WE are in broad agreement with the House of Representatives that the daring attack and robbery perpetrated against the Resorts World Manila hotel-casino complex needed a formal legislative inquiry by one of the houses of Congress so the 37 senseless deaths are not just cast away and forgotten.
While it was from one angle clearly a law enforcement matter, the proposed inquiry needed to go beyond policing and security into matters of policy, licensing and regulation of casinos in the country.
Much has already been said and written about the poor security and safety system at the RW Manila that accounted for 1) the death of players in one night of mayhem; and 2) the rampage of a lone gunman who entered the casino with an assault rifle and roamed the premises freely without being stopped by security.
Now, we want to focus on the broader issue of what is the gambling policy of the nation, and what are the guidelines for the licensing and operations of casinos in the country.
The House leadership, led by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas, was right to raise the questioning to this level, because in truth there is grave need for the Philippines to take a long hard look at its headlong rush into encouraging investments in the building of casinos and the wholesale pursuit of revenues from casino gambling.
The issue has not really been debated in Congress. More energy was expended in fruitless inquiries into low-level gambling like jueteng.
The House majority leader disclosed that the House leadership will soon file a measure to revoke the powers of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor), the state gaming firm and authority, to grant licenses to casino and gaming club operators
“On the instruction of the Speaker, we will review Republic Act (RA) 9487 with a view of amending it and repealing altogether PD (Presidential Decree) 1869,” Fariñas said.
RA 9487, which amended the Pagcor charter, granted the gaming firm the authority to operate and license gambling casinos, gaming clubs and other similar recreation or amusement places and gaming pools.
The law also extended Pagcor’s franchise for another 25 years.
Fariñas said: “Gambling is prohibited in the country, but through a presidential decree, gambling was delegated to Pagcor for it to have the sole authority to authorize, license and regulate gambling. That should not have been allowed. That should only have come from a congressional grant of a franchise.”
He also noted that Pagcor has acted both as licenser and regulator of the nation‘s casino industry.
Reexamination of the country’s gambling policies and laws is one of the by-products or unintended consequences of the Resorts World tragedy.
Now that it is out in the open, we believe it is opportune to fully debate the issue and to write a good law and policy to govern gambling and the operations of casinos in the country.
We would not wish that casinos already invested in the country and operating effectively will be disadvantaged by the review. We are not unmindful that despite its lateness, the Philippines has caught up with Macau and Singapore with its casino industry.
At this point, however, in view of experience and new knowledge about the casino business, we are right to aspire that our country engages in the casino business in full awareness of both the benefits and disadvantages of casino gambling.