COVID-19 threat to Misamis Oriental forces Opol Casino to freeze operations

“We will continue our efforts so that the casino never works again,” says Tito Mora, a businessman and Catholic layman based in Cagayan de Oro, one of the actors of the local anti-casino movement since the 90s.

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines – The Grand Imperial casino closed in the city of Opol, Misamis Oriental, on Monday, January 17, a day after the government raised the alert level in the province due to the rise in COVID-19 cases and the threat posed by the more transmissible Omicron variant.

Rhey Yecyec, chairman of the Taboc barangay, where the controversial casino opened days before Christmas, said the municipal government had ordered the establishment to temporarily cease operations under Alert Level 3 category restrictions.

The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) has included Misamis Oriental in the list of provinces under the higher alert level category from January 16 to January 31 due to the increase in the number of COVID-19 infections in the country.

But the casino was open until Sunday, January 16, the first day of the more restrictive Alert Level 3 in the province, Yecyec told Rappler.

He said the COVID-19 threat meant the casino, opened by Universal Hotels and Resorts Incorporated (UHRI), owned by Gokongwei, and operated by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR), could not have its big launch on January 22. as expected.

“But we have been informed that the casino will resume operations after January 31 despite opposition,” Yecyec said.

QUESTION. Taboc barangay chairman, Rhey Yecyec of Opol, Misamis Oriental, is questioning the operation of the casino in his village without public consultations or local permits. (Herbie Gomez/Rappler)

The casino operation was met with protests from the Catholic Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro and its counterpart the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) who issued separate statements against the establishment based on their religious stance.

Bishop Felixberto Calang of IFI-Cagayan de Oro said, “The mayor and casino management should listen to the moral advice of their church. The casino… not only perpetuates morally wrong socio-economic principles, but creates a culture of society that is anchored on the belief of “malas-suwerte” (bad luck-good luck) rather than a lasting life earned through a good work. »

Religious groups have also questioned the way the casino was opened – it had a soft launch on December 19 without public consultations in Opol, a town near Cagayan de Oro where previous attempts to operate casinos have failed. been frustrated by a strong anti-casino movement.

“We will continue our efforts so that the casino never works again,” said Tito Mora, a businessman and Catholic layman based in Cagayan de Oro, one of the actors of the local anti-casino movement since the 1990s.

The Misamis Oriental Provincial Council has launched an investigation into the casino’s controversial activities. During an investigation last week, provincial lawmakers found the casino was operating without local permits or permits.

Provincial council member Gerardo Sabal III told Rappler on Monday he was disappointed with the apparent shortcuts.

Sabal said, “The casino must first obtain corporate and mayoral permits as required by PAGCOR. If they were required and got a permit from the mayor for their General Santos casino, why can’t they get one in Opol? What is the difference between General Santos and Opol? »

PAGCOR operates another Grand Imperial casino adjacent to Robinson’s Mall in General Santos City.

Earlier, Dexter Yasay, a member of the provincial council and former mayor of Opol, warned that city officials who allow the casino to operate in their municipality without permissions, permits and public consultations could be subject to prosecution based on the 1991 Local Authorities Code.

Yecyec said he and other barangay officials were taken by surprise when the casino opened in December, alleging they were led to believe it was going to be used as an office along with a warehouse.

The Taboc barangay council has unanimously approved and submitted to the provincial council a petition requesting that casino operations be halted until UHRI and PAGCOR comply with the requirements.

SPITTING DISTANCE. The Grand Imperial Casino (far right) is seen from the main gate of the barangay hall in Taboc, Opol Town, Misamis Oriental. (Herbie Gomez/Rappler)

“There has to be public consultation first and then they have to get permissions and permits before they can operate. That’s the process,” Yecyec said.

He also called on Opol Mayor Maximino Seno not to allow the casino to resume operations unless it complies with the requirements. –

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