Justice Secretary Menardo Gueverra on Sunday said the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) will look into the alleged irregularities in the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO).
This comes after President Rodrigo Duterte’s verbal order late Friday evening for an immediate stop to all gaming operations, licenses, and franchises of the PCSO, citing alleged corruption in the agency as the basis for his action.
“The DOJ (Department of Justice) [through] the NBI takes it upon itself to conduct an investigation into alleged anomalies in the operations of PCSO-licensed gaming operators, particularly the non-remittance of the proper share due the government and including any possible involvement or corrupt practices on the part of PCSO officials and/or employees,” Guevara said in a statement.
Small town lottery and other gambling activities authorized by the PCSO such as Lotto, Small Town Lottery, Keno, Lotto with Keno, and Peryahan ng Bayan have been declared illegal. Duterte also ordered the military and the police to arrest anyone who will violate his order. Some lotto outlet owners voluntarily closed their kiosks upon learning of the President’s pronouncement.
PCSO had earlier vowed to comply with the order, but also said it will appeal to the President for a resumption of gaming operations.
“I believe that until this investigation is completed and people responsible for cheating the [government] have been unmasked, PCSO gaming operations such as Lotto and STL, which are otherwise legal, may not resume,” Guevera said.
The secretary said the investigation will give PCSO and its licensees an opportunity to “come forward and show that there’s no such corruption or fraud involved in their operations.”
Guevarra defended Duterte’s issuance of the order, saying the President “has the authority” to do so “upon prima facie proof that licensees are not faithfully complying with their legal obligation to remit the correct amount of the government’s share in revenues, or that their operations are tainted by fraud, deceit, or corruption.”
“It should be emphasized that a gaming license is not a contractual right but a mere privilege that may be revoked at any time by the state,” he said.
Guevarra clarified that Duterte’s order does not cover the whole PCSO charter.
“The PCSO has other sources of revenue apart from its gaming operations and it will continue to perform its mandate, albeit with limited resources,” he said.
Senators react to Duterte’s order
Senate President Tito Sotto welcomed Duterte’s order, saying the PCSO can always resume its operations once it is clear from corruption allegations.
“I think he is shutting down the franchises. It can always open once the corruption is unearthed and cleansed,” Sotto said in a statement.
For Senator Ping Lacson, Lotto should have been spared from closure as “there are no reports of revenue cheating” in the gaming unit.
Lacson said Lotto is “closely monitored” as its operations are “computerized and automated.”
“If the intention is to stop gambling altogether, then all forms of gambling, including the PAGCOR regulated games like casinos and online should have been included,” the senator said.
Senator Win Gatchalian proposed that the PCSO should be privatized as “an alternative to the total banning of gaming activities operated, licensed, and franchised by the PCSO.”
“The proceeds should be remitted directly to the Department of Social Work and Development to fund social service programs. This way we can avoid the mishandling of funds that are supposed to be allocated to help the poor,” Gatchalian said in a separate statement.
Neophyte Senator Francis Tolentino, meanwhile, allayed fears that the order may lead to shortage of funds for the implementation of the Universal Health Care (UHC) law.
“The recently passed Sin Tax law (RA 11346) and other sources might fill the gap for funding the UHC law, but then again the President has the prerogative to ensure that system sources of funds for health and social amelioration programs be cleansed of graft,” Tolentino said.