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Opinion

No cut to ‘ayuda’ flow

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

Like any government office and other State agency giving out “ayuda,” the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCor) has sought permission to be exempted from public the spending ban during this election campaign period. With less than two weeks left before the holding of the May 9 national and local elections, PAGCor chairperson Andrea Domingo did not wait long. The Commission on Elections (Comelec) approved yesterday this request for exemption.

After all, PAGCor is one of the biggest sources of government revenues funding the various State subsidies and “ayuda,” or the pandemic-related assistance. Although also hardest hit by the economic impact caused by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, the State-gaming agency is still in the top three dividend contributors to the National Treasury. A total of 157 government-owned and controlled corporations (GOCCs), including PAGCor have been placed under the umbrella of the GCG, or the Governance Commission for GOCCs created by Republic Act (RA) No.10149.

Under its mandate, PAGCor is originally empowered to regulate franchise operations all over the country of casinos – from slot machines to card gaming tables. Through the years, PAGCor expanded to regulate other gaming operations that now include online betting of electronic bingo (e-bingo); Philippine offshore gaming operators now collectively called POGOs; and lately, the online betting on cockfighting, or e-sabong.

As regulator, Domingo underscored the role of PAGCor is to ensure “responsible” gaming, especially to guard against bettors from becoming “gambling addicts.”

Domingo told us during our Kapihan sa Manila Bay virtual news forum last Wednesday how the State-run gaming firm steadfastly went on with its corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs amidst the pandemic. Even for a while the gaming operations were temporarily suspended, Domingo stressed, PAGCor continued its funding support to various COVID-related “ayuda” dole outs being given out by the national government.

On top of these various “ayuda” dole-outs, Domingo stressed, PAGCor maintained its other CSR programs such as calamity relief operations, assistance and support to various medical equipment and facility needs of government-run hospitals, and sports and athletics programs of the government, among the other activities mandated and earmarked for its earnings in various laws.

Just yesterday, PAGCor inaugurated three multi-purpose evacuation buildings it helped build in typhoon-prone Bicol. On Labor Day, President Duterte will lead the ceremonial opening of the Overseas Filipino Workers Hospital in Pampanga, the acquisition of medical equipment of which, PAGCor funded.

Concurrently, the chief executive officer (CEO) of PAGCor, Domingo turned over P6 billion in cash dividends to the National Treasury just last April 11. This amount, Domingo cited, brought to P48.94 billion its total dividend remittances to the government coffers since July 2016 when she first took over as Board chairperson and CEO of the PAGCor.

Despite “a bad start” due to the COVID-19 surge in the first two months of 2022, Domingo noted that PAGCor is looking at some P18 billion in gross gaming revenue (GRR) for the first half of the year following the easing of COVID-19 restrictions. Currently, the government has downgraded to Alert Level 1 the national capital region and many other parts of the country. “The next half of the year we think there won’t be upsurge. We might be able to make more for the last six months,” she added.

The remittance by GOCCs of at least 50 percent of their net earnings to the National Treasury is mandated under RA No. 7656, otherwise known as the Dividends Law.

Under the same Dividends Law, PAGCor was also mandated to remit a certain portion of its earnings to the President’s Social Funds. But for this year, Domingo disclosed, President Rodrigo Duterte spared PAGCor from fulfilling this obligation. “The President no longer asked us for any socioeconomic project funds for this year because he said that we ‘should just give it all to the National Treasury’ which is what we did,” Domingo pointed out.

PAGCOr made its latest remittance in response to the request of Department of Finance (DOF) Secretary Carlos Dominguez III for support to the government’s funding of the increase in social expenditures. This is to mitigate the impact of the Russia-Ukraine conflict to the vulnerable sectors, including public transport drivers. Due to the ensuing steep weekly increases in the prices of gasoline and other refined oil products and its consequent push in the prices of food and other basic goods, President Duterte ordered Dominguez to add P500 more to the cash subsidy of beneficiaries of the government’s 4P’s program or Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program.

To paraphrase the outgoing President, the Chief Executive told the Finance Secretary to leave to the next administration the worry about the government’s projected cash flow problem that might be triggered. But when the next administration takes over from the government at noon of June 30 this year, Domingo reassured the next elected President that PAGCor – as a cash cow – remains robust and strong.

“We are now gaining momentum towards economic recovery as all businesses, including the gaming industry, are now on full operational level and revenues start pouring in once again,” Domingo reassured the public. “I think that we should be hitting anywhere from P25 to P30 billion by June, so it would be possible that by the end of the year PAGCor would have about P60 to P65 billion a year GGR which is almost twice as much as last year,” she enthused.

Domingo announced she is stepping down as a co-terminus official of President Duterte. Confident she is leaving PAGCor with a healthy bottom line by the end of the year, Domingo has already submitted her retirement effective June 30.

With no cut in the “ayuda” flow from PAGCor despite the COVID-19 pandemic, we could just imagine how much more “ayuda” could have been generated from gambling habits.

PAGCOR

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