Members of the Duterte Cabinet seem not to be on the same page on whether gambling money from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) should be used for social services.
Education Secretary Leonor Briones, for one, belongs to the apparently moral school that cringes at the thought of a few millions from the baccarat table going to the construction of a classroom.
Late last September, Briones was reported to have decided to refuse billions from Pagcor as subsidy for public education.
She gave no reason for doing away with the more than P12 billion that the state-owned corporation turned over to the Department of Education (DepEd) between 2010 and 2015.
But she was quoted as saying by Pagcor chief Andrea Domingo that “[s]he has written us to inform [us]that she [Briones] does not want gambling money for education.”
It would seem to turn out that she rejected any more financial support from the gaming agency because, according to another report in the third week of October that also quoted her, “the shortage of classrooms is a function of efficiency.”
And “[i]t is not because we need them [classrooms]very badly because we are being provided [classrooms]by the government and there are many donors as well.”
Briones must have wanted to say that inefficiency had created the perception or reality that public schools across the country lack classrooms–as rubbed in by students and their teachers holding lessons under a mango tree.
Not being efficient connotes being less productive that can result from wasteful effort in, say, building a classroom.
If the Education secretary actually meant to speak of corruption and said so, no one would probably have faulted her for it, but, in choosing to keep the word to herself, she defaulted on her duty as citizen and government worker to push forward the Duterte administration’s war on graft.
With Briones’ stand not to have anything to do with gambling money, the supposed P2 billion that the Education department stands to receive for 2016 will now go to the Office of the President on top of its annual share from Pagcor earnings.
So, it is perfectly allright for the Office of the President to use oodles of Pagcor cash for health facilities, among other projects, but not for the Office of the Secretary of Education for classrooms?
That was the message that Briones was sending, which she probably did not do to one-up the other members of the Cabinet. But that was the result.
She realizes, though, that it is “policy” for the government to source revenue from Pagcor, and that it is “existing policy” for local government units to set up online lottery, which she said she also abhors.
But, “personally,” Briones said she opposes both policies.
Going further personal, she maintained her anti-gambling stance, saying, “I will not dishonor the previous executives who accepted them [classrooms donated by Pagcor]because they were there already but [I will] not [accept them]during my watch.”
We have admired Prof. Briones for being a model civil servant and written in praise of her a number of times.
But on the issue of rejecting legally acquired money from legally permitted gambling activities under Pagcor, we take the side of pragmatism. Although we must restate our objection to the proliferation of gambling in our country that the late unlamented PNoy Aquino regime encouraged.
Besides, Pagcor is supposedly a much regulated and monitored agency and the pile it makes does not come from jueteng, jaiteng or other illegal-numbers games. What it does is not against the law, actually sanctioning, for example, roulette and other games of chance. Although we will side with moves to reduce the number of Pagcor-licensed gambling joints in our country.
Meanwhile, we can’t help but urge Secretary of Education Briones to get down from her high horse before the next super typhoon destroys the classrooms that Pagcor money built.