However, there are those who noticed, specifically in the Ambulance Donation Program (ADP) of the previous PCSO leadership, that the color assigned to the central letter “S” in the emblem seemed to have been favored by the office.
But now, with Retired Major General Alexander Ferrer Balutan as general manager—together with former Philippine National Police Director Jose Jorge Corpuz as chairman—the PCSO is fairly fulfilling its mission to help needy individuals and communities regardless of locality, cultural background or political affiliation.
As such, particularly noticeable under Balutan’s leadership is the fast processing of requests for ambulance units by municipalities, which is a necessity in every corner of the country.
“There is no such thing as color when the PSCO give assistance [today]. No such thing as yellow, red,
blue, or even white. Everybody in need is helped,” he told The Sunday Times Magazine.
Balutan was able to rid the agency of such tendencies by cleaning house as soon as he assumed office. As such, in so short a time, there have been many positive changes in agency operations.
“Housekeeping is vital first of all, because you cannot do the work outside without cleaning within. And that’s what Chairman Jorge Corpuz and I did. We knew that in the previous administration, hindi maayos yung [the]board [was not organized]. Hindi nag-uusap ang GM at chairman so walang nabubuong resolution [The general manager and the chairman were not communicating so no resolutions were made], which is needed to run the organization. What happened then was leaderless ang PCSO, nagkanya-kanya sila [they all did their own thing],” the new general manager related.
He added that just like any government agency, the PCSO should be leadership-driven precisely because it is mandated to generate funds for the government and at the same time shoulder the responsibility of supporting charity with national character, particularly medical assistance for the poor.
Back in September 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte said PCSO was the “most corrupt” government agency, and went as far as vowing to recommend its abolition if dishonesty within is not curbed.
“You know what they’re doing there? Jueteng has been merged with small time lotto [small town lottery or STL]. They have this agreement with government that they would run this, [and]they [would]get a commission. But as it turned out, they trim[med]it down. The government [got]only 20-percent. Billions of pesos every day [were]pocketed,” the President expounded on his disapproval.
The Chief Executive then pinned his hope on Balutan, who was then already assigned as Bureau of Corrections Director, along with Corpuz, as he wanted leaders who would “kill corruption” in the agency.
“I know both of them. I have never heard of them being involved in corruption,” the President expressed his confidence in his appointees.
“Chairman Corpuz and I actually know each other personally. We were classmates at PMA (Philippine Military Academy). It’s just that he graduated ahead [of me]in 1982, while I graduated in ‘83 due to a maltreatment case. I got suspended for one year due to hazing,” he said candidly.
Balutan also earned a Diploma from the United States Marine Corps Command and Staff College Marine Corps University in Virginia and has a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Manuel L. Quezon University (MLQU).
One employee assigned to the chairman’s office intimated to The Sunday Times Magazine that they are happy over the changes that took place since the assumption of Balutan and Corpuz, crediting the President for the much-needed revamp at PCSO.
As to why military officers are often appointed to sensitive posts, Balutan explained that it is because of the nature of their code where they are trained to “obey first before you complain.”
“Mas madali kasing utusan ang [it is easier to give directives]to members of the Armed Forces. While [the dictum]in the corporate world is profit-oriented, we are mission- and service-oriented. So here at PCSO, we are also service-oriented, with the head of the agency [must be ideally]equipped with a military background,” the former field commander stated.
In just over seven months since assuming office, Balutan reported that STL earnings have already gone up by P1.7 billion [from P4.7 billion to P6.4 billion]with the expansion of Authorized Agent Corporations (AACs) from 18 to 56.
Despite criticisms surrounding STL, Balutan simply goes by the law approved by Congress regarding operations of the numbers game as early as 2006. To those who say that PCSO is not authorized to conduct STL, he cites Republic Act 1169, which explicitly mandates that the agency has the sole authority to conduct lotteries. With that, he does not believe that there is a need for an education campaign on STL.
“Those in Congress opposed to STL may just be turning a blind eye as we were able to hit the nail on the head. Paano kasi maraming [You see, there are many] oligarchs in Congress as what President Duterte said, who have been involved in illegal gambling like jueteng, masiao and ‘last two’,” he chuckled.
The operation of STL actually curbs corruption as ingress has been increased to P200 million a month, when it used to be only P40 million. Illegal gambling is being eradicated in the process as AACs need to meet the set ingress or their franchise will be revoked. With this move, more AACs mean more employment too.
“PCSO has 173,000 employees nationwide. With total 56 AACs now, that has grown to 550,000 employees. With an additional 35 AACs, that would mean close to one million employees,” Balutan did the math.
“And those who don’t pass [their application]in normal job fairs—yung nasa lower strata like the uneducated, the elderly or even those who are idle— mga kubrador, kabo o taga-lista [illegal gambling runners]—will be given a source of income, earning six to seven thousand pesos a month. They will be given an ID and uniform, so hindi na sila magtatago [they will no longer be in hiding],” Balutan further explained.
Projections, future undertakings
As PCSO is not part of the General Appropriations Act (GAA), but committed to contribute to the national budget instead, the agency had been accused of not paying its taxes as Government-Owned and Controlled Corporation (GOCC).
In this regard, Balutan said he asked for some leniency from Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez since he could not understand why previous administrations have not paid taxes since 2007.
Nevertheless he already turned over P11.5 billion out of the huge liability, but stressed that the taxes paid go to charitable causes anyway.
Meanwhile, PCSO has expanded from 47 to 57 branches, and besides running the Individual Medical Assistance Program (IMAP) they now have 85 partner hospitals nationwide from a previous total of 40, upgrading those mostly in identified National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) areas. Looking forward, they are targeting 20 more provinces.
Balutan further said that PCSO will eventually have its own building, back to its original location at San Marcelino in Manila but as a PPP (Public-Private Partnership) undertaking.
Acquired from the Manila Club on October 8, 1962 for P1.8 million, the San Marcelino property was the first real property under PCSO’s name. The agency was housed in one building there until 1995, when the head office was transferred to the Quezon Institute building along E. Rodriguez Sr. Avenue in Quezon City.
In 2010, upon the advice of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) regarding earthquake risk, the head office was transferred to the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) Complex in Pasay City.
But because the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference (APEC) Summit was eventually held at the PICC in 2015 and the facilities had to be renovated, the PCSO moved anew, this time to Sun Plaza Building in Shaw Boulevard, Mandaluyong City, where it continues to function today.
Moving on to the projected earnings for the year, Balutan said he is targeting P50 billion, up from the P37.4 billion revenue in 2016.
“This is because with this transparency at PCSO now, people are confident to buy tickets and place their bets since they see how the funds are used. Tumaas na rin ang bilang ng [There has also been a rise in] IMAP beneficiaries, from 250,000 to 320,00,” he said.
Leadership by example
When Balutan assumed office, he came across documented reports that insiders were helpful in processing Individual Medical Assistance Program (IMAP) with the condition that the recipient would share a third or even half of the funds released by PCSO in the past.
The reports merely confirmed what he had long heard about the corrupt practice, which also involved fixers who proliferated the racket.
“If we catch anyone doing that, magsa-suffer yan [that person will suffer]. I hope that won’t happen anymore,” he declared, issuing a stern warning to employees to steer clear of corruption.
“It’s leadership by example din. Ako naman, I was taken by the Duterte team because of my record of no corruption. I’m not a politician. Honor and credibility ang aking pinanghahawakan [are what I have]. I want to preserve my integrity,” the seasoned soldier averred.
As to allegations among the past leaders of PCSO in faking wins—especially when the pot prize is above P200 million so they can pocket funds—Balutan said that it is not possible to stage a winning combination as the ticket holder’s location is known within six seconds.
“PCSO draws are highly computerized. There can be no winner when there’s no ticket. Hindi puwede yun. Tickets have a watermark, may security features. There have been those who attempted to present tickets with altered numbers, but it’s instantly detected. PCSO upholds the preservation of the integrity of the ticket,” he said.
Another thing that raised morale among PCSO employees, believe it or not, are the austerity measures Balutan brought to the agency. Whereas celebrations have been too extravagant in the past, occasions are different under his leadership.
“During the 82nd anniversary, the budget allocated was P10 million—sa hotel, overflowing with food and drinks. Sabi ko, huwag marangya [I said, let’s not be excessive]. Tama na ang P3 million [is enough]. And then [tropical storm]Lawin ravaged the north, so we even donated part of that amount to the victims.”
He continued, “Then on Christmas, instead of spending so much on the venue and food, binigay namin sa [we gave the]rank and file as bonus ang bulk ng budget—P17,000 for each of them. It was the first time it happened at PCSO and everybody was happy,” he recounted.
Asked what motivates him to head a challenging agency as PCSO, the Nueva Ecija native who tends to his rice and livestock farms on his free time, said it is his belief in the advocacy of change espoused by the President.
“That’s why I’m doing this so I can do my part. We’ve been victims of the past administration, but we hope that with the changes we’re bringing in, PCSO will truly serve its mission – regardless of color. So let’s say we’re ‘colorless’ in discharging our duties,” he ended.