Boracay casino restart meets stern opposition

By Charlotte Lee Updated
Boracay casino restart meets stern opposition

The decision by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to allow a casino on the idyllic island Boracay has been met with opposition.

The ban on casinos on the island would be lifted to allow the country to finance its battle against the coronavirus pandemic.

Environmental groups have been up in arms about the decision.

Previously, Duterte vowed there would never be a casino resort on Boracay, adding the decision was “the voice of God”.

Chair of the Philippine gaming regulator PAGCOR Andrea Domingo was asked by reporters which plans the President had approved – was it the Galaxy project or another previously mooted “Megaworld” proposal from Philippine tycoon Andrew Tan.

“Both,” she replied, without elaborating.

Tourist boom takes its toll on popular island

The Philippine tourism boom has taken its toll on Boracay’s coastline.

Until Duterte’s crackdown in 2018, the beaches were being spoiled by the discharge of untreated wastewater into the sea, which also damaged the coral reef.

However, since 2018, the explosion of unregulated commercial development and million tourists per year has threatened the island’s ecosystem.

In April 2018, Duterte ordered the complete shutdown of the island for six months for environmental clean-up, branding it a “cesspit”.

At that time, Macau-based Galaxy Entertainment received a provisional permit to develop a $500 million casino resort on Boracay.

When quizzed by reporters, Duterte denied knowing this, despite having publicly met with Galaxy chairman Lui Che Woo four months previously to discuss the development.

“The voice of the people is the voice of God,” he told Philippine media.

“If it is the wish of the population here that they do not want a casino, then there will be no casino.”

Tan ready to go with Boracay plan

Andrew Tan said he was ready to proceed with his Megaworld plan for Boracay, offering assurances his company would “adhere to all government environmental policies.”

He added that around 60 per cent of the entire 150-hectare estate “is dedicated to green and open spaces”, adding it has been “proactively implementing green initiatives and programs” since the start of its development some 10 years ago.

Tan said his group is “hopeful that the tourism industry in this island will recover fast after the pandemic.”

It is not clear whether Galaxy still has an interest in Boracay.

Analyst Sanford C Bernstein said in a note on September 1 that China’s ongoing crackdown on overseas gambling could discourage the company at a time when its Macau licence is up for renewal.

Environmental advocate and human rights lawyer Tony La Vina was just one of the voices questioning the decision.

He wondered why the government would risk losing everything it had achieved in the six-month clean-up.

“Boracay will die, all the sacrifices from and gains achieved in the closure will be gone,” he warned.

Even some Boracay residents are opposing the casinos.

Nenette Aguirre-Graf, who owns a business on the resort island, said Duterte’s statement was “shocking” to her.

“Because after saying that he hates casinos, he doesn’t like gambling, it made us all happy. But now, with this new pronouncement, it’s kinda scary because you don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said.

Graf said Boracay residents are concerned about how the decision will impact the island’s image as a family-friendly destination.

Bishop Jose Corazon Tala-oc of the Diocese of Kalibo said that while he understands the need of the national government to generate funds, he is wondering why Duterte picked Boracay, which is a family destination, including young people.

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