What we know so far: Revived Boracay casino plans

Rosette Adel - Philstar.com
What we know so far: Revived Boracay casino plans

MANILA, Philippines — It seems like the deferred casino plans on the world-famous island Boracay will push through after all.

Citing lack of funds, President Rodrigo Duterte recently took back his words against casino plans and said he is now in favor of those.

“Ngayon, magsabi ka, ‘Ito si Duterte, bakit sabi mo ayaw mo ng sugal, tapos ngayon maski ‘yung sa Boracay ‘yung gambling house doon ine-encourage mong buksan para sa tourist?’” Duterte said in his taped “Talk to the People” aired August 26.

(Now, you’ll say, ‘This Duterte, you said you don’t want gambling, and now you encourage the opening of a gambling house in Boracay for tourists?’)

“Patawirin na po ninyo ako for the contradiction. Ngayon po wala tayong pera. Kung saan man tayo makakuha ng pera, kukunin ko. Kung diyan sa gambling, so be it. Ngayon, kung nagkamali ako, tama ‘yan, nagkamali ako. Kung wala akong isang salita diyan, tama ‘yan, wala akong isang salita diyan. Pero kailangan ko ng pera para patakbuhin ang gobyerno kasi marami akong gagastusan,” he added.

(Please forgive me for the contradiction. Now we don’t have money. Wherever we may get money, I’ll take it. If that’s from gambling, so be it. If I was wrong there, yes, I am wrong. If I didn’t stand by my word, yes that’s right, but I need money to run the government because I have a lot to finance.)

READ: Duterte favors Boracay casinos, defends dolomite beach

Throwback to 2018

In April 2018, Duterte said he would prohibit casinos on Boracay island, which was closed to tourists for six months for rehabilitation.

"There are no plans for a casino. That’s enough, because it's too much. There's a casino here, casino there," Duterte said then.

READ: What we know so far: Duterte's 'no new casinos' directive

This, after concerned citizens, questioned the timing of the Boracay island closure that prompted speculations that the island shutdown would pave way for the construction of the casino.

The previous meeting of the president with Galaxy Entertainment Group Limited Chairman Dr. Lui Che Woo in December 2017 also made headlines.

President Rodrigo Duterte greets Galaxy Entertainment Group Limited Chairman Dr. Lui Che Woo who paid a courtesy call on the president in Malacañan Palace on Dec. 6, 2017.
Presidential photo/Ace Morandante

Galaxy’s local partner Leisure and Resorts World Corp. (LRWC) said its subsidiary acquired 23 hectares of land in Barangay Manoc-Manoc, Boracay island to build the casino.

In the same year, the president also said there will be no casinos to be built in the country aside from those that already exist.

His statements then were perceived contradicting as Galaxy said that it would continue its $500 million-worth casino project in Boracay, citing that it has been granted a provisional license by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. early that year.

READ: To build or not to build: Contradictory statements on Boracay casino plan

PAGCOR chief Andrea Domingo said Duterte is aware of this project and that it would ensure the environmental aspect of the construction. However, the gaming regulatory agency later changed tune after Duterte lambasted the casino project on the island.

Resumption of Boracay plans

Three years later, Domingo said Duterte greenlighted two casino projects in Boracay Island by Megaworld and Macau-based Galaxy Entertainment Group.

Megaworld’s Andrew Tan said his company Alliance Global Group Inc. (AGI) will proceed with their casino project in Boracay Newcoast.

“We already have several hotels there and we are still building more,” Tan was quoted as saying in a statement. 

Boracay Newcoast is 150-hectare integrated tourism development developed by Megaworld subsidiary Global-Estate Resorts Inc.


Boracay Newcoast map facing the Sibuyan Sea.
Megaworld Corp.com

Megaworld also reportedly said the project would adhere to the government’s environmental policy, citing that there are dedicated “green and open spaces.”

On the other hand, Galaxy’s local partner LRWC said it would still hold talks regarding the resumption of casino construction plans.

"The company is looking forward to the resumption of the discussions with Galaxy in view of the president's go-signal for casino operation in Boracay," LRWC was quoted as saying.

With Duterte’s fresh backing of the controversial casino project, his latest pronouncements gained mixed reactions from stakeholders.

Opposition vs revived Boracay casino plans

The president's recent pronouncement earned the ire of Boracaynons.

Business community leader or business owner Nenette Aguirre-Graf opposed the project, saying they have worked their way to promote Boracay as a family destination.

“It’s been like that for years. And here comes a new pronouncement by the president. We all know what goes with a casino island. It goes with drugs, prostitution, criminality, money laundering and many other things that are negative,” she told ANC.

Native Boracaynon Gil delos Santos also argued that opening casinos in Boracay is not an answer to government's shortage of funds due to the pandemic.

“This is all lie! This is deceit to people especially to Boracaynons who will suffer the long-term effect of the casino,” Delos Santos said.

He cited that the physical structure of the casino has not yet been constructed and it would take three to five years to complete.

“When can they start to collect proper government taxes, after the pandemic? How could it answer their purpose to aid pandemic fund crisis at the moment? Pandemic is the 'alibi' of the president and the people under his command on the same political party...as he already promised to Chinese to allow this casino in Boracay, 2018 pa lang,” the Boracay advocate claimed.

“He needs to deliver that before his term ends. And that local executives in Aklan already got a good package for their ‘YES,’” he added.

“It is a dream to properly tax them. The gain of this political leaders pushing for the casino in Boracay is personal ‘kickback,’” Delos Santos said.

Aside from this, Delos Santos noted that after the six-month rehabilitation in 2018, Boracay is being marketed and branded as a “serene destination.” They are implementing the carrying capacity policy for the same reason.

He argued that a casino project could hurt that branding and could be likened to Macau. Having gamblers on the island could pose threat to the community’s peace and order.

Support for Boracay casino project

Acting Boracay municipal mayor Frolibar Bautista is in favor of the construction of these casinos.

"After ng closure, pinag-usapan na ang Boracay maging family tourist destination. Ngayon iba na naman ang magiging direction so tingnan natin ano ang mangyari d'yan. Minsan ang pagiisip kasi natin 'pag sa casino iba na ang pananaw natin," Malay town mayor Frolibar Bautista told ABS-CBN's Teleradyo interview. 

(After the closure, Boracay was planned to become a family tourist destination. Now, we are going to go on a different direction and we’ll see what would happen then. Sometimes we think differently of casinos.)

He also alleyed the public’s fears and said that a casino has operated in Boracay for many years and it did no harm. He said perceived negative impact only depends on the management of these casinos.

Moratorium on casino construction

In a Facebook post, Delos Santos cited that Malay Sangguniang Bayan Resolution No. 0068 dated July 4, 2017 declaring a 15-year moratorium on endorsement for casino operations in Boracay and Malay, valid until 2032.

“Whereas, during the effectivity of this moratorium, a periodic review shall be conducted by the Sangguniang Bayan to determine the feasibility or viability of gaming activities and its economic impact in the Municipality of Malay,” the resolution signed by Concordia Alcantara, secretary to the Sangguniang Bayan reads.

First page of the Malay Sangguniang Bayan Resolution No. 0068
Gil delos Santos/Facebook


Second page of the Malay Sangguniang Bayan Resolution No. 0068
Gil delos Santos/Facebook

PAGCOR, however, lifted the three-year moratorium on casino ban.

Its head, Domingo, also reportedly said they would implement this new policy.

Authorities handling the Boracay island, the Boracay Inter-agency task force, is also reported that members have yet to discuss the effectivity of the Malay Sangguniang Bayan resolution.

Delos Santos, however, maintained that despite the president’s pronouncements and lifting of the moratorium on casino ban, local government units “have local autonomy rights.”

“Casino proponents still need to acquire local permits,” he told Philstar.com.

He also said that casino is not the only source of income for Boracay.

“Develop the culture and arts instead than to bring Chinese dominance on the island,” the Boracay advocate said.

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