By Rommel F. Lopez

A screengrab of the PCOO Facebook video where President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the stoppage of all PCSO gaming operations in the entire country.

President Rodrigo Duterte ordered all gaming schemes operated by the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) including all franchises issued by the agency to be immediately suspended because of “massive corruption” in the agency. 

He announced the order through a video message uploaded on the official Facebook page of the Presidential Communications Operations Office at 10:42PM of July 26.

“I have today ordered the closure, the stoppage of all gaming schemes sa… whatever nature, however done, that got the franchises to do from the PCSO. The ground is massive corruption involving all, pati the courts who repeatedly issued injunctions to paralyze government and to allow corruption to thrive,” he said.

The president’s order involves all gaming schemes operated by the PCSO such as lotto, small town lottery, peryahan ng bayan, Keno and all gaming activities. The order takes effect immediately on Saturday, July 27.

“’Yung gambling, that got the franchise from government through PCSO, are, as of today, suspended or terminated because of massive corruption.”

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, who heads Duterte’s economic team, said the president’s sudden order to stop all gaming schemes of the PCSO could make a big impact on government revenue and of funding the Universal Health Care Act next year.

“We are evaluating the immediate effects of the ban,” he said.

The president said that he had no choice but to stop the gaming operations of the PCSO because the system only benefited a few corporations and people.

“I will not honor transactions that are clearly on the side of, you know, scheming people, Republic of the Philippines, of the money due it. Puro dayaan lahat. At `yung mga kontrata ay parang crafted in favor of corruption and to favor other corporations and people. I will not allow it.”

In the same video message, Duterte also warned that no one could stop him from ridding the PCSO of corruption, even a restraining order from the court.

“As of today, I will not honor any, any order from any court stopping us or enjoining us to stop our desire to go into a massive investigation [into] the massive corruption that is existing in the PCSO.”

The president ordered the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines to carry out his order.  He also wants “people engaged in gambling activities in connection with the franchises, licenses, concessions granted by the PCSO” to be immediately arrested if the persist on operating.

“So it becomes illegal because as of today, all of those permits and concessions or whatever are terminated,” he said.

The chief executive also said that if given a choice, he wanted all forms of gambling stopped in the country but that he might need to confer with leaders of Congress before proceeding.

PCSO General Manager Royina Garma, in an official statement, said they would comply with the president’s orders and suspend all PCSO gaming activities “until further notice.”

The PCSO also advised all players with advance play tickets to keep their tickets until further notice.

“Rest assured that PCSO shall appeal to the Office of the President for the resumption of the conduct of all games to PCSO’s mandate and for the interest of the PCSO, its agents and its beneficiaries.”

While the president’s order is to stop all “forms of gambling,” Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) chief Andrea Domingo stressed that the president’s order did not involve Pagcor’s licensees such as casinos.

Early Saturday morning, PNP personnel across the country were seen posting closure orders on lotto kiosks.  National Capital Region Police chief, Police Maj. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, said they had closed down 923 lotto outlets in Metro Manila. PNP chief Police Gen. Oscar Albayalde went around Baguio City to talk to lotto outlet operators to abide by the president’s directive.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a statement that the president was forced to hand out the decision after discovering a “grand conspiracy” inside the PCSO.

“It appears that there is a grand conspiracy among the major players and enforcers of these government-sanctioned gaming activities and enterprises to cheat the government of its rightful shares, depriving therefore the masses of our people of receiving basic services needed by them,” he said.

“The President is outraged by the discovery of the plunderous machinations of these scoundrels whose insatiable greed is infinite and beyond redemption,” Panelo added.

Panelo reminded the public that the president was serious in wiping out corruption in the country and that Duterte would soon name the persons behind this scheme. 

“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,” he said.

Months before, the president sacked PCSO general manager Alexander Balutan over “serious allegations of corruption.”  He was immediately replaced by Garma on June 24 who was Cebu City Police Director prior to her appointment.