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Balutan hints he quit over ‘something I can’t stomach’

“Career for me is just temporary but character is lifetime . . . even beyond my grave”
Alexander Balutan
Former Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office general manager

Former Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) general manager Alexander Balutan on Saturday said he had resigned and hinted at pressure to do so, disputing a Malacañang statement that he was fired due to corruption allegations.

In a text message, the retired Marine major general recalled that he made a vow regarding the limits of his tolerance for shenanigans when he assumed his post in 2016.

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“I told all PCSO employees when I assumed as GM (general manager) in 2016 that if somebody from OP/Congress (Office of the President/Congress) ask/order me to do something which I cannot stomach … I WILL RESIGN,” he said.

Serious allegations

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He did not respond when asked whether someone in Malacañang or Congress had asked for something which he “cannot stomach.”

Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo on Friday said President Duterte fired Balutan “due to serious allegations of corruption.”

“We hope that this will serve as a stern warning to all government officials and employees that there are no sacred cows in the current administration, especially when it comes to serving the Filipino people with integrity and loyalty,” Panelo said.

Balutan also did not respond to questions on allegations of corruption that hounded his administration in the PCSO, but he indicated that he quit to keep his integrity intact.

“Career for me is just temporary but character is lifetime … even beyond my grave,” he said.

Mr. Duterte sacked Balutan three days after the combat veteran appeared before a probe at the House of Representatives, where he and other PCSO officials were confronted by lawmakers over alleged corruption in the issuance of Small Town Lottery (STL) franchises across the country.

House inquiry

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The STL was conceived as an alternative to “jueteng,” an illegal numbers racket.

In Tuesday’s hearing, House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez warned that the House committee on public accounts, which he headed, would recommend a “thorough revamp” of the PCSO leadership if its findings supported the corruption allegations.

He said lawmakers disclosed receiving “unconfirmed” reports that people close to Balutan had been bidding out the grant of STL franchises to interested operators. The alleged anomaly was exposed supposedly by a number of disgruntled STL franchise holders who failed to launch their operations despite payment of the “fees.”

Suarez said lawmakers have also expressed dismay over the PCSO’s alleged “lack of cooperation” in the proposed setting up of a “nationwide online lottery system.”

This system was meant to eliminate the possible manipulation of STL winning results—a practice that has been exploited by unscrupulous franchise holders for illegal gambling activities.

Despite reports of income shortfalls of the PCSO under him, Balutan said he performed well.

“I did not ask for this position. PRRD (President Rodrigo Roa Duterte) retired me early from the Marines to help him run his administration. In silence. I did and I [excelled],” he said.

Balutan said he did not ask for “anything in return” from President Duterte for the job.

“The rest is history,” he said, without elaborating.

Decorated veteran

Balutan, a member of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) Class of 1983, is a decorated veteran of military campaigns against Moro rebels in Mindanao.

He was a recipient of the Ten Outstanding Philippine Soldiers award from Metrobank Foundation in 2011.

As a sign that they vouched for his integrity, some retired and active duty military officers have shared Balutan’s statement on Facebook.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a more senior PMA graduate, however, expressed disappointment over Balutan and said charges should be filed against him.

Impression changed

“Since Malacañang has already cited and announced the reason for his sacking, it is incumbent upon them to file the necessary criminal charges for violation of the country’s antigraft laws,” he said on Saturday.

Lacson also said his impression of Balutan had changed after the latter had taken over the helm of the state-run charity.

He said he once saw Balutan as a “highly principled and courageous officer worthy of emulation” by all the members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

That was when Balutan stood by his superior, Brig. Gen. Francisco Gudani, when the latter exposed vote-rigging in the 2004 elections won by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

But after the Senate’s own hearings on alleged corruption in the STL operations, his view of the former Marine officer changed, Lacson said.

Face the music

“I kept asking myself—what has happened to this man?” Lacson said, adding that he was “inclined to think there is basis in (Balutan’s) sacking” considering the former PCSO chief’s “demeanor” and the information gathered during the Senate’s STL hearings.

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian also said Balutan should face charges for alleged irregularities.

According to Gatchalian, Balutan should have been removed from his post much earlier, after it was disclosed that the PCSO spent P6 million for the state-run charity’s Christmas party at a high-end hotel in 2017.

Balutan defended the expenses, saying they were “very austere” compared to previous Christmas parties.

Gatchalian said that money could have been spent on indigents who sought PCSO’s assistance. —WITH A REPORT FROM FRANCES MANGOSING

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TAGS: Alexander Balutan, corruption, PCSO
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