Opposition Senator Leila de Lima has urged the Senate to investigate the lifting of the moratorium on the opening of casinos in the recently rehabilitated Boracay island and the Duterte administration’s policy of allowing a Chinese company to put-up an integrated casino-resort project in the country’s famous tourist destination.
In filing proposed Senate Resolution No. 907, De Lima said it is imperative for the Upper Chamber to determine the best policy that takes into consideration the economic needs of the national and local governments in Aklan, the protection of the environment, and the conservation of the island.
“In intensifying its pandemic response, the government must not be self-defeating so as to forego the gains of Boracay rehabilitation over the years,” De Lima said in her resolution.
“After having expended both time and resources to restore this paradise, all risks that would make years in rehabilitation efforts and billions in public funds all for naught, must be most stringently examined,” she added.
Duterte had earlier declared a reversal of his formerly firm stance against gambling in Boracay, with Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque defending the Chief Executive’s decision saying he green-lighted the operation of the casino in Boracay, a popular tourist spot, supposedly to augment funds for COVID-19 response.
Following his pronouncement, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) confirmed that Duterte has approved the plan allowing the Chinese company Galaxy Entertainment to proceed with putting up an integrated casino-resort project in Boracay which he earlier halted.
In 2018, there was public uproar when the government decided to shut Boracay island down for six months after supposedly finding environmental violations due to rapid development and pollution.
De Lima noted that on the same month that Boracay was sealed off from tourists, Duterte claimed he knew nothing about the plans of Galaxy Entertainment to build a casino-resort in Boracay.
But Malacañang photos showing him meeting with officials of the company on Dec. 6, 2017 belied this claim.
De Lima, a vocal staunch critic of the Duterte administration, said the Senate must launch an exhaustive probe into all government contracts intending to grant franchises to casino operators in Boracay.
“Having already recognized the deleterious effects to the island of allowing casinos to open, questions must be raised to ascertain whether a drastic flip-flopping on the government’s stance is reasonable, or whether such decision is controlled and influenced by personal ties and commitments,” the lawmaker stressed.
“There is no apparent urgent need for revenue to reverse what is already an accepted policy against casinos in Boracay,” she added.
“It is imperative to determine whether there exist other measures that would aid the government in its programs aimed at boosting its COVID-19 response without causing harm anew to the already rehabilitated island,” she said.
“It is likewise important to consider that Boracay should remain a family destination for local and international tourists and should be free from vices associated with casinos and gambling destinations,” the senator added.