DAGUPAN CITY—Archbishop Oscar Cruz has named Bishop Socrates Villegas of Balanga, Bataan, as his successor as chair of the crusade groups against “jueteng” and illegal gambling.
“It was difficult to find somebody who would take over because nobody wanted to take the hot seat. But I always have in mind Bishop Villegas and I will gladly turn over my seat to him when my retirement letter (as archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan) is accepted,” Cruz told the Inquirer.
Cruz heads both the Krusadang Bayan Laban sa Jueteng and Krusadang Bayan Laban sa Sugal.
When Cruz offered the position to Villegas, the Bataan bishop did not immediately accept it, taking 10 days for him to decide. “I told him, ‘Wala akong makuha (there are no takers) I thought of you for a long time,” he said.
Cruz has given Villegas reading materials on jueteng and legal gambling and “he reviewed them and he knows about (the games) already.”
He said he knew Villegas can lead the crusade groups because “he has stature of his own, he is courageous and straight, he is credible and whenever he talks, people listen.”
“Villegas has been in Manila for a long time and people know him. He has connection with the people of power and authority. Pakiusapan lang ’yan eh (You have to talk with them),” he added.
Cruz, 73, has offered to retire and is waiting for its acceptance. He has been the archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan for 15 years, where he launched the Krusadang Bayan Laban sa Jueteng in 2000.
But he assured that the groups will continue and even be more strengthened after he retires as head of the Lingayen-Dagupan archdiocese.
It was not an easy job, he said of the chairmanship of Krusada. “Hindi kami nananalo but di rin natatalo sa laban (We do not win but we do not lose the fight).”
Cruz became a news celebrity of sorts when he was called to a Senate hearing after his exposés on powerful people receiving big amounts from jueteng operators.
But he received several death threats through phone calls and letters, along with offers of bribes for him to stop his crusade.
The Krusada gave Medalya ng Karangalan to government and police officials of towns, cities and provinces which were reported to be free from the illegal numbers game.
But what Cruz considered as the biggest achievement of the Krusada is that it made many people conscious about the evils of jueteng and they have become “ashamed” of being associated with it.
“The tri-media (print, TV and radio) continuously denounced jueteng,” he added.
He also claimed that jueteng operations were no longer as extensive as before and that many towns, cities and provinces were freed from the illegal numbers game.