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Panelo on displaced PCSO lotto workers: 'I'm sure they're not that poor'

MANILA, Philippines – Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo downplayed the worries of Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office lotto outlet workers who stand to lose their livelihood and income due to President Rodrigo Duterte's blanket order to stop all PCSO games indefinitely.

The workers surely couldn't be so poor as to immediately suffer consequences from the order, Duterte's spokesman said in response to questions in a news briefing on Tuesday, July 30.

When told that that the workers would have nothing to depend on, Panelo said: "Hindi naman siguro. I'm sure 'yung mga naapektuhan, hindi naman ganoon kahirap (Probably not. I'm sure those affected are not that poor)."

"Marami naman silang kinita during those times when they were operating. I'm sure mayroon silang pondo to live by (They earned a lot during those times when they were operating. I'm sure they have funds to live by)," he continued.

A little later on, he elaborated: "Hindi naman siguro walang-wala sila ngayon. Pangalawa, eh noong wala pa 'yung mga outlets na 'yun nabubuhay pa rin sila (I don't think they have absolutely nothing now. Second, when the outlets weren't existing, they were already getting by)."

While owners of gaming operators may have enough savings to tide them over, workers of lotto and other affected gaming outlets may not be as lucky. Labor groups have appealed to the government to consider the welfare of the workers and to provide assistance to them or alternative jobs.

Duterte's verbal order did not provide a definite period for the outlets' closure. Panelo admitted on Tuesday that Duterte has not given any timeline for his order.

Asked if the government had any intervention to help an estimated 60,000 workers displaced by the President's order, Panelo said in a mix of English and Filipino, "Well, as of now, there's none."

Panelo was apparently unaware of the announcement of Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III that government would provide assistance to the affected workers.

But later, when asked the same question repeatedly, he recalled Bello's press conference and said that the government will find way to help them.

Believe in workers 'human spirit'

Instead of outlining such a plan, Panelo expressed confidence in the "human spirit" of the workers to overcome hardships and trials.

"Do not underestimate the human spirit of Filipinos. 'Pag may dumadating na storm or anumang sakuna, or anong bagsak sa ating buhay, nakakaahon naman tayo (When there is a storm or any crisis, any turn for the worse in our lives, we are able to lift ourselves up)," he said.

"'Yan ay pansamantala lamang (This is only temporary)," he added, even if he earlier admitted he did not know until when Duterte's closure order would last.

Labor group Trade Union Congress of the Philippines had earlier appealed to Duterte to consider the impact of his order on the lives of the workers.

Senator Panfilo Lacson had previously said lotto outlets should have been spared from Duterte's order as there have been no reports of revenue cheating there. He also pointed out that if Duterte had really wanted to stop all forms of gambling, he should have also stopped  casinos regulated by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation and online gambling operations.

Duterte's July 26 order also shrouds in uncertainty the status of PCSO's medical assistance for poor patients, funded by its income from its regulation of gaming operations. PCSO funds are also supposed to be a source of funding for the multi-billion-peso Universal Health Care law. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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