Philippine National Police chief Gen. Oscar Albayalde leads the closure of at least 12 lotto outlets and STL operator's offices in Baguio City following President Rodrigo Duterte's order to halt all gaming schemes operated, licensed and franchised by the PCSO.
The STAR/Artemio Dumlao
Was it all for show?
DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - August 2, 2019 - 12:00am

Less than a week after the President ordered the closure of all gaming operations of PCSO, lotto and a few other games are back in business. Was it all for show?

Partly yes and partly no. Getting angry and ordering an office (or an island) to close down is part of President Duterte’s tool box. That’s how he shows he means business.

His crowd of supporters love it too. It shows to them he is working to reform a badly damaged system of government. He is delivering on a promise of political will to fix things, something P-Noy didn’t seem to have. That explains his high ratings.

Don’t also think he was simply reacting angrily and didn’t think about it. I suspect he had been thinking about it for some time now. He knew exactly what he was unleashing, and to some extent it was also showbiz. Our politics, after all, is showbiz.

Did he make a mistake by closing everything down in PCSO’s playbook? I think no. He must have known from the start that his target is STL or the legal form of jueteng. The corruption he was denouncing, as reported by his new PCSO chief, was in STL.

But including lotto makes a bigger and better splash. It also delivers the message to the stakeholders in lotto and everyone in PCSO that they better behave because he will not hesitate to close them down too.

Of course, the President knew he could not close down the entire PCSO for too long. PCSO delivers P64 billion a year, of which lotto contributes P32 billion, STL P26 billion, and the rest from Keno, Instant Sweepstakes and Sweepstakes.

The President’s appointees to PCSO thought he would be happy because they increased STL contribution to government from P4.8 billion in 2015 under PNoy, to P6.3 billion in 2016 and P26 billion last year. But someone who knows STL very well was supposed to have told the President that PCSO should be raising as much as P70 billion in STL alone.

What precipitated the President’s anger, according to reports, is a conversation he had with his newly appointed PCSO head, a former police officer whose last assignment was PNP Cebu City. The new head reported that PCSO has a lot of collectibles from STL operators and they cannot close them down because of TROs from local judges.

The report must have given the President a dilemma because many of the non-remitting operators are former generals, mistahs of his previous appointee (a general) he subsequently fired or who resigned depending on who is telling the story. That must have shattered the President’s almost idolatrous admiration of former generals.

So, the President became really frustrated and angry enough to bark out that closure order. Collateral damage are 314,596 jobs, 274,649 sales agents, 26,227 sales supervisors and 13,720 organic employees. There are also 8,769 lotto outlets nationwide.

All those numbers must have provided enough pressure for the President to allow lotto operations again. But the contract for the current provider of lotto machines in VisMin expired last Wednesday and the one in Luzon is expiring next month. The bidding for new contracts has been contentious.

It really is a pity that we are so dependent on gambling for everything from health care delivery, sports development, support for state colleges and other budget augmentation needs of national and local government units.

Statisticians will tell you these games of chance won’t make us rich. The odds are against the bettors. But in the absence of things that could help poor folks make ends meet, they take their chances.

Twenty pesos may buy a few pieces of pandesal that could satisfy hunger for a while. But if P20 is used to bet on jueteng or STL, they can nurture hope of winning. They are used to hunger anyway. Hope is tranquilizing.

Legalizing jueteng into STL looked like a good idea. It allows government to share in the take that would otherwise all go to operators and corrupt local and police officials. But Duterte must know STL is being used as a cover for the illegal jueteng and government is being shortchanged in the proceeds.

Maybe, if there is any president who will be able to fix the system, it will be someone like Duterte who has seen it all and as a former mayor, knows it all. He just hasn’t given it much of his attention until now.

I will sit back and wait to see what he will do. Maybe he can make STL deliver P70 billion to state coffers. Maybe we can have PCSO take more of the burden in financing our Universal Healthcare dream. Maybe… maybe…

Whether the presidential outburst that ordered PCSO closed down was just showbiz or not is no longer important. What we must now see is how the President will fix the system we all know is rotten to the core and has been for many administrations now.

Wish list

Economist Toti Chikiamco sent me his own wish list in reaction to my column last week on the SONA’s lack of vision on what the second half of Duterte’s term should deliver:

1. Pass the PSA Act and, if possible, remove the foreign ownership restrictions in the Constitution.

2. Amend CARP to enable land ownership up to 25 hectares, enough to use machineries economically and for young farmers to see a future.

3. Modernize the Labor Code.

4. Pass the Open Access in Data Transmission Act.

5. Promote responsible mining by removing the mining ban and passing a reasonable mining tax.

6. Start shifting BBB to PPPs where feasible.

7. Break up the collective CLOAs into individual titles.

8. Recapitalize the Crop Insurance Corp. and consider subsidies for premiums.

9. Pass the Apprenticeship Law.

The bureaucracy is hopeless. Craft policies under an assumption of a weak, incompetent and corrupt government.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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