Declining public trust: Long list of problems in PCSO

FOR THOSE willing to play the odds, the small price of a lottery ticket holds up the magic power of possibility, the freedom from financial worries and deprivation, the dream of a different life come true. The little bit of chance enlivens with its promise of relief from the burdens of poverty or for those who are not poor, for more of the good life. Filipinos have embraced the Lotto. It is part of national life. 

Sadly, controversy has struck the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes, shaded by all kinds of questions that so far remain unanswered in the news. Consecutive jackpot wins in the month of January raised some eyebrows and provoked expressions of disbelief and outrage in social media; enough to press the Senate Committee on Games and Amusement to investigate the legitimacy of the wins. 

On January 25, senators began the PCSO probe of the agency’s five biggest lottery games from December 29 to January 17. In that period, each jackpot draw called a winning ticket, a rare occurrence in the history of the lottery. The probe which started in January is still ongoing.

  • December 29, 2023 – a lone bettor won the PHP571 million Ultra Lotto 6/58 jackpot
  • January 2, 2024 – three bettors split the PHP108 million Lotto 6/42 jackpot
  • January 8, 2024 – two individuals won the PHP121 million Megalotto 6/45 jackpot
  • January 16, 2024 – a lone bettor won the PHP640 million Super Lotto 6/49 jackpot
  • January 17, 2024 – a lone bettor won the PHP698 million Grand Lotto 6/55 jackpot

A January 28 report by Rappler featured Guido David, a professor at the University of the Philippines Institute of Mathematics, who said that “the chances of winning in the 6/42 is one in 5 million; one in 14 million in 6/49; and one in 29 million in 6/55.” For him, the successive jackpot wins are rare but statistical data will not prove that cheating occurred in the draws.  He said that it would have to be an audit of the PCSO process and procedures that can determine the legitimacy of the wins. 

However, two other incidents have piled layers of concern on the operations of the PCSO: 

Manipulated photo of winner

On January 18, 2024 the PCSO posted a photo of a lottery winner. The picture was so obviously manipulated that social media made fun of the PCSO for the crude effort to conceal something. PCSO eventually explained that their object is to conceal the identities of winners for their safety and privacy. 

They could have avoided the problem by explaining the practice, and the photo need not have included a supposed winner as no one really wants to see who won. The public may be curious about where the ticket was sold. People also want to be assured that only a real ticket holder can claim the prize. So posting a manipulated photo was essentially pointless. reported that the fiasco prompted a member of the House of Representatives to call for the resignation of PCSO General Manager Melquiades Robles, arguing that Robles had lost the public’s trust due to the incident. 

Glitch at lotto draw

On the February 27, 2024 draw of PCSO’s 3-digit Swertres Lotto game, one of the draw machines malfunctioned, after a draw machine failed to capture a ball to complete the winning combination. PCSO protocol required taking the livestream off the air while PCSO technicians fixed the problem. Netizens however questioned the interruption as nothing was visible to the public, speculating that manipulation of winning numbers could have been done during the time. Robles defended PCSO’s protocol, adding that machine errors have happened before. Media (ANC, Daily Tribune, GMA Integrated News, Interaksyon,, Manila Bulletin, Manila Times, News5) reported the mishap. 

Hearings reveal other issues 

The Senate’s hearings on March 18, 2024 highlighted other issues raised in curious cases. Questions centered on one claimant collecting wins 36 times from July to December 2023. Other questionable instances involved separate individuals collecting winnings 13, 14, and 17 times. 

PCSO explained that lottery winners living in far-flung areas often ask other individuals to collect small cash prizes. The PCSO has allowed this to avoid holding uncollected amounts of cash. The name of the claimant is recorded, not the actual winners’. Robles noted that the repeated claims occurred only in PCSO’s lower-tier games, not in the multi-million peso games. 

In this particular case, it was a lottery agent who claimed the prize for winners because he or she sold the winning tickets. 

There were no questions raised about the practice of lottery agents representing the winners; nor about the frequency of a lottery agent selling winning tickets as this one did.

Susceptible to money laundering? 

In the same hearing, the Committee’s chair, Senator Raffy Tulfo claimed that an owner of a lotto outlet in Binondo, Manila “invested” PHP90 million in bets in the Super Lotto 6/49. The jackpot prize for that specific draw on January 16, 2024 was over PHP640 million, which was taken home by a lone bettor. 

According to a Philippine Daily Inquirer report, Tulfo suspected that the winner may have been supplied with “insider information” regarding a “scheduled increase” of the prize money since just a few days prior to the draw, PCSO raised the pot money by PHP500 million. 

Robles denied Tulfo’s claims, stating outright that the PCSO does not accept “investments,” only bets. 

The same report included that an official of the Anti-Money Laundering Council present at the hearing found it “out of the ordinary” for an individual to gamble so much on a game of chance. The official added that they are investigating potential unlawful activities involved as it falls under “a traditional money-laundering typology.”  

433 jackpot winners recalled

Senator Aquilino Pimentel also recalled the case of the October 1, 2022 draw when 433 individuals won the Grand Lotto 6/55. The lottery bettors used the same winning combination and subsequently had to split the PHP236 million jackpot to receive over PHP500,000 each. This case provoked close scrutiny of PCSO operations under Robles, having occurred less than three months after his appointment. 

Media (ABS-CBN News, GMA Integrated News, Malaya Business Insight, Manila Bulletin, Manila Standard, Manila Times, News5, One News, Philippine Daily Inquirer,, Rappler) gave the issue significant coverage. The remarkable event provoked reports as well from international media outlets (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, BBC, Bloomberg, CNN, The Guardian, New York Post, The New York Times). Both locally and internationally, reports focused on the rarity of the occurrence. The stir it caused here and abroad gave rise to resolutions in the House of Representatives and in the Senate. But neither chamber followed up with actual hearings. 

PCSO defended the draw, explaining that the winning combination (09-45-36-27-18-54, which are all divisible by 9) happens to be used by many bettors who believe it to be a lucky set of numbers. reported how in a press conference following the predicament, Robles quipped “It’s not only good to be loyal to your wives and husbands, it’s also good to be loyal to your numbers.”  

An October 2022 report from Interaksyon compiled explanations from experts culled from social media. Statistician Peter Cayton, data scientist Guido David, and data analyst Edson Guido all weighed in and concluded that while the result was far from usual, the chances of 433 bettors winning were low but not impossible. 

In an opinion column (Philippine Daily Inquirer) and editorials  (BusinessMirror, Inquirer, Philippine Star) however, members of media expressed concern and called attention to the loss of public trust in the PCSO.  

So far however no one in the Senate or in news accounts have raised the need to examine the obvious, the record of service in the public or private sector of those appointed to the Board as well as the management of the PCSO.

When Robles was appointed as PCSO General Manager by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in July 2022, some of the media did note the official’s checkered record. Rappler, ABS-CBN News, and the Philippine Star recalled that Robles was charged with graft during his time as Light Rail Transit Authority administrator. Other media (GMA Integrated News,, and Manila Bulletin) merely picked up what was stated in the official press release. 

Checking news files, CMFR found a 2017 report in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on the Sandiganbayan order for Robles’ arrest. He served as LRTA administrator under former president Gloria Arroyo. The anti-graft court had charged Robles and other LRTA officials for their alleged role in manipulating a government deal. 

A 2022 Rappler article noted that in 2019, Robles and his fellow accused were acquitted by the Sandiganbayan. GMA News Online pointed out that the acquittal was due to lack of evidence.  

The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) in August 2022 and November 2023 and Rappler in August 2022 focused on Robles being among campaign donors to the Marcos campaign to gain appointment in the Marcos administration. According to the two accounts, Robles was Marcos’ top individual donor after directly contributing PHP30 million in cash to the Marcos campaign. 

In the March 26 episode of the Mangahas Interviews, Robles addressed  questions about his appointment, insisting that it was unrelated to the contributions he made to the campaign. He said it was because the president had confidence in him. He added that he would resign immediately should it be proven that PCSO’s lotto games have been manipulated. 

Questionable leadership

As pointed out in columns and editorials, public trust in PCSO and its processes are crucial for the success of the agency and the success of the promise held in these bits of paper, in numbers arranged in sequence to recall milestones and other meaningful dates in one’s life; as well as in shared belief in combinations that win. These speculations are rooted however in the belief that the operation remains fair and sound. Without such confidence in the integrity of its conduct, the magic stops, the power of the promise wanes. Bets would halt and the agency will lose its capacity to transmit people’s money so it can help others in need. The name it carries after all is charity.

Media should sustain its hawk-eyed attention on the processes, the cases, the frequency of visits made by Lady Luck to certain areas, districts or agents if need be. For without such attention, no bit of luck will prevent those who can to do as they please because no one is watching. 

Media accounts should track the lack of detailed follow up on the part of the Senate and House as experts have already said only an audit of the PCSO’s processes and procedures can determine its integrity. Legislators should exercise their authority and call for a review, before the lotto loses its luck and luster.