Duterte reiterates policy vs new Boracay casinos
“They are still at it with casino – kay may franchise lang siya na sabi ng contract, to hell with the contract,” the President said in remarks at the Philippine Quality awards at Malacañang yesterday. “I told you I do not want gambling, period.”
Duterte reiterates policy vs new Boracay casinos
Christina Mendez, Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) - October 25, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte has reiterated his ban on casinos in the country, even ordering the burning of gambling establishments in Boracay, which is set to reopen to visitors tomorrow or six months after it was closed to give way to rehabilitation.

“They are still at it with casino – kay may franchise lang siya na sabi ng contract, to hell with the contract,” the President said in remarks at the Philippine Quality awards at Malacañang yesterday. “I told you I do not want gambling, period.”

“I told policemen burn the hotel,” he said, without saying which hotel or casino he wanted burned down.

Duterte added that he also is not in favor of online bingo and other forms of gambling, as he also accused some casino financiers of involvement in criminal activities.

“It will be suppressed, no gambling. Look at Okada, all kidnappers, extortionists, police scalawags. Kidnappers just stay in the rooms,” he said in Filipino, referring to the Japanese hotel operator.

It’s legally feasible for the Duterte administration to ban casino operations in Boracay, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ).

In an eight-page legal opinion – a copy of which was obtained by The STAR – Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said issuance of an executive order (EO) by President Duterte is the “most expedient and effective” way to implement a “no casino” policy for Boracay without the need for legislation.

Such EO should direct the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) to cancel existing provisional licenses granted to casino firms planning to build hotels in Boracay as well as prohibit the grant of new licenses.

“The State possesses police power to prohibit gambling in the Philippines or any part of it and this power was validly delegated by law to the Pagcor, a government corporation, which is subject to control by the President,” the DOJ said in its legal opinion.

“The President may, by an EO, direct the Pagcor to prohibit the grant of licenses to casinos in Boracay and cancel existing license already granted… An EO is proper to direct Pagcor to hold the grant of licenses to casinos in Boracay and to revoke existing licenses,” it stated.

The DOJ cited the government’s authority to regulate gambling as basis used by Congress to give Pagcor the power to control casino operations in the country.

The DOJ further explained that the provisional licenses granted by Pagcor to casino operators are not contracts that bind the government to obligations.

“Truly, a license can be granted, revoked or withheld renewal at the instance of an issuing authority like the Pagcor because it is an act of grace, a grant of privilege not regularly available to other persons. The provisions of a contract, on the other hand, are premised on mutual agreement of parties,” it pointed out, citing jurisprudence.

With this, the DOJ assured the Department of Tourism (DOT) it should not worry about possible legal repercussions from the revocation of existing casino licenses in Boracay.

“As we already stated, the regulation of gambling and casinos – including the recall of provisional licenses – is a valid exercise of police powers, the operators cannot, consequently, say that an EO directing the revocation of existing licenses violates the non-impairment clause under the Constitution,” read the opinion.

The DOJ said the Boracay Interagency Task Force or a new working group could be tasked to create the EO.

It also suggested that such EO must contain provisions covering investments already shelled out by casino firms with provisional licenses.

“We are not unmindful of the fact that these investors may have already expended capital on their investments. Thus, we recommend that in coming up with the EO, provisions concerning the consequence of cancellation of provisional licenses be included,” the opinion added.

The DOJ added the DOT’s accreditation power could be used in implementing the  EO for a “no casino” policy.

DOT’s request

The department issued the legal opinion last Oct. 8 upon the request of the DOT.

Earlier, Guevarra said that plans to build casino-resort in Boracay could be “legally complicated due to existing jurisprudence declaring almost half of the island as forest and that cannot be privately owned.”

It was earlier reported that Galaxy Entertainment is eyeing building a casino and resort on the island. Galaxy Entertainment’s local partner, Leisure & Resorts Corp., said that talks on building a casino and resort on Boracay continue.

The justice chief said that should the plan push through, a reclassification of Boracay’s land is “necessary.”

Guevarra was referring to the October 2008 case of the Supreme Court (SC) that classified Boracay as forest and agricultural land that belongs to the government.

The SC affirmed a proclamation issued by then-president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo that held that 400 hectares of Boracay comprised reserved forestland and 628.96 hectares as agricultural land.

The ruling also stated that owners of resorts built on the island are mere “builders in good faith” as the shoreline is a forestland that could not be privatized.

“The continued possession and considerable investment of private claimants do not automatically give them a vested right in Boracay. Nor do these give them a right to apply for a title to the land they are presently occupying,” the 35-page decision penned by now retired associate justice Ruben Reyes read. – With Jennifer Rendon

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