Senators divided over PCSO gaming suspension

Robie de Guzman   •   July 29, 2019   •   1311

MANILA, Philippines – Senators have expressed varying opinions on President Rodrigo Duterte’s suspension order on all gaming activities of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO).

In a statement, Senator Panfilo Lacson said that as far as lotto operations are concerned, it should have been spared “since there are no reports of revenue cheating,” and that its activities are “computerized and automated and therefore closely monitored.”

President Duterte last week ordered for the suspension of all PCSO gaming operations amid corruption allegations in the state-run lottery agency.

Over 21,000 lotto outlets and other PCSO gaming kiosks nationwide have been reportedly closed after Duterte declared these as illegal.

Lacson said that if the president’s intention is to stop gambling altogether, then “all forms of gambling, including the PAGCOR-regulated games like casinos and online should have been included.”

Opposition senator Risa Hontiveros also questioned Duterte’s order, saying if he wants to rid the PCSO of corruption then he should go after corrupt officials who “connive with jueteng operations in using PCSO small town lottery (STL) franchises as fronts for illegal gambling operations.”

“Why shut down the entire multi-billion peso charity operations, including small lotto outlets which are highly regulated by the government?” she said.

“Thousands of our fellow Filipinos rely on the PCSO for financial assistance to cover costly medical expenses… Many Filipinos also base their employment and livelihood on small lotto operations,” she added.

The lawmaker said Duterte should explain his “abrupt, yet serious allegations” against the PCSO.

“How pervasive is the corruption within the PCSO? How are these forms of corruption carried out? And why expose this only now after three years of handling the PCSO?” Hontiveros asked.

Senator Grace Poe likewise called on the government to swiftly uncover the issue for the sake of many indigent Filipinos who rely on the PCSO for medical subsidies.

On the other hand, Duterte allies Senators Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa and Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go expressed support for Duterte’s effort to cleanse the PCSO from corruption.

“May wisdom si Presidente kung bakit ipinahinto yan, gusto niyang linisin,” dela Rosa said.

“Mayroon namang possibility na babalik po yung operations basta walang graft and corruptions,” Go said.

The Malacañang earlier promised the president would soon name the persons involved in the alleged anomalies. The gaming ban would also stay until the government concludes its investigation.

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, meanwhile, suggested that PCSO gaming activities be privatized to shield it from corruption.

Its proceeds should be remitted directly to the Department of Social Work and Development to fund social service programs, he added.

“This way we can avoid the mishandling of funds that are supposed to be allocated to help the poor,” Gatchalian said.

Malacañang earlier said the president first met with new PCSO general manager Royima Garma prior to his suspension order last Friday (July 26). (with details from Nel Maribojoc)

Lacson backs appointment of Villanueva as PDEA chief

Robie de Guzman   •   May 27, 2020

Senator Panfilo Lacson

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Panfilo Lacson on Wednesday lauded the appointment of Wilkins Villanueva as the new director general of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA).

In a statement, Lacson described Villanueva as a “good and professional officer who is fit for the job,” and noted his “long career in drug enforcement.”

“The President couldn’t have appointed a more qualified head of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, having served our country for nearly 20 years with the Philippine National Police Narcotics Group and with the PDEA,” he said.

Lacson, a former national police chief, expressed confidence that Villanueva can handle his task of going after drug suspects amid challenges posed by the COVID-19 crisis.

“With the challenge of going after drug personalities amid the new normal posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, he indeed has his work cut out for him,” he said.

“I look forward to working with him, being the Senate Finance Subcommittee Chair and Sponsor of the PDEA and Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) budgets, among others,” he added.

Villanueva will take over the post previously held by Aaron Aquino, who was assigned by President Rodrigo Duterte to lead the Clark International Airport.

Prior to his designation to PDEA’s top post, Villanueva led the PDEA Northern Mindanao.

Duterte fires OCD Deputy Administrator Kristoffer James Purisima

Marje Pelayo   •   May 22, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte has dismissed Kristoffer James Purisima as deputy administrator assistant secretary of the Office of the Civil Defense (OCD).

According to Presidential Spokesperson Secretary Harry Roque, the President decided to remove Purisima from office due to “loss of trust and confidence.”

Roque could not tell, however, under what circumstance prompted the President to fire Purisima.

Wala na po akong ibang impormasyon (I don’t have additional information) other than he was terminated due to loss of trust and confidence,” Roque confirmed.

The OCD is the government’s main unit responsible for disaster preparedness and response in times of calamity.

Prior to his position in OCD, Purisima served as spokesperson of Task Force Bangon Marawi. MNP (with details from Rosalie Coz)

Poe asks gov’t to include ‘left out’ PUV drivers in distribution of SAP 2nd tranche

Robie de Guzman   •   May 21, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — Senator Grace Poe on Thursday called on the government to include public utility vehicle (PUV) drivers in the second tranche of the emergency subsidy under the social amelioration program (SAP).

In a statement, Poe said PUV drivers who have yet to receive assistance more than two months into the quarantine should not be left out in the distribution of the cash aid.

She noted that in the Executive’s latest report to Congress on the implementation of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, a total of 62,028 PUV and transport network vehicle service drivers have received cash aid out of the 90,000 estimated beneficiaries.

Poe stressed that the cash assistance should be given to PUV drivers whose livelihood has been affected by the suspension of public transport operations.

“There are more PUV drivers who are barely getting by because of the two-month lockdown, and we hope that government will come to their aid,” she said.

“We expect that the release of SAP’s second tranche to our vulnerable sectors, including drivers, will be more brisk this time, in the wake of the government’s move to send assistance instead through digital means,” she added.

The government rolled out its emergency subsidy program to help 18 million low-income households heavily impacted by the quarantine. Under the program, the intended family-beneficiaries will receive a two-month cash subsidy.

After its first tranche, the executive department raised the number of beneficiaries to 23 million to include those who are not recipients of any Conditional Cash Transfer program and not included in the initial list of beneficiaries but are qualified in the government’s guidelines.

Apart from the cash aid, Poe also asked for assurance from concerned government agencies that all measures are in place to avoid a spillover of commuters along highways in the face of social distancing measures, as the government gears up for the resumption of mass transportation.

She said transportation officials and other implementers should brace for the challenge of “enabling the movement of people without enabling the spread of the virus.”

“The influx of commuters at the train stations will unavoidably lead to long queues. Without proper strategy, this can compromise the safety of the public,” Poe warned.

The senator earlier asked the Department of Transportation to submit to the Senate a report on its strategic preparations to ensure order and proper enforcement of safety protocols once public transportation resumes operations.

With the reduced ridership due to physical distancing, Poe had said government assistance should be on hand to address the expected decrease in take-home income of drivers.

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