GOVERNOR Alfredo Marañon's executive assistant and former Manapla mayor Manuel Escalante denied Monday that he met with businessman Charlie Ang about "jai alai" operation in the province.

Escalante made the clarification after the circulation among the media of a text message that reads: "Tood na nga si Atong Ang ari di sang Thursday sa Ayala sila nag miting sugat ni Manolet Escalante si Mayor Saratan sa City Hall deretso dayun sa Ayala. (Is it true that Atong Ang was here last Thurday? They met in Ayala (North Point?). Manolet Escalante fetched (Talisay) Mayor (Eric) Saratan and then they proceeded to Ayala.)"

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During Thursday last week, Escalante said that he was at Business Inn as the inducting officer and guest speaker of the Philippine Association of Local Government Accountants.

He theorized that his previous statement backing jai alai's legalization might be the cause why his name is being dragged into the issue.

Escalante said that any jai alai operation in the province right now is illegal and that he would not talk to anybody if they cannot show legal papers on jai alai.

"No legal papers, no talk", Escalante said.

He added that Meridien Vista Gaming Corporation had distributed papers showing that it is allowed to operate betting stations inside and outside the Cagayan Valley Economic Zone Authority (Ceza). Ang is reportedly one of the owners of the gaming company.

Escalante insisted that the documents do not prove that Meridien can legally operate the numbers game in the province.

Though the company also presented copies of business permits issued to them by some provinces, those permits could not be applied in the province, he said.

He said that Ang often comes to the province to buy fighting cocks. He also admitted that Ang is his best friend but reiterated that Ang has not visited the province last week to discuss about jai alai.

Ang was a gaming consultant during the term of former President Joseph Estrada. He fled to the US when Estrada was eased out of office in 2001. He was extradited in 2006 to face charges as co-accused in the plunder case against Estrada. He pleaded guilty and was convicted for the lesser crime of bribery. He served two years under probation and was finally discharged by virtue of a Sandiganbayan Special Division Order dated May 28, 2009.

Escalante, the former president of the Association of Chief Executives of Negros Occidental, clarified that he is no longer a mayor and so he cannot meet with anybody to represent the mayors in the province. (Teresa Ellera-Dulla)