POSTSCRIPT / January 26, 2006 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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PCSO insists its lotto has enough safeguards

PCSO REJOINDER: Reacting to my report on bettors’ expressing fears that some extra winners could be inserted after the lotto draws of the Philippine Charity Sweepstake Office, PCSO officials sent a rejoinder to the STAR publisher, not to me.

As it seems that the PCSO confuses the messenger for the message, I want to clarify once more that I am not accusing the PCSO of cheating. I was merely reporting the fears of some bettors in the hope that corrective measures will be adopted.

I suggested two measures: (1) that a compact disk (CD) of all the bets be taken to the TV draw and played right after the jackpot combination is drawn so the number of winners is known immediately, leaving no chance for any insertion, and (2) that the bet tickets be printed on quality paper so the numbers and other data on them do not fade before the one-year deadline for claiming prizes.

It seems from their rejoinder, however, that the present PCSO officials are not ready to adopt the suggested safeguards. Sayang, because the proposals, I think, would be good for the PCSO and its public image.

Anyway, this is the PCSO’s problem, not mine — except of course if I hit the jackpot with other winners. I could be disturbed by the thought that one of my co-winners may have been inserted after the draw.

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ALREADY IN EFFECT?: The PCSO officials said that there are already many safeguards. They said that the on-line lottery system “observes strict security measures to ensure the transparency, integrity, and credibility of the draws.”

They claimed that the suggestion to “bring to TV studio a read-only CD containing all the numbers sold for the draw… is already in effect.”

(Maybe I have not been paying attention, but I do not see the CD with the consolidated bets during the televised 9 p.m. draw. I do not see the CD being opened and read right after the draw to determine how many bets won the jackpot that night.)

They said that “the procedure is discussed below under the Main Computer Center draw proceedings.” Here is that portion cited:

“The Main Computer Center (MCC) is where data pertaining to all lottery transactions are recorded. At exactly 8:30 pm, the online lottery system will disable the selling of tickets for all games at all betting terminals. This means that no more bets will be accepted by the system from any lotto terminals/computers linked to it. Therefore, no bogus winners beyond 8:30 pm can be inserted to the system. After which, the computer system consolidates all sales transactions and prize pools earned per game for the ‘live’ draw to be held at 9:00 pm. This means that all the sales for that day are final and no additional sales can be added to the system. The sales report is verified and certified by a number of official representatives from PCSO composed of the Internal Audit Department, Budget and Accounting Department, Legal Department and Commission on Audit, an independent government agency acting as watchdog against irregularities in the government agencies it audits, together with top officials of PCSO acting as Management Observers.”

There is nothing in the above procedure for a CD containing all the bets to be opened and its content searched for winners.

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PREEMPT COMPLAINTS: The crux of our suggestion is to inform the viewing public during the televised draw how many bets actually won the jackpot that night. That is not being done.

In their rejoinder, the officials said that they do have a similar precaution but that “it is not being aired live on TV because PCSO has only 15 minutes airtime contract with NBN-4 and the whole procedure and confirmation of lotto winners take more than one hour to complete.”

They added that the proceedings at the PCSO data center are covered by video camera and the tapes are kept and may be available for anybody’s scrutiny.

I doubt if anybody betting P10 will have the time, strength and inclination to go to the PCSO to investigate. That was why we suggested that the PCSO itself preempt possible complaints by extracting live during the show the winners from the database in the CD.

Now if the PCSO thinks that is not necessary because the bettors would take the PCSO’s word for it anyway, that is their own lookout.

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JUST WILL IT: If the PCSO wills it, the suggested CD routine — or something just as good — could be added to the draw procedure.

What is the problem? Time? There will be time if PCSO wills it. Cost of airtime? With the millions that the on-line lottery has been raking in from gullible bettors and the millions in unclaimed prizes flowing to Malacanang, they should be able to buy a little more airtime to shore up the integrity of the lotto.

The officials also said: “Another important aspect of our standard operating procedures is the sealing of a separate logger tape containing information of all sales and bet combinations transaction from all lotto terminals, (the seal of which is signed by all the abovementioned draw participants/representatives such that it is impossible to break or tamper the tape without breaking the signatures), and locked inside a vault in the secured, offsite storage area. The sealed logger tape is being secured before the live drawing of number combinations at 9:00 pm and said tape will be safeguarded by a separate audit body of the PCSO at the offsite vault. It is, therefore, impossible to insert a winning ticket after closing time and after the numbers are drawn.”

The PCSO can send certified copies of the list of bettors and winners to Fort Knox, the Central Bank vault, an air-tight Swiss bank repository, or put a copy inside an indestructible black box — but all that is meaningless if the public does not witness the winners being extracted right before their eyes during the televised draw.

The PCSO officials said: “After the live telecast of the (lotto) draw, the official winning combinations per game will be keyed-in to the main computer system. The online lottery system will automatically search its database for matches to the drawn winning combination from among the combinations played. After which the winners’ report of the drawn game will be printed out. The reports and other draw documents will be presented to all draw participants for their verification and confirmation.”

That is well and good, but it happens off-camera after the televised draw. The viewing public does not see this elaborate procedure. And after the PCSO makes kuwento on it — they want bettors to just nod, swallow their saliva and say “Noted”?

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FED-EX EXPERIENCE: Rebecca C. Olarte of Caloocan City, tells us about their sad — and costly — experience with Federal Express. Are they that helpless?

“Last Jan. 9, I sent a pack of documents for my mother in Vallejo, California, through FedEx at the NAIA complex, hoping it was the most reliable and best way to beat the Jan. 10 deadline in the US (Jan. 11 here), given their assurance of a two-day shipping time.

“The parcel did arrive on time, but we only learned four days later that somebody else, without authorization from my mother, received it. The delivery came at a time the house was closed because my parents were out for their 10 a.m. appointment supposedly to submit the documents I sent them.

“It was only on Jan. 13 (14 in the US), when my mother called, that I learned that they had not yet received the documents and that they would already be slapped with penalties for the delay in submission. I relayed this info to FedEx and asked them to help us trace the documents.

“FedEx did check, but throughout the day nobody at FedEx here or in the US gave us feedback. So I called FedEx NAIA late in the afternoon to inquire about their ‘investigation.’ The one who answered said the investigation could take at least a week and stressed that their service is ‘door to door’ not ‘person to person.’

“Finally, my mother called on Jan. 14 (15 in the US) to inform me that she found the package at their building administration office, received by a staff of that office. This was after she called the local FedEx office that morning and got nothing but a profuse ‘sorry’ that the deliveryman had failed to leave a notice at their home address that the parcel was received by somebody else at the office.

“It was only on Jan. 16 that a certain Gilbert from FedEx NAIA called to inform me what we already knew. This was after four days of overseas calls and three days of my parents worrying about the missing documents, the penalties for late submission and cost of overseas calls.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 26, 2006)

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