BY GERRY LEE GORIT
CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY – The controversy surrounding the operation of a casino in Opol town, Misamis Oriental has started to heat up as the Misamis Oriental board members have involved themselves by holding an inquiry.
As the provincial board members are one in saying they don’t question the operation of Grand Imperial casino located in Brgy. Taboc in Opol as it has been granted franchise by the PAGCOR, they are questioning if the casino management has possessed the necessary mayor’s permit before they started the casino’s operation.
During the hearing, Daniel Cabaluna, officer-in-charge of Grand Imperial, said that they have not obtained permit from the office of Opol Mayor Maximino Seno.
Opol Mayor Maximino Seno, for his part, told the legislators that 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.
Board Member Dexter Yasay, who is a former mayor of Opol, said that while the issuing entity for the franchise of the casino is PAGCOR, the power to issue a business permit belongs to the local government.
I don’t think PAGCOR would violate the autonomy of the LGU in securing other requirements, Yasay said, adding that businesses wanting to operate in an area must secure the pertinent permits the local governments, based on provisions from the Local Government Code.
Board Member Wayne Militante said there is a distinction between the mayor’s permit, which the local government may issue, and the license to operate a casino, which PAGCOR has the power to give.
To dispel any speculations, Militante said Seno should address the issue of the mayor’s permit.
They must be compliant with the laws. That’s all we’re asking, he added.
During the hearing, Cabaluna told the legislators that they were able to obtain the mayor’s permit for the Grand Imperial General Santos City branch.
For his part, Sabal said that if Grand Imperial has taken the time out to request for a mayors permit in General Santos, then there’s no reason that they could not do the same in Opol.
A second hearing on the issue is set by the provincial board sometime next week, and Sabal said, “we have asked them to present documents, and I hope they can comply with that.”
Pelaez said they will also invite the provincial office of the Department of the Interior of Local Government, as well as the Grand Imperial officials who are based in Manila.