PCSO under scrutiny
As a government agency, the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) has a unique double purpose. The first is to manage and ensure the regularity of the state-run lottery operations including lotto and its many permutations, the sweepstakes, and the “Small Town Lottery.” The second is to manage the disbursement of its not inconsiderable income after paying the winners, divided between covering for its own operational expenses and providing free and subsidized medical and health assistance to qualified beneficiaries, including local government units.
But lately, the PCSO, its management and employees have come under scrutiny, with the release of the findings of a report by the Commission on Audit calling the grant of bonuses to employees in 2011 “excessive, irregular and unauthorized.”
PCSO Chair Margarita Juico reacted by saying that these bonuses and allowances have been regularly received by employees since the Ramos administration. The current changes in the manner of distributing and disbursing the allowances, the PCSO management said, were made in 2011, when the Sweepstakes Employees Union (SEU) requested that the amounts be released through the Provident Fund (meant to be used for retirement funds, as well as for financial assistance) “as part of the equity enhancement program to enable the SEU to undertake projects and development programs for its members and for other sociocivic activities.” For instance, the SEU donated relief and financial assistance to victims of Tropical Storm “Sendong” and Typhoon “Pablo.”
Calling the COA findings “misleading,” a senior PCSO official said the money was rightfully the employees’ and came from PCSO’s operating fund and “were well within the agency’s budget.”
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SEU president Christopher Bautista also made clear that the benefits have remained the same since 1995, especially since the new board took over in 2010.
Bautista claimed that PCSO officials answered all of COA’s observations during an exit conference with them last December. But strangely enough, none of these explanations were cited in any of the newspaper stories about the audit agency’s findings.
The employees’ union president emphasized that the release of employees’ incentives such as grocery and Christmas bonuses through the Provident Fund “is in consonance with the Collective Negotiations Agreement.”
In the same COA report, it was noted that financial aid for indigent or poor beneficiaries may have been reduced because the PCSO charged P92.3 million in medical aid for employees to the charity fund instead of the operating fund. But the SEU clarified that this has been the practice since 1998, when then PCSO Chair Cecilia Muñoz-Palma created a PCSO employees’ health and medical assistance program (as mandated by law) charged to the Charity Fund under an executive order.
“We are not taking away anything from our beneficiaries,” said Bautista. “The amount allotted for charity is being given to them and in fact has been increasing every year.” Besides, asks a PCSO official, “aren’t poor employees of PCSO also entitled to seek PCSO assistance?”
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Another issue concerns charges raised that PCSO board members have been receiving allowances and compensation over and above the imposed limits.
Juico says in a press statement that the PCSO board fully supports Executive Order No. 24, which imposes fixed limits on compensation for board members of government-owned and -controlled corporations, something they had been following since January 2012.
Pending the resolution of certain issues regarding conflicting EOs and guidelines, including fixing the amounts due GOCC board members, the PCSO board, declares Juico, “will promptly return whatever amounts have been found in excess.”
In recent years, however, the present board has been trying to settle PCSO tax arrears and past due obligations incurred by the board during the previous administration, and “embarked upon various cost-efficiency generating measures to expand revenues and enhance its ability to fulfill its mandate of serving indigents.”
To set the record straight, as of January 2012 “the board has ceased to receive salaries, allowances and other compensation and is now only receiving per diems provided for regular board and committee meetings,” says Juico.
As chair, Juico receives P24,000 per meeting for a maximum of two meetings a month; directors receive P20,000 per meeting for a maximum of two meetings per month. For each committee meeting, each member, including the chair, receives a maximum of P12,000.
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Niggling questions have surfaced, however, about what prompted this typhoon of charges against the PCSO board and its employees, based on a COA report that is still being finalized after the PCSO board aired its side on the issues raised.
Readers may recall that irregularities in the management and use of PCSO funds form one of the bases for charging former President and now Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo with graft and corruption.
Indeed, the present PCSO leadership had to allot more than P1 billion to pay past obligations to hospitals, other medical institutions, and pharmaceutical companies up to December 2010, while P457 million was earmarked to pay advertising accounts from 2006 to July 2010.
After Senate hearings held in 2010, the PCSO was told to trim its operating budget, including funds for advertising and communications. But despite this directive, it has been able to increase sales as well as the amounts going to charity.
Can it be that its improved performance, despite a mandate to trim its operation costs, is the reason for the recent attacks on the PCSO? Doing (a job) well may well be the best revenge.