INDEFINITE SUSPENSION of Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO)-sanctioned gaming will have minimal impact on universal health care (UHC) funding, since lottery proceeds are estimated to contribute just P3 billion or 1.2% to the P257 billion needed for UHC implementation next year, a senior official of the Department of Finance (DoF) said.

“Of the P257 billion required for UHC in 2020, the estimated share from PCSO is 3 [billion pesos], less than 1.2% of the total budget. Of the estimated 1.437 [trillion pesos] required for five years, 16.6 [billion pesos] from PCSO — also less than 1.2% of the total budget,” Finance Assistant Secretary Antonio Joselito G. Lambino II said in a mobile phone message on Sunday evening.

Republic Act No. (RA) 11223, or the Universal Health Care Act 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.

Adding to the pool of UHC funds, according to DoF, is P15.7 billion for 2020 and P129.9 billion over five years from the increased excise tax rate for tobacco products to P60 per pack by 2023 from P35 currently.

“Our revenue estimates for the newly signed tobacco tax law, RA11346… is 15.7 [billion pesos] for 2020 and 129.9 [billion pesos] over the first 5 years of implementation,” Mr. Lambino said in his text message.

Mr. Lambino said DoF will now focus on pushing legislative approval of higher excise tax rates for alcohol and e-cigarettes to bridge the UHC funding gap.

“We’re focusing our efforts on the alcohol and e-cig package… we have initial estimates of 15.8 B[illion] in the first year and a total of 111.5 B[illion] over five years based on the version approved by the House [of Representatives] in the 17th Congress. We can aim for even higher in the alcohol and e-cig package since the previous version only included alcohol,” he added.

RA 11223, or the UHC law, provides that 40% of PCSO’s Charity Fund will help fund implementation of this program, 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.

Also yesterday, the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) said it will assist workers affected by the lotto stoppage. “With the closure of Lotto, STL (small town lottery), Keno (Lotto Express), Peryahan (ng Bayan or PNB)… marami siguro ang madi-dislocate (we think that many will be dislocated from their jobs) so we will provide emergency employment,” Mr. Bello said.

The Philippine National Police said that, as of Monday, it had closed 30,284 PCSO gaming outlets consisting of 20,241 STL, 6,313 Lotto, 2,762 PnB, 778 Keno and 190 STL.

Labor Assistant Secretary Benjo Santos M. Benavidez said in the same press briefing that the department is working with the Social Security System (SSS) in order to provide unemployment assistance. “’Yung mga manggagawa na madi-displace by reason of involuntary causes, pwede sila mag-avail ng unemployment insurance. Ang gagawin nila ay maga-apply sila sa SSS pero bago nila gawin yan ay dapat kumuha sila ng certification sa DoLE… na sila ay natanggal by reason of involuntary termination (Workers displaced involuntarily can avail of unemployment insurance from the SSS, but before they do that, they will need DoLE’s certification that they are unemployed by reason of involuntary termination),” he said, adding that workers are eligible for such assistance provided they have contributed to the SSS for at least 36 months.

The PCSO itself said in a statement on Monday that its “Individual Medical Assistance Program (IMAP) services at the Lung Center of the Philippines in Quezon City and all PCSO branch offices nationwide will still be available today onwards, unless otherwise instructed.”

Those holding winning lotto and other tickets, the PCSO said, may still claim their prizes at the PCSO head office at the Conservatory Building along Shaw Boulevard in Mandaluyong City from 8:15 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday to Friday.

The Supreme Court ordered all trial courts to submits reports by Aug. 15 on cases pending before them involving the PCSO, following “serious allegations of massive corruption involving small town lottery and other gaming franchises issued by the PCSO, some of which have supposedly reached the courts.” — Beatrice M. Laforga, Gillian M. Cortez, Arjay L. Balinbin and V. M. M. Villegas