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Lotto back; probe of PCSO to focus on corruption

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte has lifted the suspension of the popular Lotto games of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO).

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Malacañang announced the return of Lotto in a statement on Tuesday night, four days after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the suspension of the PCSO’s gaming operations.

“As per the advice of Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, the suspension of Lottooperations has been ordered lifted by the President,” presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said.

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But the rest of the PCSO’s games with franchises, licenses and permits, such as the Small Town Lottery, Keno and Peryahan ng Bayan remain suspended “pending the investigation of illegal activities and corrupt practices until the Office of the President evaluates the results of [the] probe,” Panelo said.

“Franchise holders and operators of Lottooutlets may now resume with their operations. The lifting of the suspension of Lottooperations takes effect immediately,” he added.

Medialdea confirmed the lifting of the suspension of lotto.

“Investigators found no [irregularities] in the conduct of its operation, its sanctity remained untainted and proper regulatory rules followed,” Medialdea said in a text message.

The President late on Friday ordered the suspension of the PCSO’s gaming operations due to “massive corruption” in the agency.

The President said the corruption involved some courts that issued injunctions against the government, and contracts that favored certain parties.

His order has led to the closure of more than 30,000 gaming outlets since Saturday.

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On Monday, Malacañang promised a swift investigation of the irregularities, holding out hope for an early return of the PCSO’s popular games.

Earlier on Tuesday, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the National Bureau of Investigation’s probe would focus on whether the government was getting its rightful share of the earnings from the PCSO’s gaming operations.

“But that’s only one side of it,” Guevarra told reporters on the sidelines of the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons program in Pasay City. “The other side will probably focus on what’s happening inside the PCSO. That will be an investigation of its own officials and employees.”

‘Gov’t lost big time’

Asked who the officials and employees were, he said: “That will be for the NBI to find out. Me, frankly, I do not [know who they are].”

He also had no information on how much the government had lost and since when.

“[W]e’re talking about billions of pesos here. Not simply hundreds of millions, but billions over a period of time,” Guevarra said.

“The government lost big time. It will go, I would suppose this may go all the way five years back or at the very least since 2016, or the time that this administration took over,” he said.

The closure of the PCSO’s gaming stations left more than 120,000 people — according to an estimate by Sen. Nancy Binay— without jobs.

Panelo, however, said earlier on Tuesday that the workers at the gaming stations were “not that poor” as they had savings that they could now use.

“I’m sure that those affected are not that poor. They earned a lot during those times that they were operating, so I’m sure they have spare funds to live on,” he said.

Panelo said the government currently had no intervention program to help the displaced workers, but it could work out some form of assistance in the future.

‘Human spirit’

Pressed on what the government could do for those people, Panelo said: “I don’t think they have absolutely nothing right now. Second, they were still OK even when the [lotto] outlets were not yet there. They managed to get by even when they were not [yet lotto] employees.”

He added: “Do not underestimate, do not underestimate the human spirit of Filipinos. When there’s a storm or challenge in our lives, we can still survive. This is only temporary.”

The President, he said, had no plans to abolish the PCSO.

Panelo gave assurance that if the PCSO would be folded, it would “be done in the constitutional way.”

He said Mr. Duterte would soon announce his plan for keeping corruption out of the agency.

Malacañang has not disclosed what PCSO General Manager Royina Garma told Mr. Duterte during their meeting on Friday other than that she asked the President for help in eliminating corruption in the agency.

Two hours after their meeting, Mr. Duterte ordered the PCSO’s games shuttered.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Monday said Lotto should have been spared, noting that there were no allegations of corruption involving the lottery.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros said the President should have run only after crooked PCSO officials and employees and not involved ordinary citizens in punishing those people.

“It’s not a simple matter,” Panelo responded on Tuesday. “It’s not that simple. That’s why he is conducting a thorough probe.”

Both Guevarra and Panelo insisted that Mr. Duterte’s verbal order to shut down the PCSO games was legal.

The justice secretary said a written order would be issued soon, but the presidential spokesperson said it was “not needed.”

“The directive of the President, even if verbal, is legal. As I said, it’s legal so if it’s legal, you don’t have to put it down in writing,” Panelo said.

Sen. Richard Gordon, chair of the Senate’s blue ribbon committee, said earlier on Tuesday that he planned to open an inquiry into the President’s order to shut down the PCSO’s gaming operations.

Gordon said he would look into the reason behind Mr. Duterte’s order.

“Is it because there is actual corruption? Is it because there really is more money going to the illegal rather than the legal?” he told reporters.

Gordon said the inquiry could be opened motu proprio, or on his own initiative.

Supplemental budget

Iligan City Rep. Frederick Siao called on the Department of Budget and Management and the Department of Finance to assess the impact of the closures on the government’s finances, and tell Congress if a supplemental budget was needed.

“If a supplemental budget is quickly needed, the budget bill for this purpose has to be certified as urgent by the President,” Siao said. —WITH REPORTS FROM JEROME ANING, LEILA B. SALAVERRIA AND DIVINA M. SUSON

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TAGS: lotto, PCSO corruption, Rodrigo Duterte, Salvador Medialdea
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