People lining up to buy lottery tickets is a common sight in the country. Lines stretching up to meters long, each person in line hoping to be lucky enough to take home the grand prize, which is often in the hundreds of millions.
While these people line up with hopes to become instant millionaires, there’s a whole different line that the PCSO deals with every day. Every day as early as 6 a.m., people from all over the archepelago are lining up to be able to avail of financial assistance for their ilnesses.
PCSO stands for Philippine Charity and Sweepstakes Office, but just how charitable is the PCSO?
Two cries for help
Aling Bonifacia is a vendor from Isabela. Everyday, Aling Bonifaica makes the painstaking effort to line up at the PCSO office with hopes of getting help for the treatment of her stage 2 Colon Cancer. Because of the Cancer, some of her innards have protruded out of her stomach.
Obviously, this has become a hindrance to Aling Bonifacia’s daily life and she has begun to question why such an illness has befallen her. She questions what she did to deserve such a situation. Aling Bonifacia isn’t financially capable and because she needs to spend a lot of money for her Cancer treatment, she decided to go to the PCSO office to ask for some help. She does not have any relatives in Manila so she spends the night sleeping on the streets just so she can line up at the office again in the morning .
While Aling Bonifacia needed around P80,000 for her operations, the PCSO only gave her P8,000, a measely 10% of what she needed.
Aside from Aling Bonifacia, Tatay Macario is also hoping to get help from the PCSO. A fisherman from Antique, Tatay Macario has travelled all the way to Manila hoping to be given financial support. For six years, Tatay Macario has lived with an enourmous growth on his forehead which is bigger, if not as big as his head. Findings have shown that the growth on Tatay Macario’s head is a Malignant Tumor. For a major operation, he needs around P200,000.
At 62, Tatay Macario is unable to work because of his condition. They were not able to act on the tumor immediately because of lack of finances, and what makes things even more difficult is that while things are getting more expensive, their finances aren’t improving.
How things work
Like Aling Bonifacia and Tatay Macario, a lot of the people who line up at the PCSO office are people from different parts of the country. At around 8 a.m., the office doors open and the people lined up are let in.
From looking at the office, it can be seen that the posters indicating the processes are only small ones. Aside from that, the office is also poorly ventilated, with only five ceiling fans and a single stand fan to try to accomodate 200 people.
Maybe most discomforting is the fact that the lines move slow because there are only three social workers to handle the hordes of people lined up and to assess the hundreds of applications that they recieve every single day. Because of these circumstances, it can be expected that these social workers will lose their cool from time to time.
To be able to avail of the PCSO’s Individual Medical Assistance Program, one must be able to provide a request letter to the chairman or general manager, a medical abstract, a quotation from the hospital pharmacy, a medical prescription, and a photocopy of a valid ID, along with a host of other necessary application documents. Different cases require different sets of documents and requirements.
Normally, an application takes 5 days before granted a Guarantee Letter. After the requirements are approved, applications go through an evaluation and recommendation stage. According to OIC/Manager Jose Bernardo Gohoco Jr, the amount that’s given depends on the severity of the applicant’s situation as well as the patient’s status.
After the recommendations pass through supervisors and the OIC Division Chief, the head honchos are now the ones that will approve the applications depending on the amount of medical assistance necessary. Finally, the guarantee letter will be given to an applicant, which states how much medical assistance will be given to them.
Cutting corners and the sad truth
While most of the hopefull applicants go through the lining up and waiting, there are some who’d rather cut corners and work with fixers. Unfortunately, politics don’t only happen in the application process but also there are some dirty deeds done in the selection of applicants to be granted medical help.
While Aling Bonifacia, a financially strapped vendor from far away can only receive 10% of the total hospital expenses that she needs to pay, there are some are financially more capable and still receive up to P1 million in financial help from the PCSO.
Because of the amount of money wasted by the former administration, the PCSO is now deep in debt.
With all the income from the lottery, the PCSO makes around P80 million. Of the P80 million, only 30% or P24 million is alloted for the Charity Fund and this isn’t just for the medical help that’s given to applicants. The P24 million also covers mandatory contributions, ambulance purchases, and operating expenses.
With this kind of division with the funds, it’s unfortunate that there are still anomalies that go on in the approval and distribution processes and according to Chairman Margie Juico, the amount of guarantee letters given out were more than the actual fund allotted for the medical expenses to be given away.
What’s more startling is that the PCSO, a government office, is already blacklisted in some hospitals. According to Chairman Juico, this was the situation that she had seen when former Chairman Sergio Valencia left office.
In fact, Makati Medical Center is already asking for the P29 million that PCSO owes them and the National Kidney Institute is also asking for the P19 million that the PCSO owes them. According to Chairman Juico, the PCSO’s debt has ballooned because the former PCSO administration gave out guarantee letters even though there were incomplete requirements, which is an important factor in handing out financial assistance.
If the PCSO was blacklisted in hospitals, they how come they seem to have been spending a lot on other things, like say advertisments? Chairman Juico stated that the PCSO before her had a budget of a whopping P900 million but actually spent P1.7 billion on advertisments. The money went to production of movies that did not make it big and tv shows that were not relevant.
According to the Commission on Audit, even they felt that the PCSO had spent way too much money on advertisments, money that they could have used for charity instead. After all, charity is one of their missions.
The P1.7 billion that was spent on advertisments could have been used to buy 1,700 units of ambulances, could’ve helped 85,000 beneficiaries, or could’ve been used to fund 1,700 organ transplants. All in all, Chairman Juico stated that she has inherited around P3 billion of debt to hospitals and P1 billion in media outlets as PCSO chairman.
Aling Bonifacia and Tatay Macario symbolize the people who come to the PCSO in hopes of recieveing even just a little help for their medical problems. With the help of the PCSO, Aling Bonifacia and Tatay Macario have been given their chances at a better life at the East Avenue Medical Center.
Along with the hope that Aling Bonifacia and Tatay Macario are being given is the hope that soon, a reform in the system of the PCSO takes place.
Enough of the unneccessary expenditures and focus on what the PCSO stands for, and that’s helping those in need. May 7, 2011