In my column last month, titled “Boracay: Paradise Lost,” I wrote: “ Today, Boracay is facing a multitude of environmental issues – overcrowding, garbage, and water pollution — and there are no easy solutions to fix them. The worsening conditions had prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to threaten to close the popular resort island, which he described as a ‘cesspool.’ He instructed Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Roy Cimatu to resolve the problems in six months.”
But Cimatu has a problem bigger than his head. The number one problem that’s causing his migraine is the non-enforcement of an ordinance requiring residents and business establishments to connect to the island’s sewerage system. DENR has given businesses not connected to the sewer lines one month to link up or face sanctions.
What we’re talking about here is just the tip of the iceberg. With the number of visitors increasing 14% every year, it’s projected to hit 2.2 million in 2018. But the environment may have reached a point of no return where it would take 25 years or more to rehabilitate and restore it to its pristine condition. But that’s easier said than done. The problem is that nobody seems to be interested in fixing the damage to the environment. They just want to deal with “beautifying” the landscape.
Faced with an impossible order to fix this gargantuan environmental problem, Cimatu might just have to quit his high-paying government job and be content with his hefty retirement pay as a retired four-star general. He served as Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) until he reached the mandatory retirement age of 56 in September 2002. He served in that position for four months.
Think of Oahu
Given his military background, Cimatu expressed disapproval of the planned construction of a 23-hectare casino in Boracay. He said that Boracay is not the place for this type of establishment. He cited Boracay’s limited capacity and the DENR’s goal to restore it to its former pristine state. Although a 23-hectare slice of the island is small relative to the island’s 1,032-hectare size, it would expand the commercial use of the island to a point where it would lose its “Paradise” image. It would be another Oahu, a Hawaiian island “Paradise,” which had, within a few generations, become so commercialized and packed with people. It has become one of the most expensive real estate in America. Nobody calls it “Paradise” anymore. Its land area is about 100 times larger than Boracay. Can you imagine how Boracay would look like 30 years from now? Think of Oahu.
Cimatu said that he did not receive any requests for permits for the construction of a casino on the island. He indicated that he was caught off guard by the reports that plans to build a casino are already underway. He also clarified that DENR has been planning the rehabilitation and closure of Boracay “months before these reports began to surface.”
“No farms in Boracay”
Meanwhile, Duterte approved the recommendation of three government agencies for a six-month closure of Boracay effective April 26 to make way for its rehabilitation. Duterte also announced his plans to subject the island for land reform since the island is “agricultural.” His statement has become the butt of jokes among the locals. “There are no farms here,” a resident told a reporter. “I plant vegetables on our rooftop.”
It’s interesting to note that Cimatu couldn’t make official statements about building the casino because DENR hasn’t been approached by any Chinese businessman. But Cimatu asserted that if the plan pushes through, the project would have to comply with Environmental regulations. But a provisional license has already been granted by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR) for the casino by Macau-based company Galaxy Entertainment and their Filipino partner Leisure and Resorts World Corp.
But it seems that Cimatu doesn’t really have a role in the approval process for the casino. As it turned out, Francis Lui Yiu Tung, vice chairman of Galaxy Entertainment, has been talking to Duterte to discuss “potential business opportunities in the Philippines.”
Galaxy will partner with Philippine-based Leisure and Resorts Work Corp. to open a $300m to $500m casino on Boracay. At present, Melco Resorts is the only Macau-based operator to have a footprint in the Philippines. Melco’s $1bn City of Dreams Manila opened its doors in Manila’s Entertainment City in 2015.With the rush to build casinos on Philippine soil, PAGCOR said that it would refrain from issuing new gaming licenses in Manila during the next five years, following requests by existing integrated resort operators. Interestingly, Galaxy’s license application was submitted before the ban took effect. Needless to say, Galaxy’s competitors aren’t happy about PAGCOR’s decision, which obviously favors Galaxy.
Another point of interest is Galaxy’s Philippine-based partner, Leisure & Resorts World Corporation. Leisure & Resorts World Corporation, through its subsidiaries, engages in bingo gaming business in the Philippines. The company provides traditional and electronic bingo gaming services; operates and licenses eGames stations; licenses, monitors, and regulates various i-gaming activities of game operators and entities. It also conducts junket gaming operations; owns and operates the Midas Hotel and Casino; and develops and operates resorts. In addition, the company engages in gaming, recreation, and leisure activities; and development and leasing of real estate properties. As of December 31, 2016, it had approximately 9,790 E-Bingo machines in 138 bingo parlors. Leisure & Resorts World Corporation. [Source: Bloomberg.com]
It is with great anticipation what this partnership between a casino and a bingo operator would bring to the people of Boracay, particularly to those whose livelihood depends on tourism. Would it benefit the people? Or would it be the milking cow of the casino operators?
One of the dangers of having a casino in Boracay is the further deterioration of the environment. Think of the human traffic it would create? Has an environmental impact study been done?
Another danger is that a casino would be a magnet for criminal activities such as organized crime, illegal drugs, illegal gambling, and prostitution.
Right now, with Boracay facing an uncertain future, its citizens are deprived of the revenue generated by tourism. And there is no telling how long the closure would be. With no other industry other than tourism, the closure would affect some 17,000 workers. However, it is anticipated that the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) will hire some 5,000 informal sector workers and members of indigenous communities for temporary cleanup jobs, which begs the question: What will happen to the 12,000 soon-to-be out-of-work employees? In a move that creates more confusion and chaos than what the tourism businesses would be faced with, DOLE Secretary Silvestre Bello III ordered business owners not to lay off any of their workers during the six-month closure, which is set to start April 26. In a labor advisory Bello issued on April 6, he said, “Temporary suspension of business operations should not and must not result in the termination or separation of any employee.” He said that businesses can only observe the “no work, no pay” scheme or let their workers use leave credits during the closure.
No matter how DOLE cuts it, the closure would result in unemployment for some 12,000 workers, many of whom are from other provinces who took jobs in Boracay to support their families back home. There simply is no other way to generate income for them.
At the end of the day, while there is no easy way to solve Boracay’s environmental problems, allowing a Macau-based conglomerate to operate a casino on the island would be detrimental to the preservation of the country’s patrimony. The best and surest way to save Boracay from the ravages created by carpetbaggers and profiteers is to ban the operation of casinos on the island. Duterte should not allow Boracay to fall victim to man’s greed for profit. Don’t put Boracay in Galaxy’s orbit.