By Macon Araneta | FilAm Star Correspondent
Opposition Sen. Leila de Lima raised concern over the government’s plan to convert Boracay island into a gambling haven following the administration’s approval of the development of casinos in the country’s island paradise.
Sen. Nancy Binay questioned the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp’s (PAGCOR) release of provision al license to operate to a mega-casino in Boracay despite the planned closure of the island to give way to its massive clean-up and rehabilitation.
“It would have been prudent if they deferred because we are rehabilitating Boracay and one of my questions is: what’s the carrying capacity of the island?” Binay said.
“And (on top) of the pressing problems in Boracay, we heard there will be an additional facility that the island cannot hold,” she added.
Because of plans to allow more casino operations on Boracay, De Lima doubted the real motive behind Duterte’s order to shut down beach resorts in Boracay in the guise of imposing strict environmental laws.
“I have serious doubts that the real intention to close down Boracay island was to rehabilitate it but instead to accommodate business interests by paving the way for the establishment of more casino operations in the island,” she said.
“While we clean up the island and penalize violators, let us be wary of the social and moral impacts of such development projects. The presence of more casinos in the island would create more problems than solutions in the communities,” she added.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of the Interior and Local Government and Department of Tourism recommended a one-year total closure of Boracay island for rehabilitation.
Despite the planned closure and Duterte’s imposition of a moratorium on the construction of new casinos, his administration disturbingly still granted the provisional license for the construction of casinos there.
Last March 23, PAGCOR signed the provisional license for the $500-million integrated casino-resort of Leisure and Resorts World Corp. (LRWC) and its foreign partner Galaxy Entertainment Group.
Binay said she is opposed to building the casino in Boracay and reiterated her stand to implement a moratorium on new constructions in the island.
“A one year total closure may not be the best solution for the island and its locals. So, ang posisyon ko is: instead of closure, moratorium muna tayo on new constructions,” Binay said.
Aside from Galaxy, DoubleDragon Properties Corp. is scheduled to build in Boracay the “biggest” hotel in the country with more than 1,000 rooms.
“A phase-by-phase rehabilitation where government can strictly enforce the law and at the same time implement the needed corrective measures could be the better option for Boracay,” she added.
Binay also said Sen. Cynthia Villar will call another senate hearing on Boracay and that she plans to ask the position of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Department of Tourism (DOT) on the planned construction.
The legislator said that the environment department should closely study the plans and the impact of another large-scale infrastructure on the island’s land use and environment.
She also called on Boracay stakeholders to closely monitor and participate in Galaxy’s permitting process, specifically in the crafting of the environmental impact statement (EIS) and the conduct of the necessary consultations for the issuance of an environmental clearance certificate (ECC).
Based on reports, Macau-based casino operator Galaxy Entertainment Group Ltd. and its local partner, AB Leisure Exponent Inc., are expected to build a $500-million integrated casino resort in Boracay next year.
PAGCOR Chairperson Andrea Domingo also reportedly approved the application of gaming operations of Resorts World Manila at the Savoy Hotel at the Megaworld Corp’s Boracay Newcoast development.
In addition to these two big casino resorts, she also disclosed that two other casino junket firms with smaller operations located at Movenpick and Crown Regency resorts in Boracay.
De Lima also called to mind the country’s experience with Chinese gaming tycoon Jack Lam who has records of bribing immigration officials to free some illegal Chinese workers who were arrested at his Pampanga casino, in 2016.
“By now, we should have already learned our lessons not to easily trust Chinese investors. Based on our country’s experience with Lam, there is no guarantee that our local industry and our local law will not be prejudiced again once we allow a Chinese company to convert our island into a Macau-style casino,” she noted.
It may be recalled that in 2016, two immigration officials were accused of extorting PHP 50 million pesos from Lam but the two officials claimed that they took the money “as evidence of corruption.”
If anything, the issue stemmed from the issue on the employment of the illegal Chinese workers and the alleged illegal on-line gambling operation.
At the very least, De Lima said, she hopes the Duterte administration will reconsider its decision not only to avoid crime and corruption in the island but also to protect the environment, the workers and the locals in the area.