By Rommel F. Lopez

Screengrab of the PCOO Facebook video where Duterte orders the stoppage of all PCSO games 

Lawmakers on Monday questioned the closure of lottery outlets of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) when the alleged corruption is happening inside the PCSO.

“If President Rodrigo Duterte wants to purge corruption out of the PCSO, then he should go after his corrupt officials who connive with jueteng operators in using PCSO small town lottery (STL) franchises as fronts for illegal gambling operations,” Sen. Risa Hontiveros said.

The President has ordered all gaming activities of the PCSO, including lotto, small town lottery (STL), Peryahan ng Bayan, and Keno, stopped due to what he alleges as a “massive corruption” in the agency.

“Why is President Duterte punishing ordinary people for the corruption of his officials? Thousands of our fellow 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.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said in an interview on ANC last Saturday that “there is a massive corruption going on” at the PCSO and that even “all players and participants of these gaming operations are involved.”

“There’s a growing conspiracy to cheat this government and its rightful shares,” he said.

Pressed for evidence to substantiate these allegations, Panelo said Duterte “has all the resources in the world to know what is happening in this country” and that the president will name all those accused in “due time.”

Opposition congressman Carlos Zarate (Bayan Muna) urged the president to immediately name those involved in the supposed conspiracy in the PCSO since poor Filipinos are immediately affected by his order.

Kung totoo man na meron pang hawak na mga impormasyon si Pangulong Duterte sa isang napakalalim na conspiracy, ay ihayag nya ito sa publiko ngayon na dahil sabi ko nga, ang publiko rin naman, lalung-lalo na ang mga mahihirap, ang natatamaan nito,” the House deputy minority speaker said.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson cited the lack of reports substantiating the alleged revenue cheating in PCSO’s lotto operations since these are fully automated and closely monitored.  He instead suggested that the investigation center on PCSO’s small town lottery (STL) games where the PCSO “for millions of reasons, has consistently resisted to make it more transparent and foolproof.”

Lacson said even if lawmakers conduct congressional hearings on the matter, jueteng operators would continue to benefit from STL operations since the people behind it use STL to masquerade its operation even to the point of using PCSO IDs to avoid arrest.

Selective closure?

Lacson questioned the apparent selectivity in the implementation of the president’s order to make all forms of gambling illegal since Pagcor-regulated casinos are still operating.

“If the intention is to stop gambling altogether, then all forms of gambling, including the Pagcor-regulated games like casinos and online [gambling] should have been included,” he said.

Pagcor chief Andrea Domingo earlier said that Duterte’s order did not include Pagcor’s licensees.

Hontiveros said the chief executive is setting a “double standard” since he outlaws lotto and other PCSO games while on the other hand he allows the influx of Chinese-dominated Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) and had expressed his tolerance of and preference for the illegal numbers game jueteng.

Ang kaya lang ba ng Pangulo ay magpasara ng mga maliliit na lotto outlets pero walang imik sa Chinese online gambling at jueteng?,” the opposition senator asked.

PNP reaction an ‘overkill’

Meanwhile, Sen. Nancy Binay chided the Philippine National Police for their nationwide drive to close all lotto outlets in obedience to the president’s directive calling it a “waste of time.”

The PNP reported closing a total of 20,241 small town lottery (STL) outlets, 6,313 Lotto outlets, 2,762 Peryahan ng Bayan, 778 KENO, and 190 small town lottery drawing centers nationwide.

Sa totoo lang, offline na lahat ng lotto outlets at na-shutdown na ang main servers noong Biyernes pa lang. Kaya, there’s no point for police operatives to padlock non-operational betting stations that are already out of business. Medyo overkill at OA na yun,” Binay stated.

She said the PNP has a “misplaced sense of priority,” since instead of going after suspects in their most wanted list, or solve the recent spate of civilian killings, the police force decided to close lotto outlets.

“Please veer away from the theatrics. Let the full force of the law crush down on hardened criminals, drug lords, and murderers. Ano ba ang kailangan mas i-prioritize ng PNP–ang pag-padlock ng lotto outlets, o pagsugpo ng krimen? Place the highest priority on going after criminals,” Binay said.