MANILA, Philippines – The House Appropriations Committee has asked the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) to explain why it funnels its funds into Malasakit Centers, a pet project of President Rodrigo Duterte’s aide and now senator Bong Go.
The issue was brought up by Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman during the PCSO’s 2020 budget hearing on Friday, August 23. He called Malasakit Centers a “partisan tool.”
“This Malasakit Center is a new being and I think there should be a legal basis for you to fund these Malasakit Centers. There is need for you to investigate and validate the effectivity of this Malasakit Center because it is more of a partisan tool than a medical outlet,” said Lagman.
Deputy Majority Floor Leader and House Appropriations Committee Vice Chairperson Juan Miguel Macapagal Arroyo backed Lagman’s query. He directed PCSO to furnish lawmakers with a written explanation of their legal basis for supporting the centers.
The Malasakit Centers are part of the Individual Medical Assistance Program (IMAP) charity program which received P8.68 billion in 2018 from PCSO’s net charity fund, according to the PCSO’s presentation.
For the first semester of 2019, IMAP received P2.82 billion.
PCSO general manager Royina Garma later explained that the PCSO does not fund the Malasakit Centers themselves. What happens is, the PCSO’s At Source and Processing (ASAP), a desk which facilitates PCSO medical assistance inside hospitals instead of in PCSO branches, is part of the Malasakit Centers.
“We are not funding the center, we are funding the clients who ask for medical assistance. We don’t give the fund to the center,” Garma told reporters after the briefing.
Malasakit Centers are a “one stop shop” facility where Filipinos seeking medical assistance can access multiple government agencies in one go instead of having to visit various offices. The centers can be found in hospitals, for easier access. Participating agencies include the Department of Social Welfare and Development and Department of Health, aside from the PCSO.
“We do not want our clients to go to our branches and ask for assistance so we have people there to assist in the documents, and these are referred po, charged to our IMAP,” said Garma.
Complaints about Malasakit Centers
Despite its purported benefits, Lagman said there was still a need for PCSO to evaluate the Malasakit Centers.
“Kindly make a thorough investigation of the operations of these Malasakit Center. It is a partisan activity,” said Lagman.
After the budget hearing, Lagman told Rappler that he raised the issue because he received “more than a dozen” complaints from hospital patients that the centers were not working as intended.
“More than a dozen patients complained to me that when they went to the Malasakit Center in BRTTH (Bicol Regional Training and Teaching Hospital), the representatives of the agencies concerned to make it a one-stop shop were not there so they were being asked to go from one office to another. Meanwhile, it would take a long time for them to be attended to despite the fact that some of them had urgent cases for medical attention,” Lagman told Rappler.
He said the complaints mentioned other Malasakit Centers but that the one in BRTTH stood out because the hospital is among the largest in the region.
These complaints, said Lagman, need a validation from the PCSO if the Malasakit Centers they are supporting are indeed helping patients or if they are “a political or partisan front,” said the Bicol lawmaker.
The BRTTH Malasakit Center in Albay is the 15th Malasakit Center. It was inaugurated with Go as guest of honor on October 14, 2018.
Go, in a statement on Friday, said he has "no objection" to any investigation into Malasakit Centers.
But he accused Lagman of being "anti-poor."
"Do not be anti-poor. Huwag po natin ipagkait ang tulong at pagmamalasakit natin sa ating mga kababayan (Let us not deprive our fellow Filipinos from assistance and compassion.)," said Go.
Lagman, however, had said he called for a probe in order to improve medical assistance to citizens.
Malasakit Centers are a flagship initiative of Senator Bong Go which began when he was still Special Assistant to the President. However, because Malasakit Centers displayed large posters of Go’s face and personal appearances of Go during the launch of each center, critics slammed the initiative as premature campaigning. Many of the centers were launched in the lead-up to the 2019 campaign period and during the campaign period. (READ: [EDITORIAL] #AnimatED: Bantay-salakay ng Malasakit Center?)
The Commission on Elections had even ordered the Department of Health to take down these posters after citizens complained that government funds were being used to promote Go’s senatorial candidacy.
There are now at least 41 Malasakit Centers. Go continues to attend the inaugruration of new centers. For instance, he was present at the opening of the 41st center, located at the Rizal Medical Center in Pasig City.
Go has filed a bill institutionalizing Malasakit Centers. – Rappler.com
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.