DOJ to DOT: Seek Duterte order declaring Boracay 'casino-free'

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 25 2018 06:36 PM

Locals enjoy a serene scene on White Beach in Boracay on Oct. 23, 2018, days before the scheduled reopening of the famous island to tourists. Fernando G. Sepe Jr. ABS-CBN News

MANILA - The Department of Justice has advised Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat to urge the President to issue an executive order declaring Boracay Island “casino-free.”

In a letter to Romulo-Puyat dated October 8, 2018, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the President’s issuance of an executive order (EO) would be the “most expedient and effective” means of stopping casino operations on the island.

The island is set to reopen Friday after a six-month closure to tourists to give way to rehabilitation.

“Based on a review of the applicable law and jurisprudence, this
Department is of the opinion that the issuance of an EO would be the most expedient and effective means of halting the operation of casinos and implementing a No-Casino Policy in Boracay,” Guevarra said in the letter made public Thursday.

One advantage of an EO, Guevarra said, is it's “more lasting character.”

“Anything less than an EO would appear more transitory and would water down the President’s understandably steadfast desire to disassociate Boracay Island with big-business gambling,” he said.

Aside from the recommendation for the issuance of an executive order, Guevarra cited two other legal options for Romulo-Puyat: for the DOT to withhold accreditation of hotels and casinos, and for the President to issue directives to the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) for the revocation, non-renewal or non-issuance of gaming licenses and business permits of hotels and casinos.

PRESIDENT'S NO-CASINO POLICY

Guevarra’s recommendation was in response to Romulo-Puyat’s September 14 letter asking the justice department for legal options to implement the President’s no-casino policy.

President Duterte has repeatedly said he does not want casinos in Boracay as it does not mix well with family and beach tourism.

But Guevarra noted in his letter that three casinos already operate on the island. He did not, however, reveal the names of these casinos.

POLICE POWER

In his letter, Guevarra cited as basis for issuing the EO the police power of the state to prohibit gambling in the country or any part of it, “to safeguard the morals of the people, promote public welfare, and protect public interest.”

The legislature delegated this power to PAGCOR through Presidential Decree No. 1869, he said.

And since PAGCOR is under the control of the President, Duterte has the power through an EO to prohibit the grant of licenses to casinos in Boracay and cancel existing ones.

LICENSE REVOCABLE AT PLEASURE OF GRANTOR

Guevarra also addressed the DOT’s concern that revoking gaming licenses “cannot be done whimsically or arbitrarily.”

He cited a 2014 case (PAGCOR v. Thunderbird Pilipinas Hotels and Resorts) where the Supreme Court ruled that a license is revocable even at the pleasure of the grantor.

But Guevarra clarified that even if the state can revoke the license, it must still honor the contract executed on the basis of that license.

“Truly, a license can be granted, revoked, or withheld renewal at the instance of an issuing authority like the PAGCOR because it is an act of grace, a grant of privilege not regularly available to other persons. The provisions of a contract, on the other hand, are premised on the mutual agreement of parties,” he said.

“Thus, the cancellation of a contract may give rise to damages – liquidated or otherwise – especially since one can safely assume that the Boracay casinos have already made their respective investments and capital outlays, but no similar argument can be sustained against the cancellation or revocation of a license, more so in the case of one which is provisional in nature,” he explained.

The justice secretary added that the greater considerations of police power would prevail over any contractual obligations.

He, however, recommended that in coming up with the EO draft, provisions concerning the consequences of the cancellation of provisional licenses should be included.

Guevarra said the government should consider forming a working group to draft the EO or including this task to the functions of the Boracay Inter-Agency Task Force, so as to take into account existing arrangements with the grantees of provisional licenses in implementing the no-casino policy.

He also recommended using the DOT’s accreditation power to implement the no-casino policy.