BIDA-GOCC AND CASINOS IN BORACAY DETRIMENTAL TO AKLANONS, FAVORS DUTERTE CRONIES
OPINION | SIEGFRED D. DEDURO
The bills pending at the House of Representatives (HOR) and the Senate, creating the Boracay Island Development Authority (BIDA) as a GOCC (Government Owned and Controlled Corporation) – is prejudicial to the interest of Aklanons. House Bill 9826, in substitution of House Bill 6214 of Rep. Paolo Duterte and in consolidation with 9 other House Bills, has been approved in second reading, while Senate Bill No. 1914 counterpart bill of Sen. Cynthia Villar is still pending at the Senate.
The BIDA bills intend to create a GOCC that will control Boracay Island and Barangay Caticlan in mainland Malay where the seaport and new airport is located. The combined population of this area is 40,257 or 67% of the present population of 60,077 (2020) of the Municipality! This will be a special tourism enclave akin to the authority of special economic zones.
BIDA-GOCC will strip the LGUs of the Province of Aklan and the Municipality of Malay of their regular functions (authority over local and foreign investments, licensing of gaming and tourist operations, control of the natural resources, tourism fees, among others) under the Local Government Code. The LGUs will be left with only their administrative supervision of the barangays under BIDA-GOCC.
Worst of all, the BIDA-GOCC will deprive the LGUs of much-needed locally sourced income that fund social services like provincial and district hospitals. In a meeting of the LGU Malay Stakeholders on July 2018, it was revealed that Boracay accounts for 20% (Php56billion) of the national tourism receipts; 25% of the P2,011,016,309 LGU Aklan Budget and 78.03% of the Php 508,470,083.23 locally sourced income of Malay.
According to a top local official of Aklan, Duterte’s six months closure of Boracay for “rehabilitation” was a cover-up. The hidden agenda was to eliminate the “eyesores” (poor communities) in the island, in order to reboot it as an elite gambling and tourist destination. The activities undertaken by the government in closing Boracay for 6 months supports this view. Hundreds of houses of poor families were demolished. They were effectively ejected out of the island because the closure deprived them of their source of livelihood.
It was estimated that more than 32,000 workers lost their jobs in the closure of Boracay. They did not receive enough government assistance and most of them were not able to return to their jobs, especially with the restrictions due to the ongoing COVID 19 pandemic.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said on September 19, 2018 said that the holding capacity (environmentally sustainable population) of the island of Boracay is only 54,945 at any given time, with 19,215 of this figure are foreign and local tourists. Based on the 2018 data (LGU Malay Stake holders Meeting) workers in Boracay before its closure in 2018 was estimated at 50,728. With the current population of Boracay at 32,267 (2020), a huge majority of the local residents will be certainly be ejected.
During Boracay’s closure, most of the business establishments demolished were small and medium size. Construction of tourist establishments owned by big foreign and local business continued during the closure and until now.
The Villars own Costa de la Vista, a residential condominium development with five high-rise towers. Costa la Vista continued clearing operations of a mountain despite the ban on construction during the closure of the island. In addition to Costa de la Vista, the Villars also own the Boracay Sands Hotel.
The most controversial project is that of giant casino operator Galaxy Entertainment Group which plan to develop a casino resort in Boracay, a move which will see the company expanding outside Macau for the first time.
“Galaxy is excited about the possibility of teaming with Leisure and Resorts to develop a world class beach resort for our players in Boracay which was just rated the number one island in the world in 2017 by Conde Nast Traveler readers,” said Francis Lui Yiu Tung, vice chairman of Galaxy Entertainment. He has met with President Duterte on this project. PAGCOR Chairperson Andrea Domingo confirmed that Galaxy was awarded a preliminary license to operate in Boracay.
Galaxy and its partner, Philippines-based Leisure and Resorts World Corp, plan to open a $500m casino in Boracay. “Galaxy would like to play a role in the One Belt One Road initiative and we strongly believe the Philippines has great potential and offers attractive opportunities,” Lui said, referring to China’s economic and diplomatic program to increase trade with countries in the region.
Due to the strong opposition against casinos in Boracay, Duterte tried to hush-hush and defuse popular dissatisfaction over the planned mega-casino, and issued conflicting statements to obfuscate the issue.
During the island’s closure in 2018, DENR Secretary Cimatu, head of the Boracay Inter-agency Task Force in “rehabilitating” the island was barred by security guards from entering the construction site of the Galaxy casino in Barangay Manoc-manoc, Boracay.
The cat is now out of the bag. On August 28, President Rodrigo Duterte has allowed casinos to operate in Boracay Island as part of the government’s revenue-generating efforts to augment funds for its COVID-19 response. He has given the go-signal for the plans of Macau-based Galaxy Entertainment Group and tycoon Andrew Tan to proceed with their plans to put up integrated casino-resort projects in Boracay Island, according to the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR).
Tan, in an official statement, said, “We will proceed with our casino project in Boracay Newcoast. We already have several hotels there and we are still building more. There is also a golf course, the only one in the entire Boracay Island.”
Casinos are used in large-scale money laundering or making “dirty money” (income from illegal sources) legitimate. It also breeds immoral activities including organized crimes of trafficking, tax evasion, prostitution and bribery.
On August 30, House Minority Leader Bayan Muna Cong. Zarate said, “President Duterte’s announcement regarding casinos is step two in monopolizing the casinos in Boracay using the yet to be enacted BIDA, which would have the power to contract, lease, buy, sell, acquire, own…real property”.
Moreover, Zarate said that the opening of casinos in the island is mainly for fund generation for the 2022 elections, not as a gold mine for the COVID19 response.
Given Duterte’s penchant in raising money thru gaming operations, such as the POGOs (Philippine Overseas Gaming Operations) owned by Chinese gambling lords targeting mainly Chinese high rollers, it is highly probable that POGOs will be allowed to operate in Boracay.
As an elite gambling and tourism resort, ordinary Filipinos will be deprived access to the once pristine and affordable premier tourist destination in the country.
With the GOCC under Malacanang, control of Boracay and Caticlan will pave the way for Duterte’s cronies’ complete dominance over the area.#