ALL colors of the Philippine flag adorn the logo of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO), the agency mandated to raise revenues for the promotion of public health and general welfare.
The previous leadership, however, seemed to have seen the letter “S” in glowing yellow only, discarding the bigger images in red, white and blue.
With retired Major General Alexander Ferrer Balutan at the helm as general manager, the PCSO is fulfilling its mission to help needy Filipinos regardless of geographical roots, cultural background or political affiliation.
Particularly noticeable under Balutan’s leadership is the fast processing of requests for ambulances by municipalities under the Ambulance Donation Program (ADP).
“There’s no color to the assistance. No such thing as yellow, red, blue or black or white. Everybody in need gets assistance,” he told The Manila Times in an exclusive interview.
While the agency’s previous top honchos did not see eye to eye, the first thing that Balutan did was to clean the house, so to speak. And in so short a time, many changes in the operations of the agency were made.
“It’s housekeeping first of all, because you cannot work outside without cleaning inside the house first. That’s what we did, me and Chairman Jorge Corpuz. We know that in the previous administration, [the general manager and the chairman were not talking to each other and, so, no resolutions were issued]. The resolutions were needed to run the organization. What happened then was that the PCSO was practically leaderless. [Everyone was on his own],” the PCSO general manager said.
He added that just like any government organization, PCSO is and should be leadership-driven as it is mandated to generate funds for the government and, at the same time, shoulder the responsibility of supporting charities that are national in character, particularly medical assistance for the poor.
“Chairman Corpuz and I actually know each other personally. We were classmates at PMA [Philippine Military Academy]. It’s just that he graduated ahead in 1982, while I graduated in 1983,” Balutan said.
He holds 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.
A long-time PCSO employee said they are happy with the changes since the assumption of Balutan and Corpuz, crediting President Rodrigo Duterte for the much-needed revamp at the PCSO.
Balutan attributed the ease with which the changes were made to the PCSO under the new leaders being “mission- and service-oriented.”
In contrast, he said, “the corporate world and business are profit-oriented.”
“Here at the PCSO, we are service-oriented, so it’s just right that one with a military background like myself could perfectly fit in as head of the agency,” Balutan added.
STL as source of funds
Despite criticisms about Small Town Lottery (STL), the PCSO general manager explained that Congress approved operations of the numbers game as early as 2006.
For those saying that the agency is not authorized to conduct the STL, he said Republic Act 1169 explicitly mandates that the PCSO has the sole authority to conduct lotteries.
“Those in Congress opposed to the STL may just be turning blind as we were able to hit the nail on the head [as their own chamber approved it as early as 2006]. The reason for the brickbats is that many in Congress are oligarchs, as what President Duterte said, and they are involved in illegal gambling like jueteng, masiao and last two,” according to Balutan, referring to three illegal numbers games.
The PCSO has 173,000 employees nationwide.
With a total of 92 Authorized Agents Corporations or AACs, with 80 of them fully operating, the agency has grown to almost 600,000 employees, and with more AACs, that would mean having close to one million employees, Balutan said.
Where PCSO is now
The PCSO has expanded from 47 to 60 branches.
Aside from the Individual Medical Assistance Program (IMAP), it now has 86 partner hospitals nationwide from only 40 before, and is targeting 20 more provinces.
By the end of the year, Balutan said he sees three more branches (Kalinga, Apayao and Biliran in Samar among them) “to reach out to more people needing assistance.”
Although it is the mandated income-generating agency for the government’s charitable services, the PCSO had been just renting offices around Metro Manila.
Balutan saw the need for them to have their own home.
Under the government’s Public-Private Partnership, the PCSO was able to build one.
It has inaugurated its own building, back to its original location at San Marcelino in Manila.
In the works, according to Balutan, is the PCSO Corporate Center, where they intend to transfer by 2019.
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 on E. Rodriguez Avenue, Quezon City.
In 2010, upon warning from the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) about earthquake risks, the head office was transferred to the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) Complex in Pasay City.
Because the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference (APEC) Summit was held at the PICC in 2015 and the facilities there had to be renovated, the PCSO moved to Sun Plaza Building on Shaw Boulevard in Mandaluyong City, where it is staying at present.
The PCSO’s projected gross earnings for 2017 is P50 billion, up from the P37.4 billion in 2016.
“This is because with this transparency at the PCSO now, people are confident to buy tickets and place their bets as they see how the funds are used. [Also, the number of IMAP beneficiaries has increased, from 250,000 to 320,00],” Balutan said.
There had been documented reports that insiders were helping process IMAP applications on condition that the recipient would share a third or even half of the funds released to him by the PCSO.
Balutan said he heard about this practice and conceded that fixers were behind this racket.
“If we catch anyone doing that, [he will pay for it],” he warned.
Balutan said he “leads by example.”
“I was taken in by the President because of my record of no corruption. I’m not a politician. Honor and credibility [are what I hold on to]. I want to preserve my integrity,” he added.
On the issue of faking a win—especially when the jackpot prize is above P200 million—so the prize can be pocketed by officials like the allegation against then-Vice Chairman and General Manager Rosario Uriarte, Balutan said it is not possible to come up with a fake winning combination as the winner’s location is known within six seconds.
“The PCSO draws are highly computerized. There can be no winner when there is no ticket. [That is not possible. Tickets have watermark, [they have]security features. There had been those who attempted to present tickets with altered numbers but it is instantly detected. The PCSO upholds the preservation of the integrity of the ticket,” he added.
Another thing that made PCSO employees happy is the austerity measures that Balutan brought to the agency.
Extravagant celebrations are a thing of the past under his leadership.
“During the 82nd anniversary, the budget was P10 million in a hotel, overflowing with food and drinks. [I said, nothing ostentatious]. P3 million [was enough]. [Then there was this typhoon in the North, so a part of the P3 million] was given to charity. Then on Christmas, instead of spending much on the venue and food, [we gave the budget for the celebration]to the rank-and-file as bonus, P17,000 for each of them. It was the first time it happened at the PCSO and everybody was happy,” Balutan recalled.
On his free time, the PCSO general manager goes home to Nueva Ecija to tend to his rice and livestock farms.
He said he had wanted to retire after 37 years in the military service but, believing in the advocacy of change espoused by the President, he stayed on.
“We hope that with the changes we’re bringing in, the PCSO will truly serve its mission, regardless of color. Let’s say we’re colorless in here,” according to GM Balutan.
PCSO turns 83
On October 17, Balutan celebrated his birthday at his office.
It was the second day of a nationwide transport strike and Malacañang belatedly announced that there was no school and work in government offices.
Expecting that only few well-wishers would come, Balutan said he was surprised that a lot of people arrived for the first birthday he celebrated outside the military service.
The PCSO will also celebrate its birthday this month, its 83rd on the 30th.
Balutan shares with The Manila Times his message on the occasion:
“We will continue to be true to our mandate, to generate funds for the government’s charity services. Although they [people inside and outside of the PCSO]were somewhat surprised by our style of management — me as a general in the Marines and General Corpuz in the Philippine National Police, we try our best to be transparent especially to our kababayan, for them to have trust in the games and services we offer, as we get our funds only from taya or bets. [It’s guaranteed that] 30 percent of the bets go to charity. The biggest achievement we have so far since we took over is the image we have built for the agency, being transparent in our operations, the integrity of the games and the trust from the President and the general public.”