The Philippine Daily Inquirer and Philippine Star today carried reports that the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) will be conducting an investigation into the alleged irregularities in the racing industry.
The reports quoted NBI Special Task Force (STF) chief Arnel Dalumpines as saying that the Department of Justice (DOJ) had asked the NBI to look into the matter, following allegations in a newspaper advertisement by retired police general Florencio Fianza of “drug use, race fixing, handicap manipulation, and illegal syndicates controlling betting within the industry”.
Horseowner groups had recently called for the resignation of Fianza, who was chairman of the Philippine Racing Commission (Philracom), citing Fianza’s mismanagement of the industry and many other issues.
To show the seriousness of their plea, the horseowners, coming from the Metropolitan Association of Race Horse Owners (MARHO), Philippine Thoroughbred Owners’ and Breeders’ Organization (Philtobo), Klub Don Juan de Manila (KDJM), and Samahan ng Horseowners sa Pilipinas (SHOP), went on a “racing holiday” which paralyzed racing operations for four days resulting in millions of pesos in losses in earnings and government revenue by way of taxes.
Last week, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ordered Fianza to step down and concentrate on his other government job as special envoy on transnational crime. Atty. Jose Ferdinand M. Rojas II was named officer-in-charge of Philracom. This development was announced on national television by Sec. Eduardo Ermita of the Office of the President.
Racing fans were then stunned when Fianza subsequently showed up at San Lazaro Leisure Park last January 10 when racing resumed. Fianza appeared on the live cable television racing coverage claiming that since he was going abroad for a while, he appointed an OIC to take charge in his absence.
At a hearing at the NBI today, MARHO president Mandaluyong Mayor Benhur Abalos was asked to shed light on the matter. Abalos explained the horseowners’ dissatisfaction with Fianza’s performance in the Philracom. Among the concerns he raised was the threat of illegal bookies, who pay no taxes to the goverment.
It will be recalled that in 2006, Abalos, in cooperation with the STF and other law enforcement agencies, spearheaded an industry fight against illegal bookies, resulting in a decline of their operations at that time. It was the first instance that someone from within the industry had launched an effective campaign against bookies.
In contrast, industry stakeholders are disappointed that Fianza, in his two years in office, has done practically nothing about the issue, despite having the advantage of contacts and resources from his years in the police force. Fianza, however, has stated in the press that he believes the issue of illegal bookies does not fall under the purview of Philracom but rather under that of the Games and Amusements Board, the government agency that supervises horse race betting and professional sports except horseracing.
Fianza and other racing industry people, some of them members of the horseowners’ organizations, will receive subpoenas next week as the NBI probes deeper into the matter. NBI Director Nestor Mantaring reportedly gave the STF until January 23 to submit a progress report on their investigation.