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Legazpi mayor halts casino operation

Monday, August 31, 2009 [ ]

Strong moral stand of church led by Bishop Quiambao was a decisive factor

By Manny T. Ugalde, Correspondent

LEGAZPI CITY: With the church maintaining its strong opposition for any form of gambling, the city government opted to stop the potential of casino operation despite initial popular support from the business community and the public.

Said to be a decisive factor for the decision was the church citing the region’s economic misery made doubly disturbing by all forms of gambling that has considerably saturated region including jueteng operation with bet collectors reportedly invading schools and government offices.

The city council had earlier noted that the hearing conducted on the application for casino operation had an overwhelming approval from the business community and the public with media citing that the church did not even register its opposition.

The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. applied for a casino operation on a 24-hour basis at the soon-to-operate P1 billion commercial complex known as Embarcadero.

In support for the casino operation, the Albay Filipino-Chinese Chamber of Commerce and the Legazpi City Chinese Chamber of Commerce claimed casino operation would be advantageous to Legazpi City as it would generated jobs and income for the city, as well as enhance its potential as a tourist destination.

Mayor Noel Rosal said he halted the approval for the casino operation in consideration of the strong moral stand of the church led by Diocese of Legazpi Bishop Lucilo Quiambao.

The diocese of Legazpi maintained its strong stand against all forms of gambling, and even underscored that it is finding hard to develop the minds of the children against idleness and gambling because of the propensity of local leaders in promoting gambling on the pretext that it would bring income for projects.

“Gambling damages the economy by wasting man hours and materials on activities that do not produce goods and services,” Bishop Quiambao said during his meeting with the mayor.

Other church officials said gambling induces idleness noting that Bicol region is noted for many idle people, and gambling is the evil alternative as a source of livelihood.

Lawyer Alfredo Garbin, chairman of the city council committee on laws, said the Legazpi casino would start operation, if approve, in time for the much-awaited opening of Embarcadero this October.

The Embarcadero, owned by businessman Rizaldy Co, will be located in Legazpi City and according to plans would include a coastal village development and an 8,000-seat call center. The commercial complex is touted as the local version of The Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, California.

According to Fr. Ramoncito Segovience, director of the Diocese of Legazpi’s Social Action center, Albay is now the site of strong and widespread jueteng operations, reaching as far as villages whose residents were once ignorant of gambling operations.

He said the illegal numbers game was reinforced by the operation of the Meridien Vista Gaming Corp. (MVGC), an online numbers game that was supposed to operate only at the Cagayan Freeport.

According to documents, MVGC was granted a permit to operate by the provincial government of Albay on March 23, upon endorsement by the provincial board authored by board member Harold Imperial, chair committee on games and amusement.

The permit was given one week after police raided the Meridien’s extended operation in Camarines Norte and Camarines Sur.

Documents indicated that Meridien Gaming operation is confined only at the Cagayan Special Economic Zone and Freeport. On April 1, 2009, Secretary Jose Mari Ponce, Cagayan Freeport administrator and chief executive officer revoked the authority it granted to Meridian to operate following the opinion rendered by the office of the government corporate counsel of the Department of Justice that included its expanded operation outside the Freeport.

In Albay, Meridian Gaming virtually functions as a jueteng operation as it does not even have an on-line operating center other than a collection center, said Fr. Segovience.


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