Pagcor seeks exemption from election-spending ban • Roderick Abad

THE Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) is still awaiting a decision from the Commission on Elections (Comelec) on its request to be exempted from the spending ban now being implemented until the Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan Elections (BSKE) next month.

According to Vice President (VP) for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Ramon Stephen R. Villaflor, the Pagcor’s legal department already filed the request two weeks ago.

Pursuant to Resolution 10944, social welfare projects of national, regional, provincial and local government units (LGUs) and those of GOCCs and their subsidiaries are prohibited from releasing, disbursing or spending public funds for social welfare projects, construction of public works and delivery of materials for public works in relation to the BSKE from September 15 to October 30. The prohibition is relaxed for Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situations (AICS), the distribution of which is prohibited from October 20 to October 30.

Apart from its significant share to national coffers and funding of vital laws, Pagcor also reaches out to marginalized communities via its various socio-civic programs, Villaflor said. One of these is the help it extends to families and communities directly hit by natural calamities, such as typhoons, volcanic activities, floods and fire, among others by way of distribution of emergency relief packs and financial aids, he added.

According to Villaflor, the Pagcor allocated P28.37 million last year for the purchase of food and nonfood packs, which were distributed to over 53,000 families in calamity-stricken areas. This year, he added, the government-owned and –controlled corporation (GOCC) has provided immediate relief assistance to several calamity-hit areas, including Aklan, Oriental Mindoro, the Bicol region, Metro Manila, Northern and Central Luzon affected by typhoons such as Egay, Falcon and other calamities.

“With the ban, if there’s a calamity, we cannot distribute [relief assistance to the victims],” Villaflor told reporters during a news briefing held at the Philippine Information Agency building in Quezon City last Friday. “The [unrest of] Mayon [Volcano] is ongoing and we anticipate more typhoons that will enter the country. Election ban will be up to the end of October. So we have one-and-a-half months to go. We cannot tell the typhoons not to enter the country because there’s election.”

The ongoing prohibition also affects the continuation of their other existing projects that receive only a proportion, not the full amount of funds, depending on the percentage of their completion, per regulations of the Commission on Audit.

These include the 41 Multi-Purpose Evacuation Centers (MPEC) that are nearing completion. Such facilities form part of Pagcor’s P3.5-billion project to build safe shelters in 77 disaster-prone areas nationwide. To date, the project is 47-percent complete with a total of 36 MPECs finished and inaugurated in various parts of the country, Villaflor said.

“Some of those [41 MPECs] who have submitted the required documents for the release of the second or third tranche [of allocated budget], we cannot process them because of the elections ban. That’s why we’re seeking exemption. We still have no status report yet from whether it’s granted or not,” Villaflor added.

Upcoming initiatives

AS part of its corporate citizenship initiatives, the Pagcor will be launching four upcoming flagship CSR programs that are centered on education and health in the last quarter of this year, Villaflor said.

One of these is the construction of more school buildings to help address the perennial need for classrooms in public elementary and secondary schools nationwide. All buildings will be equipped with storage rooms and toilets for male, female and persons with disabilities (PWDs).

“Currently, Pagcor is in the final stage of discussion with the Department of Education regarding the final design and the leads of where to put out these classrooms,” Villaflor said.

In this digital age, on the other hand, it is building e-Learning Centers nationwide to provide students with an environment that is conducive to virtual learning and online research. These can be converted into three libraries.

Meanwhile, Community Wellness Centers will rise in various parts of the country to give grassroots communities with easy access to basic healthcare services. Each will be equipped with a multipurpose area, a vaccination room, dental clinic, doctor’s office, treatment room, an administrative office and kitchen area.

Communities nationwide will also get state-of-the art Socio-Civic Centers where locals can have easy access to government services. These hubs will feature a stage area; male, female and PWD toilets; kitchen, dining area, maintenance room, a basketball court, an administrative office, a clinic and a multipurpose area, among others.

Villaflor said the allotted budget for the four upcoming projects is about P4.5 billion for this year.

“We will review the price increase and then evaluate it. We will propose maybe a higher budget for next year. It depends on the increase in construction materials,” he added.