Senators, COA question PCSO’s mega-PR budget

by Ira Pedrasa,

Posted at Jul 14 2011 02:52 PM | Updated as of Jul 14 2011 11:17 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Senators and the Commission on Audit (COA) have questioned the excessive earmarking of Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) budget for public relations (PR) even without necessary use for it.

During the resumption of hearings at the Blue Ribbon Committee on the so-called PCSO pork, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said “why is there a need for the [agency] to have funds for PR…everyone already knows the games.”

This was the same issue raised in the past by the Commission on Audit, which revealed that some P2.3 billion was used between 2001 and 2005, P1 billion in 2006, P687 million in 2007, P968 million in 2008, P1.65 billion in 2009 and P1.75 billion from January to November of 2010.

The issue of the excessive use of budget for PR matters stemmed from the allegations of 2 advertising executives that a PCSO manager and board member received millions of kickbacks in exchange for approving ad contracts.

Alexander Quisumbing of Quizgem Ad Agency and Ludovico Yuseco of Crosschannel Advertising Services testified anew, saying that former PCSO public relations and advertising manager Manuel Garcia received more than what was initially detailed.

Quisumbing said Garcia got no less than P16 million from him between 2006 and 2009. Yuseco, on the other hand, claimed P12.6 million was pocketed by Garcia from 2007 to the latter part of 2010.

They claimed they deposited the amounts directly to Garcia’s bank account.

“To tell you frankly, I’m still looking for some more [proof of deposits],” Quisumbing said.

Garcia: I'm not a big fish

Garcia, who appeared for the first time with lawyer Joel Bodegon, denied the charges even as he sought for tolerance from senators due to a pending plunder charge before the Office of the Ombudsman.

Initially, he asked the senators to excuse him from the hearing for “humanitarian reasons.”

He claimed he has been suffering from “acute hypertension…which is life threatening because of the serious accusations.” He said his family, including his sick father, has been greatly affected by the scandal.

“I’m not a top official, I’m just a mere manager…I’m not a big fish at the PCSO,” he said.

Senate Blue Ribbon Committee chair Teofisto Guingona III refused his request, however, saying the Senate doctor is ready to respond to his health problems.

Later, he was shown pictures of several cars and a house in Don Manuel, Quezon City, which he admitted were his and his family’s. He said the house was an inheritance from his in-laws, while the cars were from an acquisition plan or through the buy-and-sell business of his son.

He refused, however, to waive his right to bank secrecy when asked about an account with Banco de Oro. “I invoke my right against self-incrimination,” he added.

Asked whether his account is being used by some other people as a pass-on account, he again invoked his right against self-incrimination.

Abrogation of powers

While the PR funds were being scrutinized, Enrile also noticed the accounting principles that the PCSO has been using to divide receipts for the three funds under it (charity, prize and operations).

State auditor Fidela Tan explained they arrived at the net receipts of PCSO by subtracting the rental expense for lotto equipment, VAT and commission of lotto operators.

“Is this authority under the PCSO charter? Under the charter, 2% should only be deducted from receipts. When did the board change the accounting system,” Enrile asked.

Tan said COA has also asked PCSO on the matter, but has not received any answers.

Enrile said: “[Changing the charter] is an authority of Congress…Everyone’s responsible, people are arrogating upon themselves the power of Congress…My God! If I have my way, I will prosecute these people.”