By Gerry Albert Corpuz, Handog Malaya Vera and Victoria Sunshine Malubarry
MANILA, Philippines- A militant alliance of small fishermen opposed to the planned construction of a Las Vegas like casino in the western portion of Manila Bay in Paranaque City on Saturday asked the influential Catholic Bishop Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) to join forces with them to stop the 557 million US dollar casino-resort project in the Bagong Nayong Pilipino-Entertainment City.
In a press statement, the activist fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) appealed to the 117 archbishops and bishops of the CBCP to coalesce with the fisherfolk and other affected people in Manila Bay in the fight of what it called the Las Vegas-nization of the country.
“We ask our archbishops and bishops to join the Manila Bay coastal people in their legit and just struggle against those evil forces who want to make this country the gambling capital of Asia to the detriment of coastal people and the bay environment,” said Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap.
The Pamalakaya leader said his group is planning to seek a dialogue with the bishops and archbishops of the CBCP anytime next week to discuss the devastating impact of the project to small fisherfolk and urban poor and its destructive effect to the already fragile Manila Bay environment.
“We will move heaven and earth to put up a strong opposition against this largest gambling project clinched during the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and passed on to the new administration of President Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino III,” added Hicap.
In a statement yesterday, Bloombury Investments Holdings Inc. which was acquired by port operatorEnrique Razon Jr. said it had broken ground for the construction of Solaire, an integrated resort complex that includes a five-star, 500-room hotel on a 165,000-square-meter land.
According to Bloombury, aside from catapulting the Philippines into becoming a key player in the tourism, hospitality and entertainment industries, the project will make Filipinos proud for having a world class leisure hub that will showcase the best that the country can offer. It said the entertainment city will rival leisure hubs in the region such as those in Macau, Malaysia and Singapore.
The project marks Razon’s first venture into the lucrative gaming industry. Razon owns Manila-based global port giant International Container Terminal Services Inc. The Bloombury complex is expected to open by the third quarter of 2012. Total investment in the long term is expected to reach $ 1 billion.
Project proponents said aside from attracting local and foreign visitors, the complex is expected to generate some 2,500 jobs and boost the country’s ancillary service sectors.
“This is ridiculous, very, very ridiculous. Please allow us to inform the bishops that the Supreme Court ruling is clear——-Malacanang should rehabilitate Manila Bay and should not transform the bay into a gambling capital of Asia is contrary to the high court decision,” said Hicap in reference to the Dec. 2008 Supreme Court decision mandating the national government and concerned government agencies to restore Manila Bay back to its historic and proud past.
“The bishops are politically and morally obliged to confront this gambling project of the ruling Mafia in Malacanang. That is one their callings as far as the Christian faith and the people’s collective interest are concerned,” the Pamalakaya official added.
The other companies granted licenses were Travellers International Hotel Group, Inc., the partnership between the Andrew L. Tan-led Alliance Global, Inc. and casino-resort operator Genting Hong Kong Ltd., SM Investments Corp. and Universal Entertainment Corp. (formerly Azure Corp.), which makes gaming machines and is a co-investor in the Wynn chain of casino hotels in Las Vegas and Macau.
“The issue of Manila Bay casino project is not only about cronyism and the despicable partnership between Arroyo and his cherished client-Mr. Razon and now Razon as de facto supporter and crony of Aquino. At stake here is the marine environment, the livelihood of 3 million people in Manila Bay and the national interest of 92 million Filipinos. Sad to say, President Arroyo sacrificed these stakes to make more money and make his crony the happiest and the luckiest guy on earth.
Pagcor president and chief operating officer Rafael Butch Francisco announced on Monday the construction at the Bay Shore Entertainment City was expected to start in the latter part of the year. Sources said the Razon’s entry into the Pagcor project came after his exit from the power transmission business. Last month, Henry Sy Jr.’s OneTaipan Holdings, Inc. bought Monte Oro Grid Resources Corp. from Razon’s group for $350 million.
Pagcor said the construction is expected to start in the third quarter at an estimated cost of $400 million for the first phase. According to the state-run gambling corporation, the complex will include two five-star luxury hotel towers of over 1,000 rooms within a world-class entertainment and convention facility.
The Pamalakaya fisherfolk alliance said the construction of Manila Bay casino similar to first-ratecasinos in Las Vegas and Macau will trigger the displacement of 3 million coastal people in Metro Manila and Cavite who are still dependent to fishing as principal source of livelihood, and any move to transform or convert Manila Bay for other purposes like the $15-billion casino project will have a killing impact on the livelihood of small fishermen, aside from the fact that they would be demolished from their communities, once construction of support structures and establishments begins.
“The irrevocable desire of President Aquino and Mr. Razon to convert Manila Bay into an international gateway for big time gambling addicts both international and domestic is not only blasphemous, but also detestable and highly revolting. This government is sacrificing the future ofManila Bay fishers at the altar of corporate interest and gambling addiction of the international and domestic elites,” the Pamalakaya said.
The militant group said the construction of Manila Bay casino will also trigger reclamation of other coastal shores along Manila Bay that will result to eviction of fishing communities and coastal villagers along the bay.
Pamalakaya recalled from 1992 to 1995, the demolitions of coastal shanties became an everyday ordeal in Pasay Reclamation area. Houses were uprooted on almost day-to-day basis. Small and big time bribery to divide the communities were conducted to facilitate the demolition of homes as if the words and orders of Malacañang were the words of God in this country.
The setting up of casino and resorts, including SM’s Mall of Asia was all in the master plan of the government known as Manila Bay Master Development Plan that officially started during the time of President Ramos and projected to end between 2020 and 2025.
Pamalakaya said 3,500 small fisherfolk and their families in Pasay Reclamation Area, and another 3,000 coastal and urban poor families along the coastal shores of Parañaque were evicted by the government of former President Ramos to pave way for the construction of the proposed casino that would make the Philippines the Las Vegas of Asia.#