MANILA - Malacañang on Thursday defended the government’s approval of the construction of a casino-resort in Boracay even after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered a rehabilitation of the island paradise due to its worsening water pollution problem.
Macau casino giant Galaxy Entertainment and its Filipino partner, Leisure and Resorts World Corp, are expected to start construction of a $500 million integrated resort on a 23-hectare property in Boracay next year after they signed a provisional license with the state’s gaming regulator.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the main reason of the President for ordering the rehabilitation of the island was its poor sewerage system which has led to wastewater being dumped to the sea. He said the planned casino construction will surely not skirt its obligation to have its own water treatment facility.
“An establishment as big as this casino will probably be required to have not just an STP (sewage treatment plant) but a water recycling treatment facility,” Roque said in a news conference in Malacañang.
“The size will not matter for as long as the necessary infrastructure are there.”
The government is planning a closure of Boracay to tourists this year to give way to a massive cleanup.
The government granted the provisional license for the construction despite the President’s imposition last month of a moratorium on the construction of new casinos.
Roque earlier explained that the deal may have been in the works long before the President issued the directive.
Nonetheless, he warned the casino developer that “they should know all development plans hinge on what the president plans on Boracay.”
CASINO CONSTRUCTION OPPOSED
Boracay tourism stakeholders, meanwhile, expressed dismay over the planned casino construction.
Boracay Foundation board member Connie Helgen said the island, known for its picturesque waters and sunsets, should not be marketed as a gambling destination.
Helgen said the island's natural resources, water activities, and booming night life are enough to attract tourists to the island and sustain the livelihoods of the locals.
"Boracay island is for beach lovers. Boracay is a wholesome destination. Why go to Boracay to play casino? There are so many casinos in Manila and in Macau," Helgen said.
"Having a casino here would just affect the social environment of Boracay. The influence of casino to the people there, there's no telling what will happen. We hope the President will reconsider.
Construction of the casino will take 3 years and will generate "hundreds of jobs," Galaxy vice chairman Francis Lui said. The joint venture expects $100 million in gaming revenues from the project once it is operational, he said.
"What excited us, one of the reasons, has to be the new airport which has been built last year, giving direct access to international market to bring in some high-end customers," Lui said.
Galaxy had consulted Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp on the project as early as July last year, said PAGCOR chairperson Andrea Domingo.
Domingo said the integrated resort would be built on "raw land." She earlier said that Galaxy had assured Duterte during a recent meeting that the company would preserve the environment.
Leisure and Resorts World founder Alfredo Benitez, an incumbent congressman, said he expected Galaxy to preserve the environment like it did in its projects in Macau and Hong Kong.
Benitez, an administration supporter, is being considered as one of the possible candidates in the senatorial lineup of PDP-Laban, according to the ruling party’s stalwarts, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Senate President Aqulino Pimentel III.
- with Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News