• Citizens vs casinos



    Last February, President Rodrigo Duterte signed Executive Order 13 directing the National Bureau of Investigation, the Philippine National Police, the Department of Interior and Local Government, the Department of Information and Communications Technology, and the Department of Justice to work together and intensify the government’s drive against illegal gambling.

    EO 13 also mandates the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR), as well as freeport authorities in the provinces of Aurora, Bataan and Cagayan to submit progress reports every six months on the fight versus unauthorized gaming activities.

    On the other hand, the Quezon City Council is in the process of passing an ordinance that allows the construction of casinos, as long as they are away from schools and churches. The “Gambling Regulatory Ordinance of 2017” was passed on second reading on October 2 and is subject to further deliberations before final approval.

    The ordinance is supposed to promote responsible gaming, in line with PAGCOR’s regulation allowing investors to build gaming centers outside its Entertainment City complex in the Manila Bay area if local government units do not execute a “letter of no opposition.”

    According to Quezon City Councilor Ivy Lim-Lagman, “the proposed ordinance seeks to protect the welfare of its inhabitants from the adverse impact of gambling.” This is in view of news reports that “have already shown how gambling addiction resulted in the deterioriation of family and social relationships, heavy indebtedness and other mental problems.”

    But Quezon City residents have banded together to form the Kilusang Kontra Kasino sa Kyusi (KKKK), opposing any form of gambling operations within their communities. Spearheaded by lead convenor Edwin Dayrit Rodriguez, the KKKK has appealed to Quezon City’s incumbent officials to stop the passage of the ordinance.

    KKKK’s contention is that places with predominantly residential communities, such as Quezon City, should not be allowed to host gambling centers. The city of 3 million people is recognized as the country’s top educational hub due to the presence of major universities and colleges such as the main campuses of the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University, Miriam College, and Philippine Science High School.

    Residents of the Philippines’ largest city in terms of population would prefer that gaming in Metro Manila be confined to designated areas near the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, such as Pasay’s Newport City and Paranaque’s Aseana City.

    Meanwhile, a group called the “Concerned Citizens of Quezon City” wrote an open letter addressed to President Duterte and the councilors of Quezon City in the form of a full-page newspaper ad. They said “Quezon City is very far from the airport, making it an unsuitable and unfeasible choice for a tourism hub” in the context of the government boosting its efforts to lure foreign tourists through the gaming industry.

    Bishops from various dioceses in the country have added their voices to the anti-casino advocacy. Among them are Archbishop Antonio Ledesma from the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro, Bishop Patricio Buzon from the Diocese of Bacolod, Bishop Honesto Ongtioco from the Diocese of Cubao, and Bishop Antonio Tobias from the Diocese of Novaliches.

    Both the latter two bishops have given their support to the KKKK’s signature campaign after every Sunday mass starting Dec. 10, 2017 and a motorcade-cum-rally in Quezon City on Jan. 14, 2018.

    In the wake of the Resorts World carnage last June, retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz declared that Catholic bishops would decline invitations to attend public hearings on the Quezon City gambling regulation ordinance. His reason as stated in media reports: “Because they are exploited. Some parties would claim, “Even the bishops were here, we consulted them and they agreed.’”

    Casino operators can take the cue from there by looking for alternative sites in communities that are more conducive for their operations. Subic Bay Freeport used to host a number of casinos that may be revived, while the planned Air Force City in Clark could be the next Macau. They must find a balance between business concerns and quality of life that would benefit all stakeholders involved.

    The author is chief financial officer (CFO) of the Asian Center for Legal Excellence and serves as co-chairman of the FINEX Media Affairs Committee.


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