There was a touch of fire and brimstone in President Duterte’s announcement that he would shut down all gaming operations of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) because of “massive corruption.”
A crackdown on corruption is always commendable. This is the first time this graft-ridden agency was put under such scrutiny.
The order, which took effect Saturday, covered all operations with franchises, licenses, or permits granted by the PCSO, including lotto, Keno, small town lottery (STL) and other gaming schemes such as Peryahan ng Bayan nationwide.
The Palace gave the President’s sweeping gesture against corruption an added flourish.
“The Chief Executive will identify the culprits in due time and the full force of the law will come crushing down on them. This hydra-headed corruption will be cut off until it reproduces no more,” a Palace statement read.
The President, the Palace said, is outraged by the discovery of the “plunderous machinations” of PCSO’s “scoundrels” whose “insatiable greed is infinite and beyond redemption.
“Let this be a stern warning to all malefactors in the government, as well as all the enemies of the state, the Duterte presidency will be unrelenting in its war against corruption and unforgiving to the transgressors of the law,” the Palace said.
“The President shall continue to brandish the flaming sword of his office and strike it at the heart of this social and political monstrous dragon.”
On Saturday, the Philippine National Police (PNP) began to put its muscle behind the President's words. By Sunday, the police had shut down more than 21,000 lotto stores and gaming outlets around the country.
Beyond the President's sweeping gesture against corruption, however, are a myriad of consequences that the Palace has yet to address. We trust that the move was not a knee-jerk act, that the discomfort would be temporary, and that it paves the way for a better-run, more honest PCSO.
Certainly, the most visible of these is the impact that the closure will have on the thousands of people who work in and depend on the industry.
There is also the substantial contribution that the PCSO makes—more than P18 billion in 2018—to payments and grants under the government's health program, including financial assistance and medical support for poor patients. The newly minted Universal Health Care Law, too, is partly dependent on PCSO returns, which are expected to cover some P17 billion of the P257 billion needed by the program.
In 2018, the PCSO generated some P64 billion in revenues for the government, 30 percent of which under the law must go to charity work. It is unclear how the government can make up these revenues if the PCSO operations remain shuttered.
Then there are legal questions that must be addressed. What do you do with the 21,000 lotto and gaming outlets that paid at least P500,000 each for a franchise to operate?
Finally, there is the President's troublesome promise that he will “not honor any order from any court” that stops the government from investigating corruption at the PCSO—a vow that might be seen as an existential threat to the very notion of accountability in our system of justice.