Casino plan puts Urdaneta gov’t, church on warpath

FORMER URDANETA Mayor Amadeo Perez Jr. understands why the Catholic Church is shooting down a proposal to set up a casino in his city. To the Catholic Church, he says, any form of gambling, whether legal or illegal, is immoral.
“We don’t want to argue with them [because] it has become the duty of the Church to always [make a] stand on issues like these,” says Perez, whose term ended on June 30.
But understanding the Catholic Church does not mean the city government is giving in—at least, not for now.
On Feb. 8, the city council approved a resolution allowing Gulf Traders Ventures Philippines Inc. “to open and operate” a multimillion-peso entertainment center, including a casino. As a result, the city officials suddenly found themselves on a warpath with the Catholic Church.
Last month, the Catholic Church unleashed its first volley of gunfire. Seven bishops from Pangasinan, La Union and Nueva Ecija signed a joint statement opposing the plan to open a casino in Urdaneta and another in San Leonardo town in neighboring Nueva Ecija.
This will be the first casino in Pangasinan, if the project pushes through.
Shielding himself from the initial salvo, Perez downplayed the issue. “The truth [of] the matter is that there is nothing definite about it [yet],” he says.
Before the casino investor could start building the entertainment center, he says, the Local Government Code requires the provincial board to first approve the city council resolution.
“Aside from that, the casino should have a franchise from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor),” Perez says. Pagcor is a national government agency that regulates casino gaming in the country. Its newly appointed chair, Cristino Naguiat, is Perez’s son-in-law.

Tedious process
“It will still be a long and tedious process for the investor,” Perez says.
The casino issue, he says, was “magnified” in the media after his son, incumbent Mayor Amadeo Perez IV, a former city councilor, mentioned in an earlier television interview that the resolution was among those he and his colleagues had approved during their three-year term as councilors.
But a copy of Resolution No. 263-10 contains more than just simple approval. It also says that the council “believes that the casino operation will be most advantageous to the city government.”
“[I]t will definitely be a big boost to the economic status of this city … [as well as] beneficial to the people [because] the income to be derived thereat will go back to them in the form of basic services,” the resolution says.
Perez says the city government is also after the taxes that casino operations will generate and the jobs for residents.
The proposed casino site, which is known today as Lisland Rainforest Resort, is a sprawling recreation and picnic area near an intersection of busy national highways that connect key cities of eastern and western Pangasinan and northern Luzon provinces to Metro Manila.
Based on the proposal, the resort will be converted into a world-class, theme park-style entertainment center where everybody, including children, can go.

Not convinced
Urdaneta Bishop Jacinto Jose, one of the seven prelates who signed the statement, is not convinced.
Jose says that if the city government is after the economic benefits that the casino would bring and it really wants to give jobs to the people, it should put up livelihood projects where people can earn decent income.
“We are also for economic progress, but at what price? What is at stake [with the operation of a casino] is the future of the people,” he says. “I know where it will go. I’ve seen families destroyed because of gambling.”

Via Philippine Daily Inquirer