MANILA - The head of a Macau-based firm planning to build a $500 million integrated resort on Boracay island met with President Rodrigo Duterte 4 months ago to discuss the project, official photos from Malacañang showed.
Duterte had ordered a 6-month closure of Boracay to tourists starting April 26, after describing the country's top tourist attraction as a "cesspool" tainted by raw sewage.
He claimed on Monday that he did not know about casino giant Galaxy Entertainment's plan to build a casino in the world-famous island.
However, a press release from the President Communications Operations Office showed that officials of the Macau-based Galaxy Entertainment Group paid a courtesy call on President Duterte last December 6, 2017.
"Galaxy Entertainment, one of the world’s leading resorts, hospitality and gaming companies, tied up with a local partner to invest in the Philippines. The company is in the process of complying with government requirements to start operating in the country," the PCOO said.
Among Galaxy Entertainment’s officials who paid a courtesy call on President Duterte were Galaxy Entertainment Group Ltd. chairman Dr. Lui Che Woo, Deputy Chairman Francis Lui Yiu Tung, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank Dir. Rolando Macasaet, Galaxy Entertainment President Michael Victor Mecca, Senior Director for Strategic Planning Roland To Chi Kay, Senior Director for International Premium and Mass Market Development Raymond Yap Yin Min, Senior Manager Andrew Nicolas Lui, and Rep. Alfredo Abelardo Benitez, Negros Occidental (Third District).
The Presidential Communications Group also released photos of the meeting.
Shown in the photos were Galaxy vice chairman Francis Lui Yiu Tung, Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo, and Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp (Pagcor) chairperson Andrea Domingo.
A Reuters report said Galaxy and Leisure and Resorts World paid the President a courtesy call to discuss the plan.
“As you know, China’s relationship with the Philippines has been improving. K Wah Group and 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,” Francis Lui, deputy chairman of Galaxy, said in an e-mail.
Domingo earlier said Galaxy officials assured Duterte that the company would preserve the environment.
Senator Antonio Trillanes IV on Tuesday said he will file a resolution seeking a Senate inquiry into Boracay's closure.
The provisional license for Galaxy's 23-hectare leisure complex was approved some 2 months after the meeting, noted Trillanes.
He claimed that Boracay shutdown was pushed to pave the way for the casino's construction.
"Kailangan kasi nilang gamitin ang port saka road network para magpasok ng construction materials at heavy equipment -- hindi nila magagawa iyan habang may mga turista," he added.
(Boracay was closed for this construction. They need to use the port and road networks to bring in construction materials and equipment-- they can't do that while there are tourists.)
Duterte earlier said he did not order any construction on Boracay island, adding that he wants to give the land to farmers.
Domingo, meanwhile, said Pagcor will follow the President's orders about the casino deal, but also noted that Galaxy would risk losing money over the project if it did not comply with environmental laws.
"Empleyado lang ako, appointee ako ni Presidente, Kung ano 'yung sasabihin ni Presidente, 'yun naman ang mangyayari," she told radio DZMM on Tuesday.
"But the thing is—the President is a very intelligent and discerning person. Pag naman maipakita na siguro ito ay makabubuti nga, sapagkat hindi naman mag-i-invest ang isang Galaxy [Entertainment] na $1.4 trillion ang portfolio, ng P25 billion para dumihin at sirain ang environment at para malugi sila."