By Christina Mendez, August 1 2019; Philippine Star

Image Credit to Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang will not get in the way of any congressional inquiry into the reported irregularities surrounding operations of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO).

“They can do whatever they want because that’s their duty as members of Congress,” presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said yesterday.

Panelo said there is no need for PCSO officials to file a courtesy resignation until after the investigation has concluded.

Presidential Anti-Crime and Corruption Commissioner Greco Belgica also said the agency would conduct lifestyle checks on all PCSO officials, including former general manager Alexander Balutan and current chairman Anselmo Pinili as well as all members of its board of directors.

“We will be conducting a lifestyle check on all of them after the pronouncement of the President that he is closing down PCSO operations for massive corruption, on top of the cases that are already pending before us,” Belgica said.

Panelo said the Malacañang probe would cover all officials of the PCSO, except for newly appointed general manager Royina Garma who will help the President in uncovering anomalies in the agency.

Garma has talked with Duterte on the corruption issues, which led to the Chief Executive’s decision to suspend all gaming operations last Friday.

“After meeting with the new head, he decided to suspend all gaming operations,” Panelo said.

Pressed further on why no official has been sacked over reports of corruption, Panelo said Duterte wanted to establish first the extent of corruption activities and identify those involved in defrauding the government of billions in revenues.

Senators welcomed the President’s order to resume lotto operations even as they pressed for a thorough investigation into the franchises and contracts entered into by PCSO.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said lotto is one of the PCSO games not prone to corruption.

“We were expecting it because of all the events being handled by PCSO or games, if you may call it that, it is the lotto that has no issue at all,” Sotto said.

“We really have big problems with those holding STL (small town lottery) franchises,” he added.

Sen. Lito Lapid, chairman of the games and amusement committee, said the resumption of lotto meant Duterte’s investigation into the PCSO was yielding results.

Lapid said he was keenly awaiting the results of the Malacañang probe and those allegedly involved in anomalies in the PCSO.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) was tasked to identify the erring PCSO officials.

“Those who served and who continue to serve in PCSO under the Duterte administration will be included in the NBI investigation,” Guevarra said.

“I will leave it to the NBI to determine who will be covered among those officials and how far back can they go,” he added.

Duterte had ordered the gaming operations of PCSO to stop, citing “massive corruption.”

Malacañang said the gaming ban will remain in effect until the end of the investigation into the PCSO.

On Tuesday, Malacañang announced the President’s order for PCSO to resume operations of lotto games after preliminary probe showed there were no apparent irregularities.

Guevarra defended the legality of Duterte’s closure order, saying he has the authority to suspend or even terminate PCSO-license gaming operations in the country.

He explained the licenses of private gaming operators are “not a contractual right but a mere privilege that may be revoked at any time by the state.”

Guevarra said the President may order the suspension of operations based on preliminary information available to him. He said the presidential order is “much like a judicial restraining order, but even more powerful.”

“Because it emanates from a constitutional duty to faithfully execute our laws, if not from the inherent police power of the state,” he said. – With Edu Punay, Paolo Romero, Mayen Jaymalin, Gilbert Bayoran