PGTW: Lotto prizes, present and accounted for

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 18 December 2014, Thursday

Lotto prizes, present and accounted for

            A remark made by Rep. Elpidio Barzaga at a Games and Amusements Committee hearing of the House of Representatives, of which he is the chairman, about unclaimed Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) Lotto prizes spurred a recent frenzy of suggestions on how to spend the funds.

At least two solons – Rep. Winston Castelo and Rep. Evelina Escudero – have filed proposed house bills on reallocating the unclaimed Lotto prizes.

Castelo’s HB No. 5257 seeks to transfer the funds to the Department of Social Work and Development. From the statements he has made to the media, Castelo refers to Rep. Barzaga’s remark and seems to have gone from there without checking PCSO’s charter or making inquiries with PCSO as to what is done with the funds.

The context of Barzaga’s remark is this: the Games Committee had been investigating the matter of the ironed Lotto ticket of Antonio Mendoza, who is claiming the jackpot prize of the 2 Oct. 2014 Lotto 6/42 draw. In the course of the inquiry, Barzaga requested PCSO to submit various Lotto-related data, including the amount of unclaimed prizes from 2006 to 2013, which amounted to P3 billion.

As a PCSO staffer, I attended all the Games Committee meetings related to this matter and I recall that the PCSO directors present at that particular meeting explained that unclaimed prizes revert to the agency’s Charity Fund after a year in accordance with PCSO’s founding charter, Republic Act No. 1169. However, this seems to have gone unheard and unnoticed.

RA No. 1169 as amended by Batas Pambansa Blg. 42 and Presidential Decree No. 1157 provides rules on the allocation of PCSO’s revenues from lotteries and other games – 55 percent goes to the Prize Fund, 30 percent to the Charity Fund, and 15 percent to the Operating Fund for the agency’s expenses, as it does not receive any funding from the national government.

The law also specifically instructs, in Section 6 (D), that the balances of any funds in PCSO, including the Prize Fund where lotto prizes are taken from, shall revert to and form part of the Charity Fund, which, according to the law’s Section 6 (B), shall be used for health programs, including the expansion of existing ones, and for medical assistance and services and/or charities of national character.

Escudero’s better-researched HB No. 2208 seeks to amend RA 1169 and provides specific allocations for the Charity Fund: 20 percent for ambulances, 20 percent to Philhealth, 20 percent to “charity clinic, medical assistance and service program, to private hospitals,” 20 percent to the Department of Health, and 20 percent “to the President’s Social Fund” (PSF).

The PCSO already has existing medical assistance programs. These include the flagship Individual Medical Assistance Program (IMAP) that subsidizes hospitalization bills of needy patients, as well as treatments such as dialysis and chemotherapy.

The charity agency also has its Ambulance Donation program, which provides ambulances to local government units and hospitals and other institutions; the Endowment Fund program that provides financial assistance to public hospitals; the Institutional Partner program that supports orphanages, homes for the aged, and the like; the Medical Equipment and Medicine Donation Program; and other programs of a medical- and healthcare-related nature.

PCSO also already has tie-ups with DoH for medical equipment donation (state-of-the-art diagnostic and imaging systems among them), kidney and liver transplant subsidy programs, and other medical-related programs.

 

An average of P8 billion pesos enters the PCSO’s Charity Fund each year. Around half of this goes to the PCSO’s IMAP and its other assistance programs.

Because of various laws that sought funding for other agencies, the other half of the Charity Fund goes to mandatory contributions that support government bodies such as the National Museum, National Book Development Board, Commission on Higher Education, and many others.

The amount that PCSO provides to beneficiaries has been increasing. Take the case of the IMAP. Last year, an average of P12 million daily was disbursed to individual beneficiaries nationwide. This year, the amount is P16 million per day.

In October 2014 alone, according to the PCSO’s Charity Sector, there was an increase of 64.98 percent in funds provided for assistance, or a total of P540.97 million for 20,831 beneficiaries nationwide. Again, these figures are for the IMAP alone for one month.

Under the present Board of Directors, expansion efforts to deliver its services and products to more areas nationwide have resulted in the opening of 17 additional branches in the provinces. From 25 in 2010, there are now 42, with more to be opened in 2016.

In my opinion (and these are my own as an individual, and do not reflect PCSO’s) PCSO is doing well enough on its own in providing medical- and healthcare-related assistance all over the country.

I wonder why Escudero inserted provisions for Philhealth and private hospitals in her bill. Philhealth gets its funding from a law that automatically deducts a certain percentage from the salaries of the employed, and private hospitals earn from the charges they set. Why should they be given additional funds from PCSO, or from any other agency for that matter?

And what is the reason for the provision of 20 percent for the PSF? This is not in the present PCSO charter, which prioritizes funding for needy beneficiaries.

Castelo and his staff, too, should do better research before drawing up their proposed bills. He was the same lawmaker who came up with the Anti-Planking Act of 2011 and the Jeepney Seat Act of 2012 that sought to mandate 14 inches of space per passenger in a jeepney, nanny-state bills that treat citizens as less than adults. ‘Nuff said.

PCSO has been a beacon of hope, the ‘takbuhan ng bayan,’ for 80 years. Thousands of beneficiaries through the years owe their lives to the agency that provides help in ways that no other agency can. Let it do its job.

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