Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the indefinite closure of popular lotteries run by the government's sweepstakes agency due to alleged massive corruption and said even courts couldn't stop his order.
Duterte issued the order late Friday telling the national police and the military to immediately close all lottery and gambling outlets of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, or PCSO. Duterte did not elaborate on the alleged corruption and said an investigation would follow.
"The ground is massive corruption," Duterte said in a video message uploaded on the Presidential Communications Operations Office's Facebook page, adding without elaborating that repeated court injunctions on the issue had helped paralyze government and allowed corruption to thrive, as reported by the Associated Press. "It becomes illegal because as of today, all of those permits and concessions or whatever are terminated."
"I will not honor any order from any court stopping us or enjoining us to stop our desire to go into a massive investigation for the massive corruption that is existing in the PCSO," said Duterte, who has been criticized in the past for actions and threatening remarks that critics feared could undermine judicial independence. "It's all cheating and the contracts were like crafted in favor of corruption and to favor other corporations and people. I will not allow it," Duterte said without providing other details.
PCSO General Manager Royina Garma said in a statement that the agency would comply with the presidential order but would appeal to Duterte to resume the lotteries. The lotteries, including the widely popular "lotto" games, Peryahan ng Bayan, small town lottery (STL), and Keno, generate huge revenues that have been mostly used for public health programs and charity.
One type of game, the small town lottery, was launched in the mid-2000s to stamp out a hugely popular illegal numbers game called "jueteng." In just a year of operation, the lottery generated 3 billion pesos ($58 million) in revenues and 62,500 jobs for poor workers displaced by a crackdown on "jueteng," PCSO officials said.
"Jueteng," which became popular among the working class and in poor communities, has been regarded for years as a notorious source of huge bribe money for corrupt police officials and politicians.
Police in metropolitan Manila on Saturday closed hundreds of lottery outlets that have generated long lines of people when the jackpot has risen to staggering levels amid hard economic times.
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the chief executive will identify those involved in alleged PCSO corruption in due time. “The Chief Executive will identify the culprits in due time and the full force of the law will come crashing down on them. This hydra-headed corruption will be cut off until it reproduces no more,” Panelo said.
Meanwhile, those seeking financial assistance for medical or health-related cases can ask for help from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor), Office of the President or other government agencies, Panelo said.
Duterte appointed in June 2019 Cebu City police chief Police Co. Royina Garma as the new general manager of the state gaming regulator. Garma replaced retired Marine general Alexander Balutan, who was fired in March "due to serious allegations of corruption."
Balutan drew controversy in 2018 over a supposedly lavish PCSO Christmas party, where the agency spent about P6 million. Proceeds from lotto ticket sales also went down in Feb. 2019, registering only P1.59 billion in sales compared to the same period last year with P2.61 billion.