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More than about lottery and making millionaires, the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) is all about help and hope. It’s where families of the sick turn to for money to pay for medical services and medicines they cannot afford. PCSO is also the poor people’s hope for a new lease on life for their seriously ill family members.

The number of people seeking help and hope from the PCSO is rising. From January to March, its Individual Medical Assistance Program (IMAP) funded the hospitalization and medicines of more than 120,000 patients nationwide, 34 percent more from the first quarter of 2017. At least P50,000 worth of guarantee letters (GL) is being given daily to each representative of indigent patients lining up every day at some 100 IMAP help desks called At-Source-Ang-Processing (ASAP) located in major public hospitals across the country.

By the end of the second half of this year, IMAP had spent P500 million more for medical assistance as there were 27.93 percent more GL applicants for the first semester of 2018 compared to the same period in 2017. In 2016, PCSO spent P8 billion for the medical assistance of more than 300,000 Filipinos. The amount was 14.3 percent more than in 2015.

So it was disappointing for many PCSO beneficiaries regularly asking for financial assistance to know that the office is limiting its daily allocation for IMAP nationwide to P4.1 million after the Commission on Audit (CoA) flagged it for overspending its charity fund. Larry Cedro, assistant general manager for Charity Sector of PCSO, explained they have to operate within their budget.

Instead of increasing the IMAP budget in light of the increasing number of patients seeking help, the reverse happened. It is not acceptable to people sacrificing to stay all day long in the long lines to ASAP desks to get money to pay for life-sustaining chemotherapy, dialysis and other treatment for their loved ones. More so when the PCSO earned a total revenue of P30.78 billion from January to June this year, P6.4 billion or 26 percent more than the P24.4 billion it earned in the same period of 2017.

Catanduanes Rep. Cesar Sarmiento is asking the PCSO to increase its IMAP allocation for his province to P100,000 per day from P30,000. He said lottery earnings of PCSO in Catanduanes have increased.

In his Senate Bill 1470 or the Philippine Charity Office Act of 2017 which amends the PCSO charter of 1954, author Sen. Panfilo Lacson wants the entire revenue from lotteries to be allocated for its charity fund.

Special Assistant to the President Bong Go is expanding the government’s free medical assistance program for the poor by establishing more Malasakit Centers, a one-stop desk in public hospitals that will process medical assistance applications. The center makes it convenient for patients to apply for medical aid from the PCSO, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. and the Department of Social Welfare and Development at the same time.

To be consistent with the Malasakit Center program which is likely to increase the number of PCSO GL applicants, it is necessary to increase IMAP funding. Otherwise, frustration from Gl applicants who cannot get adequate assistance will make the center bereft of “malasakit.”

The Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law that took effect January has taxed lottery earnings of more than P10,000 by 20 percent and raised Lotto ticket prices to the minimum P24 from P20. PCSO can expect to generate more funds for IMAP from this law.

Aside from TRAIN, PCSO can increase its lottery revenues by expanding further its small town lottery network. The PCSO can also tap additional funds from the P1 billion Standby Fund for the financial requirement for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome awareness and health promotion campaign.

As for the overspending of its charity fund the PCSO committed, that can be settled with CoA by citing humanitarian grounds.

The PCSO can actually do more to help more people. With more patients needing its help, the more effort it should exert to give them hope to live longer and have a better quality of life.

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