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‘Giving is uplifting’

You’d think that heading a government body tasked with providing health and charitable assistance to the poor, mainly by raising money through lotteries and sweepstakes, would turn PCSO Chair Margie Penson Juico into a hardened bureaucrat.

But on the contrary, she says, being able to meet the destitute and the desperate, and finding the means to help them out of their dire straits is “uplifting.” It is a joy, she tells members of the Bulong-Pulungan sa Sofitel, “to be able to get a poor person out of a near-death situation, then meet that person later, coming to you with tears in his or her eyes and grateful for the gift of life.” She is honored, she adds, “to be in a position to give and give, not just money, but more important, hope.”

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The Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office marks its 78th anniversary on Oct. 30, and with the enviable accomplishment of finally making money. Although the position of PCSO chair has been looked upon as a “cushy” post, it is only now, says Juico, that the agency has been able to turn a profit. What turned things around?

“Good governance,” say Juico and PCSO General Manager Joy Rojas. For instance, the PCSO under the previous administration had not been able to pay its taxes since 2007, incurring a huge P7-billion debt owed to not just the Bureau of Internal Revenue but also to partner-hospitals and suppliers.

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Cleaning house, mainly by streamlining operations and cost-cutting, the Juico-led PCSO slowly made its way out of the red, helped in a large part, says Juico, by the largest jackpot so far of P741 million, which raised some P4 billion.

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One of the “heartaches” that Juico is nursing is the fact that these days the PCSO is in search of a permanent home, after it was told to vacate its quarters in the Quezon Institute. The prewar buildings had been found to be a danger to their occupants.

“We had hoped that the [Department of Health] would allow us to lease for the long term two vacant buildings on the grounds of the Lung Center,” confides Juico, but they were recently told that the DOH had other plans for the structures.

Still, Juico boasts of the PCSO Charity Clinic that has been established in an unused area of the radiology building of the Lung Center. Serving 500-700 patients a day, the clinic strives to provide health care to the poorest patients “while treating them with dignity.” The waiting area, says Juico, is furnished with comfortable chairs and electric fans, while patients who cannot walk from the gate are ferried in golf carts.

“We hope to replicate this in other areas, but we need locations accessible by public transport,” says Juico.

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There are, I hear, some folks who believe that Halloween should be outlawed outright. It is “devilish,” they say, the focus on ghouls and ghosts, monsters and mayhem unseemly on a night when the living should be focusing on the after-life and the salvation of souls.

Others believe that Halloween is merely an “imported” holiday, one that largely middle-class communities—and shopping malls—have adopted from the West. Although, I must say, my husband, who grew up in a still-rather-provincial part of Mandaluyong, recalls a childhood indulging in the homegrown “pangangaluluwa” every All Saints Day eve. On this night or early morning, bands of youths and children sneak into the yards of homes and steal anything the careless homeowner might have left out, be it a pail or cooking pan, a pet or a toy. The young people then call out to the homeowner to come and “ransom” the item, by now part of a pile that has risen in the plaza or village center.

There is very little difference, I think, between this communal form of fund raising and the more personal, individual practice of “trick or treat,” with children moving about in groups asking homeowners for “treats” of candy or else they would “trick” them with all sorts of mischief, including festooning the front yard with toilet paper.

Well, there is a way now to mollify the adults scandalized by the fascination with ghostly after-life, and yet still allow children the joy of dressing up in costumes and cajoling their neighbors for treats.

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Unicef, the United Nations Children’s Fund, is launching for the first time in the Philippines “Trick or Treat for Unicef.” The activity, says Unicef country representative Tomoo Hozumi, is a 62-year-old tradition in the United States, raising more than $167 million so far and continuing to “inspire the young (and young at heart, too) to make a difference in the lives of other children all over the world.”

The money raised through the activity goes to provide such crucial services for children worldwide as therapeutic foods, water and sanitation, medicines, immunization, education and other projects. Adds Hozumi: “The Trick or Treat for Unicef campaign introduces kids to the idea of kids helping other kids in need, that they can make a difference in the world by volunteering in service to others.”

Unicef provides small orange boxes where volunteers and donors place the money meant for the organization. The amount of P500 helps provide children with books and school supplies to stay in school; P750 helps save children from severe acute malnutrition; P1,000 helps provide children with emergency and family supplies in times of calamity.

“Trick or Treat for Unicef” kits are available for free at Unicef booths at SM Megamall and the Podium, with Unicef personnel briefing children and adults on how to take part in the program, and how to turn in the donations raised.

Say “boo!” this Halloween and take comfort from the fact that the money you raise will be used to help children in need.

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TAGS: charity, Government, PCSO
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