The name of the game

By Malou Guanzon Apalisok |August 04,2019 - 06:43 AM

 

Corruption in the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) is nothing new.  

In August 04, 2016 or exactly three years ago today, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte pronounced during an environmental summit in Davao City that the PCSO is a corrupt agency and the people running the office treat it like a milking cow.  During the summit, the Chief Executive illustrated with his hands how lotto and the illegal numbers game called jueteng have become identical hinting that the lotto is merely a front for jueteng.  

The level of corruption must have frustrated PRRD who was only then three months in office to pronounce that he needed a “killer” to run the agency.  He must have received the summary of the Commission on Audit Report that called out the agency for failure to remit the national government’s  shares of its net earnings from 1994 to 2016.  According to state auditors the arrears amount to P8.4 billion. 

In September 2016, PRRD appointed a former general of the Philippine Marines, Alexander Balutan to head the agency, a position acknowledged as the juiciest among government posts.  I don’t recall there was much rejoicing after the President made the announcement but a lavish Christmas party in 2017 placed Balutan in the eye of the storm.  He was roundly criticized for holding the party in a posh hotel and spending P6 million for merrymaking.  

A Senate hearing ensued during which he traded blows with former whistle blower Sandra Cam, now a member of the PCSO board of directors, who accused him of receiving bribes from illegal gambling operators.  The scandal saw Balutan stepping down from office in March this year although reports say he was fired by PRRD after he got wind of massive shortfalls in PCSO’s targeted income.  

The PCSO is the charity arm of the government tasked to raise funds for health programs, medical assistance and services and other national charitable activities.  In its 2018 financial report the agency declared it generated “P63.56 billion from all its game products.” 

Out of total revenues, P34.26 billion or 55 percent was set aside for the prize fund, P18.69 billion or 30 percent was allocated for the charity fund or payments for grants of health programs including shares of the local government units and the Philippine National Police. A media report said that congressional districts also get a share from the charity fund.  Fifteen percent of the PCSO revenues goes to operational spending and five percent for printing cost and prize fund tax.  

Contrary to the gleaming summary of PCSO’s financial statement, COA discovered “a shortfall amounting to P4.6 billion in its presumptive monthly sales that authorized small town lottery STL agents are required to meet.” Moreover, some P684.3 million in forfeited prizes from Keno games from 2015 to 2017 were not yet transferred to PCSO’s charity fund.  Not only that, the agency appears to be tolerant of fly-by-night agents because the agency reportedly gave three agents authority to operate despite their failure to put up cash bonds worth over P106 million. 

There is wide perception that PCSO officials connived with illegal gambling operators who use dummies to operate lotto and STL outlets.  No wonder, ticket sales are down because jueteng competes with the legal PCSO gaming operations.  There’s also feedback that jueteng offers better prize pots.   In sum, illegal gambling lords hide their nefarous activities behind the veil of PCSO’s gaming operations.

The name of the game is still jueteng, not lotto or STL.      

After letting off steam two Fridays ago, PRRD has lifted his order to stop the PCSO gaming operations.  Malacañang has since directed the Presidential Anti Corruption Commission to conduct a lifestyle check on past and present PCSO officials to ascertain their involvement in PCSO anomalies and unholy alliances with gambling lords, especially in Luzon.  

Since Mr. Greco Belgica, PACC head, has admitted that such investigations take time, he would do well to go back to the records of the Senate hearing on the PCSO controversies of February 2018 during which Ms. Sandra Cam categorically identified Bong Pineda, husband of then Pampanga Governor Lilia Pineda, as having cornered 16 lotto and STL outlets in Northern Luzon.  

Some other names that Sandra Cam dropped during the hearing included Eddie Gonzales, Don Ramon Preza of Batangas, Cesar Reyes, and a certain former General Uyami, classmate of resigned PCSO chief Alexander Balutan.  I didn’t hear the national police doing case build up on the explosive revelations of the legislative investigation.  That kind of deadma merely adds to speculations that aside from getting their legal share of the PCSO earnings, some PNP officials are still on the take of illegal gambling lords.

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