"Moral issues aside, people need to work, and families need to eat."
Come October 1, Small Town Lottery will be allowed to resume operations provided that authorized agent corporations (STL AACs) have complied with the necessary cash bond requirements and health and safety protocols.
Understandably, many may deem this as a risky step. However, if we put ourselves in the shoes of the now-unemployed collectors who have heavily relied on the STL for livelihood pre-pandemic, this development would bring a collective sigh of relief.
The months-long lockdown and the consequential suspension of STL has left many without income, driving them deeper into poverty. The COVID-19 pandemic has also forced many to leave their day jobs in the metro and go back to their home provinces. Just this week, the Department of Trade and Industry reported that around 90,000 businesses remained closed during this pandemic. Notwithstanding the fact that the pandemic poses risks to everyone, we also suffer from the lack of sources of income.
I cannot emphasize enough how this program is needed by these people now, more than ever. Before the pandemic, we have already established the benefits provided by the STL program as an employment opportunity and alternative source of livelihood for locals, especially those belonging in the marginalized sector and those unable to be hired during job fairs.
The resumption of the STL operations is welcome news. This will not only uplift and help existing collectors, but also those looking for new jobs in the provinces. The resumption of STL will give employment opportunities to the many who lost their jobs because of the pandemic.
Moral issues aside, people need to work, and families need to eat. While there are on-going moral and legal debates on STL, to my mind, it is legal, and we can monetize its operations to inure to the benefits of those on the grassroots level.
Aside from the social effects of the resumption, the government undoubtedly needs funds to sustain its programs. For a long time until its suspension in 2019, the STL has been the biggest revenue-generating program of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO). However, the short suspension last year contributed to the P6.2-billion drop in revenue for 2019 as reported. This June, PCSO General Manager Royina Garma reported that the agency has already lost an estimated P13 billion in total revenue.
We can only imagine how the six-month long suspension would impact the agency’s health and charity programs. The PCSO, however, reported that it has released funds to help in the financing of COVID-19 efforts in hospitals. In a recent Congressional briefing, PCSO GM Garma reported that the agency had already provided assistance to 14 local government units and 82 hospitals across the country. The help amounted to P463 million. How long the PCSO can sustain this as 2021 draws near, with its significantly-cut revenue, we do not know.
While the resumption will hopefully restore and replenish PCSO’s health and charity funds, we are aware of the accompanying risks. I trust that operators will take the initiative to test their employees before deploying them to the localities. Moreover, I hope PCSO and the STL-AACs will devise ways to adapt to the new normal and implement double protection measures to ensure that collectors and other employees will not be facing terrible risks in going back to communities. Perhaps the agency can pivot a significant percentage of their fund to provide the necessary PPEs and other COVID- responsive measures.
We are all on the same boat. We all hope for the gradual resumption of businesses, small or big alike, but we are also considering the livelihood of the bottom sectors as equally valuable. I hope that as we hurdle and overcome this pandemic together, we do not let other sectors get left behind, without compromising the paramount importance of the health and safety of everyone.