Environmental groups have lashed out at Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to allow a casino resort on the idyllic vacation island of Boracay.
Last week, the strongarm leader’s spokesman, Harry Roque, announced the ban on casinos on the island would be lifted. The U-turn was necessary to finance the country’s battle against the pandemic, Roque explained.
Previously, Duterte vowed there would never be a casino resort on Boracay, adding the decision was “the voice of God.”
The Philippine tourism boom has taken its toll on Boracay’s coastline. Until Duterte’s crackdown in 2018, the beaches were being spoiled by the discharge of untreated wastewater into the sea, which also damaged the coral reef.
Meanwhile, a million visitors a year and an explosion of unregulated commercial development were threatening the island’s ecosystem.
In April 2018, Duterte ordered the complete shutdown of the island for six months for environmental clean-up, branding it a “cesspit” that “smelled of sh*t.”
At that time, Macau-based Galaxy Entertainment had a received a provisional permit to develop a $500 million casino resort on Boracay. When quizzed by reporters, Duterte denied knowing this, despite having publicly met with Galaxy chairman Lui Che Woo four months previously to discuss the development.
“The voice of the people is the voice of God,” he told Philippine media. “If it is the wish of the population here that they do not want a casino, then there will be no casino.”
Projects Get ‘Go-Signal’
On Saturday, Roque said in a statement the president had “given his go-signal allowing the operation of a casino in Boracay.”
On Tuesday, Andrea Domingo, chair of Philippine gaming regulator PAGCOR, was asked by reporters which plans Duterte had approved. Was it the Galaxy project or another previous mooted “Megaworld” proposal from Philippine tycoon Andrew Tan, who has an interest in Resorts World Manila?
“Both,” she replied, without elaborating.
Tan told ABS-CBN News he was ready to proceed with his plan for Boracay, offering assurances his company would “adhere to all government environmental policies.”
It’s not clear whether Galaxy still has an interest in Boracay. Analyst Sanford C. Bernstein said in a note Wednesday that China’s ongoing crackdown on overseas gambling could discourage the company at a time when its Macau license is up for renewal.
Environmental advocate and human rights lawyer Tony La Viña was just one of the voices questioning the decision to The South China Morning Post this week. He wondered why the government would risk losing everything achieved in the six-month clean-up.
“Boracay will die, all the sacrifices from and gains achieved in the closure [will be] gone,” he warned.
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