Comments by President Rodrigo Duterte (pictured) reported on Monday have thrown confusion on the precise status of a casino resort project for the Philippine holiday island of Boracay by Macau casino operator Galaxy Entertainment Group Ltd.
Several of the country’s news outlets reported Mr Duterte as saying in Tagalog: “I don’t have plans there for casinos. There are enough, there are too many. Casino here, casino there.”
But ABS-CBN News reported a nuance on that apparently hard position, when it indirectly quoted Mr Duterte – in comments he made before setting off for a conference in China – as indicating “no casinos nor any other businesses will be built on Boracay while it is closed for cleaning”.
It was announced last month that the Philippine casino regulator, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp (Pagcor), had granted a provisional gaming licence to Galaxy Entertainment, for a US$500-million, purpose-built, low-rise beachside casino resort on Boracay.
The national government ordered on April 4 a six-month closure of Boracay for what was described as an environmental clean up. The closure is due to begin on April 26. Pagcor had previously said that such a move would not hurt Galaxy Entertainment’s plans, as the resort would take several years to complete.
All the major Philippine news outlets reporting Mr Duterte’s Monday comments noted that he had indicated that post clean up, Boracay would be a land reform area, with available plots given to farmers.
According to local media, Mr Duterte was referring to a 2008 Supreme Court decision that affirmed a 2006 proclamation by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, which classified Boracay as having 400 hectares (988 acres) of reserved forest land for “protection purposes” and nearly 629 hectares of agricultural land that are “alienable and disposable.”
But the Philippine Inquirer newspaper reported on Monday what it termed “disbelief” among local residents that Mr Duterte wanted to turn some Boracay land over to farming.
The news outlet stated that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources had previously said those already occupying public land would have to wait for 30 years after the land is declared “alienable and disposable” before they can apply for title in their own right. In the case of Boracay, that would mean the year 2036 at the earliest.
In late March the Manila Standard newspaper reported Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu saying that the Galaxy Entertainment scheme – and another gaming resort said to be planned for Boracay and reportedly involving Philippine entrepreneur Andrew Tan, who also has an interest in the Resorts World Manila casino venue via his conglomerate Alliance Global Group Inc – would need approval from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ Environmental Management Bureau.
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"If the [Macau casino] concessions are put up for bid, there will also be a lot of giant Chinese companies, some having nothing to do with gaming, which would like to take over these enormously successful casinos”
Professor emeritus at Whittier Law School in California, in the United States, and a visiting professor at University of Macau