posed by the opposition’s protection of Sane and his lucrative racket: “This Sualoy (Sane) is … secretly paying thousand of pesos a month to the current Municipal Mayor of Iloilo, who is a “Democrata,” an arrangement that gave their rival “a gold mine while our own candidates have empty pockets.”
After the senator’s sudden death in March 1927, his brother, Dr. Mariano Arroyo, then director of Saint Paul’s Hospital in Iloilo, assumed the leadership of the local Nacionalista Party and was elected provincial governor in October 1928. To finance his political career without Manila’s backing, Governor Arroyo abandoned his brother’s distance from the racket and began taking bribes from Sane’s jueteng syndicate, exposing himself to political attack.
In October 1929 the local constabulary commander, Capt. Ramon Gaviola, responded to rising public pressure by raiding a gambling and opium den on Iznart Street, arresting fifteen Chinese smokers and two lottery runners (cobradores). With a brazenness that hinted protection, the “emperor” quickly posted bail for the runners and sent them home in his flashy automobile. When the city’s press bannered these arrests, Governor Arroyo flatly denied the lottery’s existence. In its response, El Tiempo hinted at bribery, asking, “What mysterious hold has the ‘Jueteng Boss’ over some of our officials that he seems immune?”
At this sensitive juncture the gambling syndicate miscalculated by trying to crush the controversy with violence. On October 10, the paper’s editor, Jose Magalona, was entering the Wing Kee Restaurant in downtown Iloilo when he was attacked and badly beaten by a notorious local thug named Luis “Toldo” Elipio. “Jueteng alone is responsible for this brutal aggression,” El Tiempo thundered in a declaration of war on the governor.
Through its moral crusade, El Tiempo’s publisher, Eugenio Lopez, skillfully courted support from the antipodes of colonial society. By charging corruption Lopez assured the intervention of the U.S. colonial executive, which had long been opposed to illegal gambling. Moreover, by bundling personal vice, Chinese criminality, and political corruption in a single scandal, the paper stirred strong popular emotions. As the news spread through the vernacular press, particularly in the respected Makinaugalingon, the city’s poor workers responded with letters to the editor expressing outrage at this tax on the poor. “Arrest and imprison the operators for at least one month, but on each Sunday afternoon march them around every turn in the road so we can scream at them,” raged one Ramon Quimsing, who signed himself “a poor man from Molo.”
The strong public response soon forced the constabulary to crack down more firmly. Constabulary lieutenant Gregorio Balbuena launched a lightning raid, crashing through a concealed entrance at 75 Iznart Street to catch the emperor himself “red handed” with gambling paraphernalia. In June 1930 Iloilo’s Court of First Instance sentenced Sane to five months in prison and a fine of five hundred pesos. Significantly, all involved in the prosecution, from arresting officer Balbuena to the provincial fiscal and presiding judge, were outsiders only recently assigned to Iloilo and thus untainted by the emperor’s generosity.
Two months later, controversy flared anew when El Tiempo published a confidential constabulary report that underscored the ties between electoral politics and gambling. This sensational document cited Chief Marcelo’s Buenaflor’s admission that he had conspired with Governor Arroyo in operation of an illegal monte card game to fund their factions campaign in the 1931 elections. Within days the governor retaliated by filing a criminal libel case against El Tiempo’s entire staff, including its publisher, Eugenio Lopez. With exceptional speed, the Justice Department dispatched a distinguished Manila judge, Manuel V. Moran, who found that the governor had in fact been attempting to amass one hundred thousand pesos to cover anticipated election expenses. “Governor Arroyo and Representative Tomas Buenaflor operated a gambling den… from March 3rd to April 13th, 1929, and,” the judge wrote, “Governor Arroyo received P1,000 per month as his share of the gambling proceeds.”
In the subsequent administrative hearings initiated by El Tiempo, Governor Arroyo fared even worse before another special investigator, Judge Marceliano R. Montemayor. Attorney Pio Sian Melliza recalled how Governor Arroyo had resisted his efforts to distance their party from jueteng. “Compadre,” the governor had said to Melliza, “why are you so determined to get rid of jueteng gambling? Isn’t it clear to you that most of the jueteng runners and sellers are our own political liders” … Apart from the money they are giving us for election expenses, they can hurt us in this election because there are many of these jueteng runners in this province.”
In his report to the U.S. governor-general, Judge Montemayor found Governor Arroyo guilty of grave dereliction, stating that jueteng “had been played rather scandalously in the city of Iloilo and.. the respondent.. knowingly tolerated it so as not to incur the displeasure and animosity of friends and political leaders.” Citing court’s decision in the earlier libel case, Montemayor also found the governor had received bribes of a thousand pesos per month from monte gambling. In response to these findings, the governor-general suspended Chief Buenaflor and dismissed Governor Arroyo. With the Arroyo family’s aspirations to provincial dominance destroyed, they virtually disappeared from politics until, through the mysteries of mutual attraction, Senator Arroyo’s grandson married President Diosdado Macapagal’s daughter in 1968, making her the bearer of family name as Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. (p. 352-54, Policing America’s Empire, Alfred W. McCoy).