"It gets sillier."
After days of balmy weather, Sunday was cool and pleasant here in Taipei. The sun did not shine, but there was little of the wind chill. It was a perfect day for walking.
In the morning, I met with the newly elected officers of the Federation of Filipino Communities (Filcom), that aggregation of Filipinos living in different parts of Taiwan. It was the morning after elections here, and we were discussing the results, where incumbent Pres. Tsai Ing-wen trounced the KMT’s Mayor Han Kuo-yu. We speculated on how mainland China would react.
As it was nearing lunch time, I texted my executive assistant if he was good for a bowl of Japanese ramen in a favorite hole in the wall which serves the best in Taipei that we have so far tried. But after waiting for some 20 minutes looking for parking in the downtown vicinity, we gave up and instead proceeded to the Filipino weekend quartier in the Zhongshan district, where we had good old nilagang baka, plus tortang talong and a sinful plate of lechon kawali. Our driver added chopsuey to temper the meaty fare.
Feeling heavy afterwards, we decided to leave the car in the parking lot and take coffee somewhere. With a nearby coffee shop full, we walked farther and farther, with my assistant taking me to small alleys with quaint boutique shops and more holes in the wall serving anything from exotic Taiwanese fare to Italian pasta to an artisanal burger café, which is where we stopped for freshly roasted coffee.
For some strange reason, we talked about whether there was jueteng in Taiwan, considering the number of Filipinos residing here mostly as OFWs, 160,000 strong, from the time I began my assignment here in 2016, when there were some 130,000 kababayans.
I mentioned that there are tupadas in Italy and jueteng operations as well among Filipino communities there, but somehow none in Taiwan.
That got us into the non-academic discussion of the possible etymological origins of the word jueteng.
First my assistant said it must have Chinese origins, because the word sounds Sinitic.
But I corrected him and speculated that the word has Hispanic origins, the first three letters an abbreviation of juego which means game.
But where does “teng” come into the picture?
That got us into the rather silly speculative talk of whether the Filipino past-time was started or invented by a certain Vicente, which with our penchant for nicknames, was shortened to Teng. Thus, juego de Vicente becomes jueteng.
On a lazy Sunday afternoon, sipping coffee or walking through Taipei’s beautiful tree-lined parks and stopping for some rest for tired legs, we reminisced about the jueteng brouhaha that resulted in the ouster of a president, my former boss and pareng Erap, and my assistant’s former boss, the taciturn Ping Lacson, the then PNP chief who went after the aficionados of the numbers game.
I recalled one afternoon when then Executive Secretary Ronny Zamora recounted how angry the president was after Central and Southern Luzon governors complained to him about the PNP chief’s incessant raids on jueteng lairs. My assistant Gerry was then a reporter for Malaya and covered Camp Crame at the time.
“Umaangal yung mga LGU’s kay Ping. Nawawalan daw ng hanap-buhay yung mga kubrador at kabo, at siyempre sila din,” Ronny said with trademark sarcasm.
“Kaya pala hindi ko na nakikita si Ping sa guest house (the president’s office of choice instead of the rather gloomy ambiance of former President FVR’s main Malacañang Palace offices). “Na-dog house,” I quipped.
But the story of President Erap’s denouement from Malacañang to Veteran’s and thence to Tanay Hills is a long, long one, which sometime in the future I am wont to include in a book I plan to write. Not now.
So back to the origins of the word jueteng.
In President Quezon’s time, a scandal broke in Iloilo, when its governor Arroyo was accused by the young Eugenio Lopez Sr. of abetting the jueteng operations of a Chinoy called Sua Loy.
Juego de Arroyo or juego de Sua Loy would sound funny if abbreviated.
In my native city of San Pablo, we had a Don Terio Reyes as jueteng lord of Laguna. And in neighboring Quezon, it was Dona Charing Magbuhos. Jue-ter or Jue-ring anyone? It gets sillier. And in Metro Manila, there was Tony Santos.
During the martial law period, jueteng did not stop, and its Central Luzon overlord was said to be Mang Gusting Rojas of Tarlac. Not called a “don” like his Southern Tagalog counterpart, but Gusting has the right appellation for jueting. Sounds more like it.
In Erap’s time, if Ilocos Sur’s Governor Chavit is to be believed, the operations were “centralized,” with him appointed as chief kubrador. But after a falling-out with pareng Erap and in the light of Ping’s stubborn demand that jueteng must be stopped because it is illegal, Atong Ang came into the picture to “legalize” the juego.
Jue-tong gets closer to jueteng in our by-now funnier Sunday ruminations into the realm of etymology. And because of jueteng, nagka-Chavit-sabit si presidente.
These days, and for the last two or three decades even, the supposedly biggest operator is a Bong and Baby from the hometown of another former president who later became speaker of the HOR. But again, jue-bong is less mellifluent than good old jueteng.
At which point my driver, who is a native Mindanaoan where jueteng is not part of the culture, chimed in and said that maybe after the winning numbers are picked out of the tambiolo or bola, someone rings a bell, and voila—jueteng. Sounds sensible, juego followed by the teng, teng of a bell. Hindi nga ba?
We were having a good laugh at our silly conversations when Gerry got a vibered short video from our friend, Solaire’s Michael Rey, alias “Ninoy” Aquino. Taal was having a “phreatic” eruption, spewing steam and ash up into the clouds.
Our silly talk stopped as we called up our families back home to inquire about the ashfall and its reach.
I am writing this piece early Monday morning, to be filed Tuesday. Silly, corny, but still better than having to write about the terrible things that are happening in the country and the world as the new year unfolds.