P75-M PAGCOR mess: CIDG launches manhunt vs. suspect

The Philippine National Police – Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG) has launched a nationwide manhunt for the primary suspect in the P75-million controversy in the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) after he and four others were able to elude arrest during a recent raid in their lair in Loac, Pangasinan.

The PNP-CIDG director, Major General Romeo Caramat, identified the primary suspect as Jewel Castro. He and certain Ethan Eleazar, Norbert Escalante, Enrico San Miguel, and Rebecca Ferolina managed to escape even before the operatives swooped down a secluded illegal online sabong
operation in Loac.

Castro and his cohorts in PAGCOR are the subject of a top-to-bottom investigation ordered by PAGCOR Chairman Alejandro Tengco in connection with the missing P75-million cash performance bond exposed by an investor and officer of a corporation, an erstwhile franchisee of the disbanded e-sabong operation.

The raid conducted by CIDG coincided with the lodging of a graft complaint with the Office of the Ombudsman by one Joaquin Sy, against a former and two top officials of PAGCOR and three private individuals headed by Jewel Castro.

Sy, who is the treasurer and the chairman of the board of Kamura Highlands Gaming and Holdings Inc., in his complaint said that on 4 April 2022, he personally posted cash for the performance bond at PAGCOR’s office in Malate, Manila on behalf of their corporation. He provided two manager’s checks payable to PAGCOR and drawn against his personal bank accounts. In return, PAGCOR issued official receipts and other documents proving the posting of a bond by the corporation.

Under PAGCOR’s guidelines, only a corporation can apply to be a franchisee of e-sabong operation.

Sy, however, said that when then-president Rodrigo Duterte disbanded the e-sabong on May 2022, he requested PAGCOR in writing of the intention of his corporation to withdraw the cash performance bond but to no avail. He added that later on, he was told by PAGCOR’s Assistant Vice President for Finance Lolita Gonzales that a P75-million Land Bank check was already issued to one Jewel Castro sometime in July 2022.

Meanwhile, in a press statement, the newly-appointed PAGCOR chair said, “We have launched an internal investigation and we are trying to re-create the sequence of events since the department allegedly involved, the E-Sabong Department, has already been disbanded.”

Tengco hinted that the release of a check in the name of an individual not to the corporation that posted it, could not be possible without the connivance of personnel within PAGCOR. “We will bring the perpetrators to justice if indeed there was any anomaly,” he stressed.

On the other hand, a confidant of Castro in his clandestine e-sabong operation who refused to be identified said that Castro expressed his intention to cooperate with PAGCOR’s ongoing investigation but fears for his safety, considering the persons and the amount of money involved in the anomaly.

Castro is considered the key figure to unlock the mystery of the missing P75-million cash performance bond.

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