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PCSO scored over Malasakit Centers

By: - Correspondent / @melvingasconINQ
/ 06:00 AM August 24, 2019

An opposition lawmaker on Friday called out the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) for using charity funds to set up and maintain Malasakit Centers amid allegations that these were being used as tools for political propaganda.

During a House budget hearing, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman questioned the supposed lack of legal basis for the agency to provide funds for the Malasakit Centers.

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“There is need for you to go on the ground to investigate and validate, because there are a lot of complaints, that more are getting sick because of these Malasakit Centers; that it is more of a partisan tool rather than a medical outlet,” he said.

Go: For President’s program

The Malasakit Centers are closely associated with former presidential aide and now Sen. Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, whose picture often appeared alongside the centers’ signages before these were ordered removed by the Commission on Elections during the campaign for the May 13 midterm elections. The junior senator received the third highest number of votes.

Sought for comment, Go reiterated that the establishment of Malasakit Centers was not intended to promote any political agenda, and that it was a “continuing program” of President Duterte.

He urged Lagman not to be “antipoor,” pointing out that even the lawmaker’s son, Albay Vice Gov. Grex Lagman, was at the recent opening of the center’s branch in their home province.

“The Malasakit Center is an initiative to provide fast, orderly and reliable medical services to all Filipinos,” Go said.

“There’s no partisan or political consideration. It does not choose who will receive assistance. There’s no need for any endorsement letter or ID from politicians,” he maintained.

In response to Lagman, PCSO General Manager Royina Garma said a Malasakit Center was meant to be a “one-stop shop” at every government hospital, serving as a central desk for representatives of various government agencies that commonly provide medical assistance to patients.

“We don’t want our clients to go to our branches and to ask for assistance,” she explained.

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Garma did not cite the legal basis for these centers, but said they allowed the PCSO to “streamline the services of all government institutions providing medical assistance.”

“So we have [PCSO] people there to assist in the documents and then these are still referred, charged to our IMAP (Individual Medical Assistance Program),” Garma said.

Investigation sought

Lagman said the PCSO should investigate the operations of the centers and validate their effectiveness.

“Kindly make a thorough validation and investigation of the operations of these Malasakit Centers because it is like a political partisan activity,” the Albay lawmaker said.

Go said he welcomed the investigation of the PCSO’s role in the operation of the Malasakit Centers, but stressed that the state lottery was just one of the agencies financing the health assistance program. The others were the Department of Health, Philippine Health Insurance Corp. and the Department of Social Welfare and Development, he said.

“All these agencies retain their medical assistance programs, with their separate funds, even if they are part of the Malasakit Center,” he said.

The operation of the centers, he added, was merely a “streamlining mechanism” to hasten the grant of medical services and monetary aid to indigent patients.

In a statement sent to the Inquirer, Larry Cedro, PCSO assistant general manager for charity sector, said the guidelines and resolutions issued by the PCSO board were the legal basis for the Malasakit Centers.

He also said the agency had no specific funding for these centers.

“Instead, the allocation for the ‘At Source Ang Processing’ (Asap) delivery system, which is the mechanism by which the agency provides assistance in the Malasakit Centers, is utilized,” Cedro said.

He said the Asap, which is part of the IMAP, was aimed at hastening the delivery of services, especially to those needing immediate discharge from government hospitals.

The PCSO supported the Malasakit Centers because the agency and these centers had the same objective of facilitating and expediting the public’s access to state health assistance, Cedro said.

‘Massive corruption’

In the same House hearing, other lawmakers took turns criticizing the PCSO for the supposed “massive corruption” in its operations, which has led to shortfalls in government revenue.

Citing “massive corruption” in the agency, Mr. Duterte on July 26 announced the suspension of the PCSO’s gaming activities. The President, however, lifted the suspension on lotto three days later, and on Small Town Lottery (STL) on Thursday, under certain conditions. (See related story on Page A6).

Misamis Occidental Rep. Diego Ty expressed dismay at how corruption had become “systemic” in the STL, the PCSO’s biggest revenue source.

“I’ve been there, and am willing to sit down with you and discuss what is really happening on the ground. Of all the operations, only 10 percent is legal and 90 percent is illegal,” he said.

“It’s so gross,” said Ty, who admitted his company had lost its bid to be an authorized STL agent.

Garma said that as a former police officer, she was aware of the extent of corruption in STL operations.

“This is the main reason the President ordered to suspend the STL and directed PCSO to come up with provisions in [implementing rules and regulations] to allow government to have more control and be more strict in collection of agents,” she said.

In response to questions from Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate, Garma said among the reforms the PCSO would institute was its new policy on the STL agents’ payments of monthly remittance, which has been changed to “guaranteed” instead of “presumptive.” —WITH A REPORT FROM MARIEJO S. RAMOS

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