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Finance dep’t checks effect of lotto stoppage on funding of universal health care

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THE FINANCE DEPARTMENT (DoF) is now assessing the impact on implementation of Republic Act (RA) No. 11223, or the Universal Health Care (UHC) Act, of the closure order which President Rodrigo R. Duterte issued Friday night on all Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO)-sanctioned lottery operations, senior officials of the department said last weekend.

Mr. Duterte’s order came a day after he signed into law Republic Act (RA) No. 11346, which further increased the excise tax rate for tobacco products to P60 per pack by 2023 from P35 currently. RA 11346 will help bankroll the UHC program, which would require P257 billion in its first year of implementation, the department said in a July 27 press release. RA 11346 is projected to raise annually P74 billion, P77.8 billion, P81.2 billion, P84 billion and P85.6 billion from next year to 2024.

The UHC law, enacted last February, aims to expand Philippine Health Insurance Corp. coverage for primary care to 120 drugs. Under this law, among others, there will be no limit to primary care treatment conditions.

RA 11223, or the UHC Act, provides that 40% of PCSO’s Charity Fund will help fund implementation of this law, besides half of the national government’s share in Philippine Amusement Gaming Corp. income and total incremental collections of higher tobacco and alcohol excise tax collections under RA 10351.

Malacañang announced near midnight on Friday that Mr. Duterte “ordered the closure, the stoppage of all gaming schemes… that got the franchises… from the PCSO,” explaining that “[t]he ground is massive corruption.”

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Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III told reporters in a mobile phone message the following day: “We are evaluating the immediate effects of the ban,” while DoF Undersecretary Bayani H. Agabin said in a separate text message on Sunday: “We are still assessing the potential impact,” when asked on the effect of the sudden stoppage of PCSO-sanctioned lottery activities on UHC law implementation.

The Philippine National Police announced in a press release on Sunday that it had already closed 5,187 lotto, 13,320 small town lottery, 2,194 Peryahan ng Bayan and 472 Keno Lotto Express outlets, and called on “all other similar establishments that have not been visited yet by police to… voluntarily close down their business.”

Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra told reporters in a text message on Sunday that “[t]he president has the authority to order the suspension, even the termination, of PCSO-licensed gaming operations upon prima facie proof that licensees are not faithfully complying with their legal obligation to remit the correct amount of the government’s share in revenues, or that their operations are tainted by fraud, deceit, or corruption.”

“It should be emphasized that a gaming license is not a contractual right but a mere privilege that may be revoked at any time by the state,” Mr. Guevarra said, adding that he has ordered the National Bureau of Investigation to probe the non-remittance of lottery proceeds to the government. — BML, VMMV and GMC

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