The Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) is a unique government owned and controlled corporation. Its funds do not come from taxes but from the ticket sales of PCSO products such as lotto, lotto express (Keno), sweepstakes, small town lottery, Bingo Milyonaryo and instant lotto. Whatever money comes into its coffers becomes government money and, hence, must be taken care of extraordinarily.
Most of its customers are ordinary people. Some are enticed by the cash prizes but many only want to help. For every peso paid to PCSO, 55% goes to the Prize Fund, 30% goes to the Charity Fund and 15% goes to the Operating Fund. Its savings also go to charity.
Although PCSO has various programs, its most well-known programs are the Individual Medical Assistance Program and the Ambulance Donation Program.
During the term of the previous administration, the daily budget allotted for medical assistance nationwide was P4 million. It first increased to P8 million under the present administration, later raised to P11 million and now stands at P16 million. Aside from a conscious and focused effort to curb corruption, the PCSO Board of Directors under the leadership of Chairperson Margie Juico sought to review, improve or amend policies, pilot new games for additional revenue and required current authorized agents to surpass targets.
Despite the 300% increase in the medical assistance budget, it seems it is still not enough. Lines are getting longer; more people are in need of help. Steps to make the procedure more efficient have been implemented and even recognized by the Civil Service Commission. The PDAF scam has really affected many beyond those charged with plunder. Because of the scrapping of the PDAF and in relation to this, the respective medical assistance programs of senators and congressmen, PCSO remains for most their only hope.
While an endorsement of any member of the PCSO Board of Directors or any political leader is not necessary or required for a request for medical assistance to be processed, it seems patronage is deeply ingrained in Filipino culture. I am aware and understand this very well. Deep inside, we feel more at ease, confident or comfortable when we know someone, if only to make sure that the proper procedure is followed.
When I was an elected local official and even in the performance of my functions as an appointed public servant, I saw how a tap on the back, a firm handshake or a sincere smile can ease the pain of a relative who has lost a loved one or is undergoing a personal crisis; can inspire some to move on, dream big and aim high; can boost the morale of those that need reassurance that government is there to serve them.
But of course, such gestures are not as effective as decisive and earnest action.
At my own office as a PCSO Director, we meet and encounter people from all walks of life. Since my own parents passed away due to fatal and debilitating diseases, I am familiar with what the patient and their families go through. It is never easy to listen to their accounts but as what my brothers and I have experienced ourselves, sometimes we just needed to tell our story.
With respect to the ambulance donation program, PCSO made an inventory of the ambulances it has donated in the past 5 years. Of the 80 provinces, 143 cities and 1,491 municipalities, around 20% of local government units that have not received any ambulance. Once these cities and municipalities are provided with an ambulance, all LGUs would be 100% covered.
It is interesting to note that the PCSO ambulance is something quite common and easily recognizable to almost everyone since time immemorial, and yet there are some 300 or so cities and ambulances that haven’t been given any. Admittedly, it is not easy and cheap to maintain a vehicle. For a 5th class municipality, the fuel expenses alone would create a big dent in the town’s annual budget.
However, the importance of an ambulance, health facilities and medical personnel, especially in far-flung areas, is undisputed. According to the University of the Philippines National Health Institute, 6 of 10 Filipinos die without seeing a doctor. On the part of PCSO, it is our vision to do what we can within our area of responsibility.
This is why I have made it my personal and official advocacy to check on PCSO ambulances I chance upon. One time, I saw a PCSO ambulance parked at a supermarket. According to the hospital staff (the ambulance was donated to a government hospital) carrying a plastic bag and about to board the ambulance, she bought candles to be used for a hospital activity. While the ambulance may have not been needed at the time they left the hospital, it should always be on stand-by because it is an emergency vehicle. It cannot be used for any other purpose.
The PCSO has its share of challenges but it has more than its share of successes, particularly this year as it celebrates its 80th Mabuhay ang PCSO! Anniversary.