What we know so far: Boracay casino projects amid concerns for 'cesspool' island

Rosette Adel - Philstar.com
What we know so far: Boracay casino projects amid concerns for 'cesspool' island

Recent news that Boracay will have two casino-resorts comes after government aired concerns of environmental degradation of the island. 

Junho Hong / CC0
MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. has signed a provisional license for a Macau-based casino giant's integrated casino-resort project in Boracay island.
The government’s gaming regulator granted the provisional license for Chinese gaming firm Galaxy Entertainment Group despite several government agencies' proposed temporary total closure of the top tourist destination.
President Rodrigo Duterte had previously threatened to shut down Boracay, saying that it has become a "cesspool."
Galaxy deputy chairman Francis Lui Yiu Tung said construction of the casino is expected to begin in 2019 and will take at least three years. He reportedly said it is projected to generate hundreds of jobs.

Events before the provisional license was granted

Galaxy's local partner Leisure and Resorts World Corp. (LRWC) earlier said its subsidiary acquired 23 hectares of land in Barangay Manoc-Manoc, Boracay, where the casino project is slated to be constructed.
The casino is projected to cost around $500 million or P25 billion.
Executives of the Macau-based firm – considered one of the world's leading resorts, hospitality and gaming companies – paid a courtesy call at the Malacañan last December 6.
Galaxy chairman Lui Che Woo, also Hong Kong's sixth richest man, personally met Duterte to explain his plan to build an entertainment complex in Boracay. 
Woo was accompanied by Lui Yiu Tung and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank Director Rolando Macasaet during the courtesy call. 

Galaxy president Michael Victor Mecca, Senior Director for Strategic Planning Roland To Chi Kay, Senior Director for International Premium and Mass Market Development Raymond Yap Yin Min, Senior Manager Andrew Nicolas Lui, and Rep. Alfredo Benitez (Negros Occidental) were also at the courtesy call.

Benitez founded LRWC, which is a listed gaming company.
PAGCOR chair and CEO Andrea Domingo, Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo, and Socio-economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia were also at the meeting.

What the Palace, government agencies have said

Two months after the meeting with Galaxy, Duterte made the threat to close down the world-famous island. 
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, however, clarified that Duterte never mentioned the closure of Boracay during a Cabinet meeting despite floating the idea in speeches.
Roque said Duterte just asked the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to make recommendations to resolve the island's environmental problems within two months.
The two proposals earlier issued to address the sewage problems on the island include Department of Interior and Local Government officer-in-charge Eduardo Año’s proposal to place the island under a state of calamity or declare a 60-day closure.
Teo said she supports the immediate rehabilitation of the island. 
Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu shared the same sentiment and said he would augment the operations or performance of clearing the drainage system of Boracay, which is the first phase of the operations. This move is part of the agency’s Operation Plan: Regain Paradise to rehabilitate the damaged ecosystems.  
Año also vowed to punish those responsible for the ecological damage to the island.  
Roque said the president also wants local government units held liable for the environmental damage in Boracay.

What the Senate said

A Senate panel conducted an inspection of Boracay earlier in March. File photo
The Senate Committee on the Environment conducted an investigation into the degradation of the island on March 2. The panel is led by Sen. Cynthia Villar, whose family corporation owns property developments on the island.
Villar and her colleague Sen. Loren Legarda, proposed that only those establishments that violate the law should be penalized.
Senators Nancy Binay, Joel Villanueva and Juan Miguel Zubiri, who also oppose the total closure of the island, were present during the on-site inspection.
Villar confirmed that her family has interests on Boracay Island but said a proposed total closure of the tourist destination will not affect their business. She also believes there is no conflict of interest even if she leads the panel conducting the probe.
Despite opposition from the Senate panel, Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III said he supports a 60-day closure of the island. He said it is “logical” to rehabilitate the island and said the move would only be temporary.

What an environmentalist group says

The Kalikasan People's Network for the Environment, which is affiliated with the national democratic activist movement, meanwhile said the move to allow casinos on the island "smacks of hypocrisy, if not duplicity."
It said the crackdown on tourism establishments that strain the island seemed more meant "to eliminate competition from incoming Chinese business and capital investments whose entry into this country his regime so facilitated."
Citing government data over the past six years, Kalikasan said there have been an average of 781 visitors on the island per day. This is up from the 345 visitors that came to the island daily 20 years ago, according to Department of Tourism data. "Almost ten years ago, the [Department of the Environment and Natural Resources] had been calling for a 'tourism limit," it also said.
"Just imagine what would happen to the island if the 781 average number of visitors per day is increased by another 4,224 visitors per day, twice the average number of visitors an individual casino in Macau receives in a day. The average rate of 345 visitors per day has already been shown to be detrimental, what more with the influx of tourist-gamblers should this push through?" the group said.

What the regional Environment office says

In a report on The Freeman in February, Jim Sampulna, Department of Environment and Natural Resources 6 regional executive director, said overpopulation contributes to degradation of the island.
According to 2015 data, the island, which is around seven kilometers long, hosts 350 resorts, hotels, apartelles and pension houses. The island supports 33,000 residents and hosts around 2 million tourists a year.
Sampulna said in The Freeman report that even if tourists are limited to just 5,000, that would still be too many.  
"The sad part now is Boracay is being invaded by intruders. There aren't a lot of locals and natives. Boracay now is like a market... rather a big supermarket," Sampulna said.
One of the regional office's suggestions is for employees of hotels and resorts to live in mainland Malay and to have them leave the island when their shifts end.

Latest proposals for Boracay

On Thursday, however, the DENR, DILG, and DOT recommended the total closure of Boracay for up to one year so it can be rehabilitated.
"For public health, public interest, and general welfare, I recommend to the President the closure of Boracay island as tourist destination for a maximum of one year 
effective one month after the declaration," Cimatu said in a statement issued last week.
Teo on Tuesday said her agency is hopeful the closure would only last two months. She acknowledged that the closure would affect the DOT's tourist arrival target under the National Tourism Development Plan.
The tourism agency eyes 7.4 million foreign arrivals for 2018.
For his part, Duterte said he is amenable to a six-month closure, which he said was what Año recommended.
According to PAGCOR chair, Duterte met with Galaxy executives last year to stress that they should protect the environment and avoid corruption for their casino project.
Domingo said the casino giant assured Duterte that they would protect the environment.

Two casinos on Boracay

Meanwhile, a new casino by Resorts World which may be operational in four months will open at Megaworld Corp.’s Savoy Hotel in Boracay, according to Domingo. 
On Wednesday, Travellers International Hotel Group, Inc., operator of Resorts World Manila, clarified that the firms behind the casino project and the hotel are separate from Travellers.
The operator confirmed that the companies planning to run a casino at Savoy Hotel are also part of the Alliance Global Inc. – with Ian Nicolas Cigaral

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