BY JOEL CALAMBA ESCOL, Managing Editor, MDNN Digital
CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines – As the Catholic Church in this city stood firm in its decision many years ago to continually oppose the operation of a casino in this city and nearby areas, the supposed operation of casino business in Opol town is now in limbo.
In his issued pastoral letter on December 28,2021, Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Jose Cabantan echoed his disappointment as the Catholic Church, according to him, was caught by surprise upon hearing the news that a gambling business is already in the verge of opening in Opol town.
Cabantan was among those youth activists who marched and opposed the supposed operation of casino during the incumbency of the late mayor Pablo Magtajas decades ago.
“There were questions as to who gave the clearance. Was there a consultation done on the social responsibility of the same gambling institution? We deplore the opening of the said gambling den as it is contrary to the values we hold and celebrate this Christmas. Christmas is for the families,” Cabantan said.
The church’s clergy has questioned the local government officials in giving the green light for the upcoming gambling operations of Grand Imperial Casino in Opol town under the leadership of incumbent Mayor Maximino Seno, adding that this would degrade the people’s moral values.
He said the country has enough of these anti-social factors. “We do not need another way of gambling or one that promotes a culture of gambling… We denounced the proliferation of online gambling such as the ‘online sabong’ and all others,” Cabantan pointed out.
But Opol Mayor Max Seno told the media it was Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) who approved the operation of Grand Imperial Casino in his town.
Seno said the mayor has no power to oppose the approved operation by Pagcor citing a presidential decree signed by deposed president Ferdinand Marcos.
Seno’s vice mayor, however, has confirmed that the town of Opol has not even issued a business permit to allow the operation of casino, which is only a neighboring town of Cagayan de Oro in the western part of the city.
Mayor Seno said he did not issue a mayor’s permit since he didn’t want to violate the law, particularly Presidential Decree 771, issued by then President Ferdinand Marcos in 1975, which revokes all powers and authority of local government to grant franchise or permit and regulate wager or betting by the public on all forms of legal gambling.
He said that PAGCOR can set up casino even without the approval of the LGUs as the charter of PAGCOR empowers it to centralize gambling, citing the case between then Cagayan de Oro city mayor Pablo Magtajas versus Pryce Properties and PAGCOR, recorded as G.R. 111097 by the Supreme Court in 1994.
In a memorandum issued from the President’s office in 1996 that only the national government has the power to issue licenses or permits for the operation of gambling, Seno said.
Mayor Seno said it was the Gokongwei group that operates the casino under the approval and backing of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation.
Grand Imperial Casino had a soft opening last December 19 which surprised the Catholic Church as announcements of its opening was already announced.