Palace draws flak for defending PAGCOR chief

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 23 2012 08:52 PM | Updated as of Feb 24 2012 06:58 PM

Mike Arroyo also tagged in Wynn Resorts probe

MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) - Malacañang has drawn criticism for quickly defending Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) Chairman Cristino Naguiat Jr., who was accused of accepting bribes from gaming tycoon Kazuo Okada.

Economist Winnie Monsod and House deputy minority leader Mitos Magsaysay believe that President Benigno Aquino should have first ordered an investigation into the matter before defending Naguiat.

Naguiat is said to be a former classmate and close friend of Aquino.

"Look at both sides before making a judgment. Double standard e. Pag kaibigan, acquitted, pag kaaway, guilty," Monsod said.

"KKK [kaibigan, kaklase, kabarilan/friend, classmate, shooting buddy] na naman iyan kaya kinakampihan," Magsaysay said. "Laging naaabswelto sila e."

'Industry practice'

Magsaysay and Monsod also lashed out at PAGCOR for saying that it's "industry practice" for VIP casino operators and stakeholders to receive free dinners and luxury stay in high-end hotels.

They said this is wrong because PAGCOR is not a private company, but a government agency that regulates the gaming industry.

"You're supposed to be at arm's length. Kung ayaw natin ang Arroyo-Genuino noon dahil puro katiwalian, dapat hindi rin puwede ang Aquino-Naguiat kung ganito rin pala ang sila," Monsod said.

PAGCOR insists its officials did not receive any bribes.

The agency added that Naguiat has explained himself to Aquino, even before media broke the news.

"There was nothing excessive. All within guidelines of PAGCOR," said the agency's chief legal counsel Atty. Jay Santiago.

PAGCOR officials are also ready to face the House Committee on Games and Amusement on Monday, after Magsaysay called for an investigation into the matter.

'No ethical violation'

Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda on Thursday said Naguiat committed no ethical violations.

Lacierda said Naguiat went to Macau as a "casino operator" attending a gaming convention for operators, and not as a "casino regulator."

"There is no ethical violation because he was there as a casino operator and not as a casino regulator. Again he couldn’t go there as a casino regulator because the 'provisional agreement' has already been signed in 2008 and he was there talking to several casino operators," he said.

Pagcor had already granted a provisional agreement for Okada's company Universal Entertainment to operate a casino in the Philippines. Universal's $2 billion casino at Pagcor's Entertainment City is due for completion in 2014.

Lacierda said Naguiat’s family was not given a separate accommodations and that they only joined Naguiat for the weekend.

Lacierda said Naguiat also paid for the family’s transportation. Lacierda said Naguiat “has no knowledge” of the value of the room that he stayed in.

An investigation made by Wynn Resorts also said former First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo recieved a favor from the gaming company.

Arroyo allegedy did not pay for a Wynn Resorts accomodation in Las Vegas in November 2009.

ABS-CBN News tried to get the side of Arroyo's lawyers on Thursday but they did not reply to either calls or text messages.

Casino firm doubts Aquino anti-corruption drive

Wynn Resorts decided as early as last year not to invest in the Philippine gaming industry because of corruption.

After conducting a probe, Wynn Resorts expressed doubts that reforms by the Aquino government can eliminate corruption in the local gaming industry.

When Steve Wynn talked to ABS-CBN North America Bureau in 2008, he was all praises for Filipinos.

He also hinted that he wants to build a casino in the Philippines if he is given a chance.

"My company in Macau has the most wonderful group of boys and girls from the Philippines, the best! The absolute best! They are the best, the greatest service personality for hospitality in the world are the people in the Philippines. I love them," he said.

In reply to a question if he is planning to build a casino in the Philippines, Wynn had replied, "I don't know yet. They control that over there!"

Several years later, his company now has a different impression of the Philippines.

Wynn Resorts lawsuit

On Tuesday, Wynn Resorts filed a lawsuit accusing Okada of paying off Philippine regulators and cheating the U.S.-based casino giant.

In the complaint filed before the District Court of Nevada, Wynn Resorts revealed how it commissioned its own investigation to assess the gaming industry in the Philippines.

As early as 2011, the casino giant had come to a conclusion it will no longer invest in the Philippines because corruption in the country's gaming industry is "deeply ingrained."

It also expressed doubts that Aquino's plans for reform would eliminate corruption in the gaming industry.

It added that the country's legal and regulatory framework is not closely aligned with American transparency standards.

Despite this, Okada reportedly persisted in wooing PAGCOR heads with bribes to ensure that a new Manila casino is built.

A $6,000-a-night hotel suite at Wynn Resort in Macau was reportedly given to former PAGCOR chair Efraim Genuino and current chair Naguiat and his family.

They were also reportedly lavished with expensive dinners, shopping money, as well as a Chanel bag for Naguiat's wife.

Okada is accused of having spent more than $100,000 to curry favor from these Philippine officials, in apparent violation of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. - reports from Jing Castañeda and Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News; Bev Lorente, ABS-CBN News North America Bureau; Agence France-Presse