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Rough Cuts | Back to illegal, still with corruption

Wow! What earth-shaking, welcome news. But to a good number of Filipinos, it’s also dismaying.

We mean the sudden announcement by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte that he had ordered the stoppage of the operation of the government’s multi-billion gambling business, the main lottery or Lotto, and its spin-off, the small town lottery or STL. The latter was conceptualized and put in operation supposedly to “kill” the illegal numbers games jueteng and Last 2.

The President’s order came like lightning last Saturday that seemed to have caught everybody, the Lotto operator Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO), the franchisees of betting outlets or bookies, and the gambling aficionados (big and small) flat-footed. Yes, the lottery stakeholders apparently did not know what hit them.

One thing certain though. The order came from no less than the President of the Republic; he who mentioned in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) the other Monday several agencies of government that are notorious in the prevalence of corruption. In that litany the PCSO was not one among those mentioned.

In justifying his bold move the President claimed that the operation of the Lotto and the STL has bred so much corruption in the agency that oversees it – the PCSO. He cited without any qualm that the opportunities for corruption are cleverly included in certain provisions of the contract between the Lotto and STL operator and the franchisees.

We have not seen even a photocopy of such agreement. But coming from the President himself, we have no reason to doubt as to the truth of its inclusion in the herein-mentioned document.

And who will possibly question the authority of the President to close the Lotto operation? He adopted the move in spite of the fact that the top echelon of the PCSO organization is peopled by his appointees with the chair of the Board of Directors, and the General Manager, both coming from Davao City. No sacred cows, he says of his campaign against corruption.

If it is so, then the order is legal; more so because its intention is to address the persistent problem of corruption that has been gnawing society since the Philippines saw birth of its government.

That is why we think of the President’s his decision – be it fully at his own volition or with advice from his legal team –as earth-shaking because its impact cuts across the gamut of Philippine society. We also consider it most welcome because such move can only come from a President whose political will is unflinching. It is one clear manifestation in his giving life to his avowed commitment of “no sacred cows” in his campaign against corruption in government.

We however, have this feeling that the abruptness of his order may have also caused dismay to a good number of people not just from the Lotto stakeholders but from the government’s economic managers themselves.

Imagine how many suddenly lost their income when they suddenly have to shut down their betting outlets; people waking up without jobs when their workplaces were padlocked! Imagine even more the mass of Lotto aficionados finding themselves nowhere to go in their ceaseless pursuit of their dreams to become instant millionaires one day!

And what about the billions of pesos in taxes collectible from every Lotto ticket sold? Are those taxes not factored by the government’s economic managers in coming up with the multi-trillion peso budget for this year and the years to come? Is not the government getting something out of the lotto taxes to help fund the implementation of its Universal Health Care program? And where will the present administration get money to fund other social programs that derive financial support from the Lotto/STL income?

In other words, how ready is government to find replacement sources for funds lost in the shutdown of the Lotto operation?

Our take on the President’s order is that many would think he may have done it with impulse most probably because of his burning desire to curb, if not totally stop, corruption in the government under his watch. That is, if he decided on it on his own. But if he resorted to such action with the prodding of some of his men, then many would probably believe the President could be ill-advised.

Think of this: The President was in a degree of certainty when he mentioned about the agreement governing grant of franchise to Lotto and STL outlet operations as providing the very opportunity for corruption by certain officials in the PCSO. If the Lotto as a gambling business of government is to be compared to a severely infirmed human body, the source and location of the illness are well pinpointed. And if the President were the doctor, would it not be possible that he should have applied the medical intervention process first on the ailed portion?

Yes, why had not the President first have the Lotto – Franchisee agreement reviewed and overhauled to do away with the infirmed provisions that are venues for corruption?

This way, we believe, the sudden loss of jobs to the hundreds of thousands of Lotto outlet employees, the abrupt loss in income opportunities for Lotto outlet franchise investors, and above all, the plugging of cash flow for government’s social programs including potential additional source of funds for the implementation of its Universal Health Care (UHC) could have been appropriately prepared for. According to former senator JV Ejercito, principal author of the law, 40 percent of Lotto’s income is to be set aside for the UHC implementation.

But that is what we, an ordinary citizen and observer of government, think. The President who has in his hands the responsibility to ensure the welfare of the entire Filipino nation continuously mired by corruption in some agencies of its government, has duties to undertake to attain such commitment.

And we may not, at all times, agree with what the President does or is doing. Only the passage of time can prove that we may be right on our position, or he may be wrong on his decision as far as his Lotto shutdown is concerned.

Meanwhile, the operators of the illegal numbers games like Last 2 and Jueteng are already in jubilation. And their protectors in government are rejoicing as well. After all, they were not really booted out by the STL. They were merely relegated in the shadow. Didn’t you know that most STL bookie owners are also the Last 2 or jueteng operators?

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