INVESTIGATIVE SPECIAL REPORT:
By: Alex Guevarra – Freelance Gaming Investigative Writer
Last March 17, 2011, the Sangguniang Bayan of Municipality of Malay, Aklan, Philippines conducted a public hearing in connection with the application in Station 2, Boracay Island for a Resolution of No Objection on the proposed venue to host for a PAGCOR sanctioned ‘junket operations’ strictly for pre-registered “foreign players only”.
The Sangguniang Bayan members who conducted the hearing include the following: Councilor Rowen Aguire, Chairman, Committee on Laws & Ordinances; Councilor Jonathan Cabrera, Chairman, Committee on Good Government; Councilor Wilvec Gelito, Chairman, Committee on Games & Amusement; and, Councilor Jupiter Gallenero, Chairman, Committee on Public Order & Safety.
Significantly, the public hearing that was attended by representatives of the private sector and several members of the local print and broadcast media was the first time that a hearing was ever held in relation to the proposed establishment of a PAGCOR sanctioned Gaming Operations in Boracay Island.
Represented by the Atty. Alfredo L. Villamor, an incisive Gaming and Entertainment Lawyer, the proponents of the Junket Operations presented a dissertation addressing the concerns of the clergy regarding the opening of casinos in Boracay based on moral and social reasons.
The salient points of the dissertation also include compromise solutions that reconcile and resolve the colliding propositions of those who are in favor of legalized/regulated gambling due to economic reasons and against it due to social and moral grounds.
PREVIOUS ATTEMPTS TO ESTABLISH CASINO IN BORACAY
Last January 25, 2011, the Municipal Council of Malay has issued a resolution expressing its conformity to the proposal of the Cariño Development Management Corp. (CDMC) to build a casino at the Fairways and Bluewater Resort Golf and Country Club that would be restricted to foreign passport holders, foreign tourists, Fairway Club members and the resort’s guests. But, as in previous occasions, this was vigorously opposed by the religious sector, particularly by FR. MAGLOIRE PLACER, Parish Priest, Boracay Island, Boracay, Malay, Aklan. With such strong opposition, the Municipal Council’s Resolution of No Objection to Casino Operations within the premises of Fairways and Blue Waters for which no prior hearing was conducted, was practically shelved by PAGCOR and have not warranted the opening of a full casino therein.
During the term of Malay Mayor Ciceron Cawaling, the Sangguniang Bayan of Malay also passed a resolution allowing PAGCOR to construct a casino at Club Panoly that was situated in Barangay Yapac, Boracay Island. It was maintained that the decision to allow PAGCOR to operate on Boracay was premised on the same reason that Tagaytay, Cebu, Davao and other local governments allowed the casinos to operate: economic reasons and providing an alternative entertainment to tourists flocking to Boracay.
But the casino never opened as Boracay parishioners led by Fr. Isauro Sau David, parish priest of Boracay, mounted opposition since October 2002, when they first learned of the plan to build a PAGCOR casino on the island. Father David was supported by Mr. Lowell Talamisan who was then the President of the Parish Pastoral Council, as well other leaders of the Boracay Foundation Inc. (BFI) – the umbrella organization of more or less 200 hotel and resort owners – that conducted sustained prayer vigil in front of Club Panoly until PAGCOR buckled due to the pressure.
Indeed, the Catholic clergy and other community leaders stood firm on their conviction that the casino can result to addiction to gambling which could destroy families and businesses and worsen other social problems, including alcoholism, prostitution and illegal drugs.
CONSULTATIVE MEETINGS WITH BORACAY NGOs AND PARISH PRIEST
In a meeting between Atty. Villamor and Mr. Talamisan last March 19, 2011 (Sat) at Sea Breeze, a beachfront restaurant owned and operated by Boracay Regency, it was impressed by the latter that his group will continue to oppose the establishment of any land-base gaming facility in Boracay regardless whether it is a full-casino or “junket operation” only.
On March 20, 2011 Atty Villamor attended the Sunday mass accompanied by Mr. Talamisan, and they subsequently sought audience before Fr. Placer in an attempt to enlighten him about the economic contributions of the proposed Junket Gaming in the island as well as the whole Municipality of Malay. However, the good Priest respectfully turned down the idea of putting any gaming operations in the Island. In a nutshell, Fr. Placer defined his position as consistent with the Catholic tenet that prohibits any form of gambling. Nevertheless, Fr. Placer expressed appreciation to Atty Villamor who exerted efforts to pay respect, and reach out and educate the Religious and civil society sectors in Boracay about the economic benefits of the proposed Junket Gaming Operations without involving the local players.
THE POSITION OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH ON GAMBLING: APOSTOLIC BLESSING TO PAGCOR BY POPE BENEDICT XVI
In a dissertation, entitled “A CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF THE CHURCH'S MORAL STANCE ON GAMBLING/JUETENG” that was published in the Website of the De La Salle University – Dasmariñas, author Dave Gregory M. Antenor-Cruz asserted that “The Bible has nothing to say concerning gambling, as such. There is no explicit moral prohibition of gambling in the Scriptures.”
The author also cited the fact that in 1989, Jaime Cardinal Sin issued a Pastoral Statement entitled"On The Morality or Immorality of Gambling" wherein Cardinal Sin acknowledged that gambling in moderation could contribute to a person’s relaxation and well being. But, “the trouble with these gambling activities when led by greed, undue competition and compulsive behavior, what was supposed to be an honest entertainment becomes intemperate betting or gambling.”
Among the significant conclusions stated in the dissertation is that, “gambling with the intention of making profit to raise funds ranging from government expenditures to charitable causes is morally acceptable as long as institutions implement a morally responsible control.”
Perhaps, it is in the context of the foregoing that the humanitarian services of former Chairman Ephraim C. Genuino and PAGCOR merited the apostolic blessing of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. The unprecedented certification of Papal Blessing was published in the People Asia Magazine that also recognized Genuino as among the People of the Year Awardees for 2008.
APPLYING THE SOUTH KOREAN SOLUTION
As an investigative freelance journalist in the field of gaming, this writer who attended the public hearing as a gaming resource person and an observer representing Mr. Jerry Yap, the President of the National Press Club (NPC), noted that Junket Operator’s proposal to serve as venue host for a PAGCOR sanctioned “junket operation” is technically no different from a full casino except that the players are limited to foreign players only. PAGCOR has been operating this kind of gaming for a number of years already. Junket operations are held in casinos all over the country such as Clark, Subic, Tagaytay, Hotel Casinos in Manila, Davao, Cebu City and Fort Ilocandia. Under this system, PAGCOR would tie up with a Junket Operator who would have agents recruiting foreign players/gamblers from other countries. After compliance with the prerequisites of the Junket Operator, these recruited foreign players would be grouped together and scheduled to go to the Philippines in order to gamble at a predetermined venue authorized by PAGCOR. Only those who have been registered by the Junket Operator prior to the date of actual gaming shall be allowed to gamble. The operations are being bankrolled by the proponents at no cost to PAGCOR.
Atty. Villamor emphatically declared that there are innumerable measures that can be adopted in order to prevent local players from playing which may include the creation of a multi-sectoral council which would include, among others, a representative of the Church, with appropriate monitoring and regulatory powers.
In Korea, there is a law that absolutely prohibits Koreans from engaging in any form of gambling. But since the government is cognizant of the financial and economic benefits of maintaining casinos for tourists, it has put up a resort island known as Jeju Island where hotel-casinos are allowed to operate but exclusively to foreign players only. There are more at least 14 more Casinos operating in different places in Korea with the same set up and this system has been in operation for more or less twenty (20) years now and clearly, the system works. The system serves and accomplishes the purpose of gaining from the economic benefits of tourism-gambling with the locals being effectively insulated from the perceived evils thereof.
THE ASIAN GAMING PHENOMENON
The region's increasing wealth is funding a gambling boom that saw Macau overtake Las Vegas in casino revenue and triggered other Asian countries to establish their own gaming facilities.
While Macau remains by far the region's largest casino market with a record $23.5 billion gross winnings last year - about four times the revenue on the Las Vegas Strip, governments from Vietnam, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka to Fiji are also eyeing gambling parlors as a way to help attract more tourist dollars.
In Singapore, where two casino complexes opened in 2010, revenue this year is seen hitting $6.5 billion, rivaling the current take in Las Vegas. Asia could overtake the United States to become the world's biggest legal casino gaming market by the end of next year, said Jonathan Galaviz, casino industry analyst and chief economist at US-based Galaviz and Co consultancy.
While Macau's many casinos concentrate on gambling, Singapore's formula of "integrated resorts" combines two casinos with other attractions. "Most governments in Asia would like to see their casino strategies actually be tourist growth strategies," Galaviz added.
Following the pronouncement of President Benigno Aquino III that “casinos should be established in tourist destination areas”, Cristino L. Naguiat Jr, Chairman and CEO of PAGCOR said last year that the Philippines also hopes to see Singapore-style integrated resorts developed, to tap the Chinese market.
Indubitably, Boracay stands as the prime candidate being the top tourist destination. On the other hand, it may soon slide down to the lowest rank in the absence of gaming facilities therein. Indeed, the growth in casino gaming in Asia is not just isolated to China. It's an Asia-wide phenomenon.
ECONOMIC BENEFITS OF REGULATED GAMING AND PAYMENT FOR THE PHP 40 M LOANS FM DBP
As a mater of policy, PAGCOR ensures that the host local government unit gets a share from the latter’s revenues out of its operations in the locality. And, by agreement, the host local government unit may also share in the revenues of the junket operator. Most of the time, the funds earned by the local government unit are devoted to directly benefit its indigent constituents by way of social and livelihood projects.
Despite the well publicized opposition of the religious and private business sectors against the proposed casino operation in Boracay, numerous residents are expressing dismay over the phlegmatic pace of development and lack of social services in the island-resortcomposed of three (3) barangays – Balabac, Yapak and Manocmanoc. Of course, most does not realize that even as an average of 800,000 tourists flock to Boracay annually with combined tourists receipts of Php13.0 Billion (based on statistical data from the Department of Tourism), the Municipality of Malay only derives total revenue of 100 million from local taxes and permits/ licenses and a paltry sum of 45 million Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) share.
Surely, this is insufficient to build community hospitals, livelihood training center, minor offenders rehabilitation center, technical vocational schools, water systems in the mainlands villages, better roads, public markets, slaughter house, cold storage, fishermans wharf, agricultural support facilities, funds for livelihood support programs, and other infrastructure projects to include the effective and sustainable environmental preservation.
Malay Councillor Jonathan Cabrera revealed that he is advocating the establishment of PAGCOR sanctioned gaming facilities in Boracay as he believes that securing more revenues for community development is the most important objective at the moment.
“Most of our budget goes to the maintenance and other operating expenses and personal services of the LGU and the Environmental Protection and Preservation expenditures like maintenance of the Material Recovery Facilities and that include the amortization for the Php40 million loanfrom the Development Bank of the Philippines to build the Malay Sanitary Land Fill Project,” Cabrera said as he explained that there is practically nothing left for other vital projects.
Cabrera averred that it is their mandate as local government officials to determine income generating measures and source out additional revenues and assistance from other agencies in order to address the needs of its inhabitants who has high expectations from the local government. “We were given a genuine mandate of our constituents to ensure their welfare, and that is what we are doing”, he added.
Aside from the economic considerations, Atty. Villamor also argued that there are effective means to maintain the image of Boracay as a wholesome, family oriented tourist destination known for its several kilometers of white-sand beachfront area with various water-sports and land-based activities even if a foreign-players-only casino is allowed in Boracay. In this context, it was proposed that this foreign-players-only casino shall not be allowed to operate at any beachfront establishment.
Moreover, it was prayed that the resolution to be issued by the Municipal Council will limit the operation to an experimental period for at least three (3) years and no similar resolution shall be issued by the Municipal Council during the experimental period.
PROLIFERATION OF UNDERGROUND GAMBLING IN BORACAY
However, Mr. Lito Motus, a retired American citizen living in Boracay who attended the hearing as a representative of the private sector stated during the hearing that he and numerous expatriates enjoying their twilight years in Boracay favor a full casino rather than foreign-only junket operations in as much they have money to spend on gambling.
Another indication that tourists and expatriates living in the island are actually craving for the establishment of gaming facilities in Boracay is the alleged proliferation of underground gambling joints that serve as venues for poker and other card games that yields no revenue for the local government.
Indeed, Boracay may be considered as among the most popular tourist destination in the world, but competition is slowly creeping in such that unless new and innovative tourist attractions are adopted to enhance its appeal and attractiveness, it might eventually be left behind.
On this note, Mayor John Yap and majority of the Sangguniang Bayan members remains optimistic that PAGCOR regulated gaming operations in Boracay – whether “full casino or junket operations (foreign players only)” - shall soon emerge so as to enable the community to already enjoy the anticipated economic benefits without compromising its social and moral values.
INFLATED COST OF LIVING IN BORACAY: THE PRICE THEY HAVE TO PAY
With the exception of the few landed families and wealthy business owners, most of the more or less 30,000 residents are suffering from the inflated cost of living in Boracay Island. Indeed, theprices of basic commodities are already jacked up due to the added cost of transporting the goods from mainland Aklan but with the continuous influx of tens of thousands of tourists descending to Boracay, the prices of food and other essential items are inflated beyond the means of the locals.
Councilor Cabrera disclosed that majority of the local populace are no longer capable of buying prime meats, fresh fruits and vegetables and other food stuffs that were largely allocated to restaurants, hotels and resorts catering to tourists. Hence, the ordinary Boracay residents are left with scraps and rejects. The alarming situation is that most of the Malay residents are actually living below the poverty line, and the local government cannot do anything about it due to lack of funds for basic social services. This is one of the adverse effects of the booming tourism industry that has never been addressed.
Boracay has already gained world-wide recognition as among the most popular tourist destinations in Asia. Yet, it is clearly evident that the economic windfall is being reaped by a privileged few resulting to the marginalization of a vast numbers of local residents.
WHAT MAKES BORACAY DIFFERENT?
At present, there are already 27 Casinos and Slot Machine Arcades (PAGCOR VIP Clubs) operating in the Philippines. There are at least 5 more currently in various stages of development. As expected, there had been opposition from the religious sector in the respective areas where the gaming operations emerged but not as vigorous and sustained as in Boracay.
This writer believes that the alleged powerful lobby group opposing the establishment of PAGCOR sanctioned casino operations in Boracay will continue to block efforts to change the status quo in as much as they are presently enjoying brisk business from the influx of local and foreign tourists despite the lack of legitimate gaming facilities. And this lobby group can actually muster a motley group of noisy protesters over a long period of time in as much as Boracay is relatively small compared to other cities where gaming proponents managed to build and operate casinos.
It is not actually a question of insulating the local populace from the emergence of social evils such as addiction to gambling, proliferation of illegal drugs, rampant prostitution and other vices that are already pre-existent but a question of preserving their economic advantage and status. With majority of the residents working in various establishments catering to tourists, and eking out a living in impoverished conditions, they are not financially capable of indulging in such vices. Yet, it was gathered that they have to participate in protest actions against the establishment of casinos in Boracay as they are allegedly directed by their employers.
In any case, the political will of the incumbent local executive officials acting in unison with PAGCOR would serve as a crucial factor in determining the fate of the proposed gaming operations. With the dismal, rural conditions of the infra-structures and the lack of basic social services in the island, it is imperative that the local government must exercise its mandate to generate the much needed revenues.
WHAT MUST BE DONE? Crown Regency Resort and Convention Center (CRCC) as the ideal place for “junket operations”.
In order to come up with empirical data that could either validate the arguments of those advocating the establishment of gaming facilities in Boracay or affirm the contentions of those opposing it, Cabrera and Villamor maintained that it is imperative to allow a PAGCOR sanctioned ‘junket operation” limited to an experimental period for at least three (3) years.
This alternative solution was actually proposed as an integral part of the amended application ofCrown Regency Resort and Convention Center (CRCC) that has been singled out by agroup of Korean gaming investors as the ideal place for their “pre-registered foreign players only or junket operations”. Strategically situated in a more that 4 hectares property along the main road of Station 2, the Crown Regency Resort & Convention Center with 480 elegant units, 1,800 guest conference center, a water world theme park featuring a giant aquarium and wave pool and other amenities qualifying it as an integrated Significantly, the gaming company based in South Koreas is one of the biggest Junket Casino Operators in the Philippines with extensive operations in the Philippines, Macau and Korea catering mostly to Japanese, Chinese and Korean gaming tourists.
Aside from the proposed “pre-registered foreign players only or junket operations” at CRCC, PAGCOR and the Municipal Council of Malay may also consider the operation of an “off-shore” or “floating gaming venue” (cruise ship casino concept) that would strictly cater to tourists and foreign passport holders who shall pay ‘access fees’ for the privilege to enter the gaming venue. A fully lighted “floating gaming venue” cruising around the island, may serve as an additional attraction with a nightly spectacle of fire-works display for the enjoyment of more tourists and visitors.
Another alternative solution is a land-based “junket operation” outside Boracay but within a secluded area of Malay. Like the “off-shore” or “floating gaming venue”, this will be restricted to tourists and foreign passport holders who shall be required to pay ‘access fees’.
Of course, a Multi-Sectoral Monitoring Committee composed of representatives from the religious and private sector as well as other stakeholders based in Boracay shall be activated to ensure that there would be adverse socio-economic effects to the local populace as well as to the existing business entities in the island. The same Committee shall be in charge of collecting the access fees, and in the disbursement thereof. Additionally, the Committee may demand specific projects from PAGCOR and/or the ‘junket operator” that addresses priority needs of the local populace.
All the foregoing alternatives could generate a substantial amount that could be earmarked to community projects and programs to ameliorate the living conditions of the majority of the local populace.
Yet, the foregoing proposals should be threshed out in a proper forum jointly conducted by PAGCOR and the Malay Municipal Government with the participation all stakeholders, to include the Barangay Chairpersons of concerned barangays.
THE END JUSTIFY THE MEANS: SOLVING POVERTY
In simple terms, the situation in Boracay can be likened to a choice between two evils – the evil of gambling and related social ills against the evil of poverty and its pernicious symptoms. Governments justify the existence of gambling institutions because it could provide jobs to its citizens and treat the income in the form of taxes to increase revenues. Moralists, on the other hand, justify their intransigence by citing their uncompromising stand on moral issues with unsubstantiated perceptions.
What should be given priority? Saving the impoverished populace who must be fed and cared for, or simply ignore their plight as long they remain morally upright? . . . firstname.lastname@example.org