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SC goes after judges linked to PCSO mess

Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin on Monday ordered an inventory of all cases involving the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office amid allegations that some judges benefited from corruption at the agency.

Bersamin issued the order after receiving reports that some courts were quick to issue temporary restraining orders or writs of injunction against the PCSO to stop it from disciplining its erring agents.

Judges and clerks of first and second level court are required to submit summaries of the status of their PCSO cases since 2018, including information on whether TROs or injunctions were issued.

Judges have until Aug. 15 to comply with the order.

On July 26, President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the closure of all PCSO gaming operations due to “massive corruption.” By Sunday, police had shuttered more than 21,000 gaming outlets, including 5,187 lotto stores; 13,320 small town lottery kiosks; 2,194 Peryahan ng Bayan outlets; and 472 Keno shops.

On Saturday, President Duterte said he would not honor any order from the courts that would stop the government’s “desire” to investigate the “massive corruption that is existing in the PCSO.”

On Monday, Rappler.com, citing a source close to the President, reported that what drove Duterte to issue a new directive was a report that allegedly corrupt officials and employees of the agency were fighting a PCSO board decision to reassign them to another sector.

Duterte read the report on Thursday, July 25, prompting him to summon new PCSO general manager Royina Garma for a meeting the next day, the news website said. Some hours later, Malacañang aired his verbal order stopping PCSO’s gaming formats.

The report included documents showing that Remeliza Gabuyo, Assistant General Manager of the Branch Operations Sector, resisted a board decision to transfer her to the office of the General Manager of the Management Sector, the Rappler report added.

The letter, dated March 14, informed PCSO chairman of the board and then officer-in-charge Anselmo Pinili that Gabuyo’s transfer cannot be enforced since she had appealed it before the Civil Service Commission.

In another Rappler report, Pinili had also raised concerns over the cases in a Feb. 12 letter to the high court’s Office of the Court Administrator. Pinili claimed that writs of preliminary injunction were issued to Small Town Lottery agents whose agreements with PCSO had been terminated.

Court Administrator Midas Marquez then issued the circular on Monday after discussing with Bersamin “serious allegations of massive corruption involving small town lottery and other gaming franchises issued by the PCSO, some of which have supposedly reached the courts,” the news site added.

Marquez had also issued a memorandum to judges of the Regional Trial Court of Mandaluyong City, some of whose branches have delivered TROs and injunctions against PCSO.

Meanwhile, over 300,000 workers of the STL system are in limbo following the suspension of the PCSO’s gaming operations. 

Documents obtained by Manila Standard showed that the STL system alone “generated a total of 314,596 jobs for organic employees, sales supervisors and sales agents/representatives nationwide” for the year 2018.

These workers―most of them former collectors of the illegal numbers game “jueteng” which the STL was built to combat―temporarily lost their jobs as the gaming agency has yet to announce what it plans for them.

Labor Assistant Secretary Benjo Benavidez said in a press conference Monday that affected PCSO workers who are members of the Social Security System could apply for unemployment insurance under Republic Act 11199 or the Social Security Act of 2019

READ: ‘Lotto workers may seek help from DOLE’

Also, Senator Christopher “Bong” Go revealed it was PCSO general manager Royina Garma who sought President Rodrigo Duterte’s help in curbing the alleged corruption in the agency.

The President made the announcement stopping PCSO’s gaming operations two hours after his meeting with Garma, according to Go.

The order was purely the President’s decision, not Garma’s, the senator said. Go also said Duterte had ordered the legal team of the Office of the President to review all contracts entered into by PCSO.

“Actually this is how it happened: The new general manager Garma reported that she really needed the President’s help because she really found it hard to fight the corruption in the PCSO, and to stop the huge losses of the agency in the past few months,” Duterte’s erstwhile assistant told reporters at the Senate on Monday.

This is not the first time the Supreme Court has acted on the controversy hounding the PCSO.

In March, Court Administrator Midas Marquez issued a memo calling on judges in the Mandaluyong Regional Trial Court to be more circumspect in granting TROs and WPIs in cases involving PCSO franchises.

The Court Administrator reminded judges to follow the requisites in granting TROs and WPIs after receiving a complaint from the PCSO chairman about a court issuance favoring a small town lottery operator whose agency agreement with the PCSO had already been terminated for non-remittance of funds.

A lawmaker, meanwhile, said the President should have followed due process before ordering the closure of the PCSO outlets.

Speaking to ANC’s Early Edition, Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said the President’s order was “too drastic and too immediate.”

“Everybody agrees that what the President did was laudable because he’s really fighting against corruption. [But] I believe the President should have really given due process, especially with those who already have a contract,” he said.

He added that police power was not applicable in this case.

“The obligation of contracts is always protected by the Constitution.It can only be set aside through due process,” he said.

Rodriguez said PCSO outlet franchise owners may appeal through the courts, even though the President had said he will not honor any court order.

“We still have to have our courts to be the arbiter of questions on constitutionality and executive actions,” he said.

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate on Monday said President Duterte’s order to stop gaming operations of the PCSO was “unfair and illegal.”

“If the corrupt people involved are President Duterte’s appointees then he should have sacked these officials and overhaul the said office. But what is happening now is that he is punishing everybody, including the people who rely on PCSO for help for their medical needs, Zarate said.

“The question now is who will benefit from these uncharitable sweep operations?”

The Palace on Monday said the President is thoroughly investigating corrupt activities in the PCSO and would identify the culprits “in due time.”

“Right now, the President said he will investigate it thoroughly. He will identify everyone,” Panelo said in a radio interview.

The Palace spokesman also said the PCSO will not resume operations until the government finishes its investigation.

“He said there is a grand conspiracy between the players, participants, and gaming corporations. In other words, there is massive corruption and the courts are involved,” Panelo said.

Panelo said the President did not make a hasty decision in suspending PCSO’s gaming operations.

“The President met with officials and the new PCSO head before he announced it, a few hours before. In fact, they were together at the time,” he said.

Panelo was referring to Royina Garma, former Cebu City police director, who became PCSO’s general manager, replacing Alexander Balutan who was fired by the President over allegations of corruption.

The PCSO is a government-owned and controlled corporation under the direct supervision of the Office of the President. A portion of its revenues is earmarked to help fund the country’s health care program.

On Monday, the PCSO assured the public that its Individual Medical Assistance Program (IMAP) will still be available despite the suspension of all gaming activities.

These include services at the Lung Center of the Philippines in Quezon City and all PCSO branches nationwide.

In a statement, the PCSO also assured the public that prizes can still be claimed at their head office in Mandaluyong City for those who are holding winning Lotto and KENO tickets.

“The PCSO supports the decision of our dear President in eradicating corruption and illegal gambling activities. The agency programs, projects and activities are aligned to the objective and goal of our national government,” its statement read.

Malacañang on Sunday also assured the public that the government will extend help to those who are in need of medical assistance.

Panelo asked the public to send their requests to the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation and to the Office of the President.

The PCSO also said earlier it would appeal the order of the President.

Also on Monday, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra ordered the National Bureau of Investigation to probe the alleged graft and corrupt practices at the PCSO.

Guevarra earlier defended Duterte’s closure order, saying the President has the authority to suspend or even terminate PCSO-licensed gaming operations.

He added that the President may order the suspension of operations based on preliminary information available to him, much like a judicial restraining order.

Opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros, on the other hand, challenged Duterte to go after corrupt officials who connive with jueteng operators in using small town lottery franchises as fronts for illegal gambling operations.

“If President Rodrigo Duterte wants to purge corruption out of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, then he should go after his corrupt officials,” she said.

“But why shut down the entire multi-billion peso charity operations, including small lotto outlets which are highly regulated by the government. Why is President Duterte punishing ordinary people for the corruption of his officials?” she added.

Hontiveros said thousands of Filipinos rely on the PCSO for financial assistance to cover costly medical expenses.

“At times these are matters of life and death for many. Many Filipinos also base their employment and livelihood on small lotto operations,” she said.

Senator Nancy Binay appealed to the Department of Labor and Employment to immediately extend help to workers affected by the closure of more than 20,000 lotto stations and gaming outlets nationwide.

With more than 120,000 workers affected, Binay said the department can extend its Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers” program, and assist them in securing employment.

Under the program, DOLE usually extends emergency employment for 30 days with a minimum pay of P300 per day. Each beneficiary will earn about P9,000 for one month.

Neophyte Senator Ronald dela Rosa defended the President’s closure of the PCSO gaming outlets, saying he had the prerogative to take such a step “to stop this stupidity.”

READ: Massive lotto losses feared

READ: Game over for PCSO's Lotto, STL—Duterte

READ: Winning bettor holds empty bag

READ: Anti-graft bid mired in legal issues—solon

Topics: Lucas Bersamin , Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office , Rodrigo Duterte , Risa Hontiveros , Corruption
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