Issue of August 4, 2019
     
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For the better good

Police General Oscar Agbayalde was in Baguio City last Saturday. No, he was not here for a pleasure trip. Upon the order of President Rodrigo Duterte, he personally supervised the closure of lotto outlets operating within the city before proceeding to La Trinidad, Benguet where he and his wife graced the blessing of the Police Regional Office-Cordillera Officers’ Ladies Club office and a daycare center. The President suspended, on a temporary basis, all franchises issued to operators of lotto, small town lottery, and keno because of perceived corruption. According to him, the operation of these franchises have deprived the government of the funds due it because the former military personnel and their mistahs have schemed the funds of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) by using lotto, small town lottery, and keno operations as fronts for illegal gambling.

The closure of the operation of lotto, small town lottery, and keno had everyone caught by surprise. After all, these are among the major sources of revenue for the government. Up in arms, the operators have complained and sought for reconsideration because according to them, there is more to lose than to gain in their shutdown. Really?

As per report from the PCSO as written in an article in the July 30, 2019 issue of the Philippine Star, “The PCSO generated a total of P63.56 billion from its lotto, keno, small town lottery, and instant sweepstakes operation last year.” From these funds, continued the Star article, “528,000 patients (were) benefitted from PCSO medical assistance programs while more than 200 requests for medicines were approved under the medicine donation program. On top of Philippine Health Insurance (PhilHealth) coverage, indigent people can obtain funds directly through PCSO branches for medical procedures including dialysis and chemotherapy for cancer.” The PCSO also provides employment to thousands of individuals. So what gives? How will the government remedy the financial grants that it gets from the PCSO? Surely, asserts those who oppose the closure, this will create a vacuum in funding leading to a deficit in the budget of the government.

But, Duterte remains unfazed. Showing his own figures, he explains why he had to do what he did. Speaking through Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo, he said there is a “grand conspiracy of all players and participants of all gaming operations.” These, therefore, he concludes, results in more than 70 percent of the funds generated by the PCSO ending up in the hands of corrupt individuals.

In an interview with DZRH on July 31, PCSO board director Sandra Cam gave her own figures. She said that out of the average million pesos being collected by the PCSO from franchises being operated in provinces and cities, only a tiny portion of that are being remitted by the government. The bulk goes to the pockets of ex-military officials and their cohorts who have assumed full control of the games. Hence, the financial assistance extended to the beneficiaries is only a pittance that pales in comparison to what goes to those who are supposed to manage the funds in a proper manner. Moreover, the STL has become a front of the illegal numbers game jueteng.

If we are to rely on the figures as reflected, the government is losing billions of pesos every year because of corruption within the ranks of the PCSO. This must stop. But, is the method applied to curb this evil truly justified? People are crying for mercy and compassion, especially those who are sick, hungry, and unemployed. The closure of the PCSO has affected millions of lives. Surely, people will die and go hungry. The assurance made by the administration that “direct medical subsidies will continue” might be wishful thinking. Where will the funds come from?

When Congress approved the Universal Health Bill, its funding and subsidy was earmarked to come from the funds of the PCSO. Now that the operation of the PCSO has been suspended and the funds stopped flowing, the Universal Health Bill, which has yet to see its launching, is doomed to fail.

On the other hand, it might prove futile in the end that the government stop its financial reliance from the PCSO. By whatever name it is called, gambling is gambling. Whether it is legal or illegal, it had ruined many lives, shattered numerous families, and left the morality of the nation in limbo. No wonder, our self-righteous leaders are, for once, in agreement with the President about the closure. It might turn out to be for the better good of our country and our people. (Editors’ note: Lotto operations resumed Wednesday, July 31, after the President lifted the suspension on this gaming activity. Other gaming activities of PCSO such as the small-town lottery, keno, and peryahan ng bayan remain suspended).

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