Invitation to plunder
Can anyone recall if a single TV advertisement, radio spot or print placement created by the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office ever won an award? A Clio perhaps, the world’s most prestigious advertising honor? A Cannes Lion? Or, closer to home, an Araw Award, given by the local advertising and communications industry during its periodic ad congresses?
It’s only fair to ask the question, one of the first that crowds the mind, when you are confronted with news of how much money the PCSO allocated for its ad and PR budget during the nine-year administration of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The amount, records now show, was a gargantuan P7.2 billion. From only P319 million in 2001 (already startling by any standard), the figure shot up to an aneurysm-inducing P1.7 billion by 2010.
Surely, you’d think, with so much cash at its disposal to pay for top-of-the-line creative services by the best and the brightest in the industry, the PCSO would have spawned by now a cavalcade of groundbreaking, wildly effective ad and promo campaigns across all media. The buzz generated would have eclipsed even the splashiest of consumer brands—that’s a P7.2 billion war chest, remember?—and Pinoy pop culture might have even found itself enriched, with these precious ad spots being remembered by a happy public for their brilliance, flair and memorable impact—enough, say, to mitigate, if not totally justify, the enormous sums sunk into them.
So, any nominations for a PCSO ad that took the breath away? There’s one—but for the opposite reason. Remember that TV commercial with a male voice singing, “Ikaw ang kanlungan ng nangangailangan, ikaw ang pag-asa at kinabukasan, haplos mo ay lunas sa bawat pagal, salamat sa iyong dampi ng pagmamahal”? It ended with “PCSO, PCSO,” but belying those treacly words’ object of devotion were the background visuals, which showed Arroyo waving to crowds, embracing babies and old folk, distributing goodies—the virtual mother of the nation, in short. The PCSO, it was clear, was no longer the agency dispensing the loving, soothing caress to the nation’s poor. Nor was it the country’s “pag-asa at kinabukasan” (even in ideal circumstances, why, indeed, should it be?). GMA herself now fulfilled the part.
As propaganda masquerading as a TV ad, it was a blood-curdlingly awful one. But as an illustration, however unintended, of the perverse way Arroyo had transformed the PCSO tills into her personal drawing account—as if the poor owed her gratitude because she was helping them out of her own pocket—it was spot-on. With the help of former PCSO General Manager Rosario Uriarte, who conveniently submitted requests for millions of pesos to be charged to a so-called intelligence fund that was beyond normal governmental oversight, then realigned millions more from the agency’s ad budget into that mysterious fund, Arroyo, it now appears, had all the wherewithal she needed to ensure that anybody who chose her side would be rewarded handsomely.
As she did with some Catholic bishops, whose scandalous kowtowing to Malacañang in exchange for largesse and luxury cars came to light only recently. PCSO records also show that quite a number of Arroyo’s media friends cornered the business of placing agency ads in their radio programs, TV shows or newspapers, even going to the extent of putting up their own firms to facilitate the transactions. So far, none of these individuals have been named or questioned about the cozy arrangements they had enjoyed.
And while Manuel Garcia, accused of demanding up to 40-percent kickbacks from the PCSO ad budget, has decided to clam up before the Senate hearings, the recipients of his hoard remain unidentified. He is said to have larded over a billion pesos; it’s a sure bet that some others fed on the same trough with him. These rogues deserve to be ferreted out as well.
The huge amounts earmarked for advertising is not only a misuse of resources intended for the poor, it’s also an invitation to larceny and plunder. On top of that is the big question: Why does the PCSO need to market itself in the first place? The lotteries and games it operates, and the services enabled by their revenues, encounter no competition from any other organization, private or public. People desiring to try their luck at the lotto have nowhere else to go but a PCSO booth. So what’s all the extravagant bark and bellow for—especially when an abomination like “Dampi ng Pagmamahal” is all it could come up with?
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