Bishop says Boracay is God’s gift to Aklan, the world; rallies faithful, officials vs casinos in the island

AKLAN BISHOP Jose Corazon Tala-oc calls on the faithful, the Aklan officials to oppose casinos in Boracay

KALIBO, Aklan – Opposition to the opening of casinos  in Boracay island resort in Malay, Aklan has widened as Bishop Jose Corazon Tala-oc of the Diocese of Kalibo urged the public to oppose the casino project in the island resort.

Bishop Tala-oc said the Aklanons “have the responsibility to take care and protect Boracay”.

“I appeal to our leaders in the province not to allow gambling casino that will destroy our cherished land,” Tala-oc said in a pastoral letter.

He also urged priests and laypeople to form discerning groups “and say ‘no to gambling casino, no to gambling in Boracay’” in a statement read during Masses in all the diocese’s parishes on Sunday, September 19.

This as billionaire Andrew Tan said his company Megaworld is ready to proceed with a casino project in Boracay following the lifting by President Duterte of the ban on casinos in the island.

Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation Chair Andrea Domingo earlier confirmed to media that Duterte had given the go signal for two casino projects in Boracay Island, by Megaworld and Macau-based Galaxy Entertainment Group.

Tan said they are ready to push forward with Boracay Newcoast, a casino project which was previously shelved due to a casino ban on the island ordered by Duterte.

Boracay locals also object to Duterte’s bid to allow a casino to be built on the island, said community leader Nenette Aguirre-Graf, who owns a business in the tourist paradise, in interviews last month.

Duterte’s statement was shocking to them, Aguirre-Graf said, recalling that Duterte was once on their side when he ordered the ban on casinos, but he has flip-flopped once more citing the need for revenues as an excuse.

“For us, it’s a bit shocking. Because after saying that he hates casino, he doesn’t like gambling, it made us all happy. But now, with this new pronouncement, it’s kinda scary because you don’t know what’s gonna happen,” Graf said.

Graf said Boracay residents are concerned about how the pronouncement will affect the island’s image as a family-friendly destination.

“’Cause right now, ‘di ba, we’re promoting Boracay as a family destination? It’s been like that for years. In fact, we didn’t allow go-go bars and anything that will tarnish the image of the island as a family destination.”

“We all know that what goes with the casino island or having casinos in an island–it goes with, you know, drugs, prostitution, criminality and all those things. And money laundering and many other things that [are] negative,” she said.

Malay Mayor Frolibar Bautista, however, whose town includes Boracay urged the casino oppositors to have an open mind, adding that the project could raise additional revenues for the town.

In his pastoral letter reported by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), Tala-oc expressed his opposition to the plan, saying Boracay’s role in the country’s economy is enough as it is.

“Boracay is God’s gift to Aklan and to the whole world. It has become a family destination, a venue for educational advancement and entrepreneurship. It offers a wider avenue for employment, good source of livelihood for our people and revenues for the government. There is so much that Boracay Island can offer because it is already a paradise. But why do we need to put up a gambling casino?” he wrote.

He also called on both the government and the faithful to express their opposition to the plan.

“I also appeal to our leaders in the province not to allow gambling casino that will destroy our cherished island. I also call on all our priests in the Diocese of Kalibo, with our Parish Pastoral Councils, Lay organizations, Movements, Associations and Societies to form discerning groups and say “No to Gambling Casino, No to Gambling in Boracay.”

The Church, he said, is against gambling in any form because of its social impact on the people.

“This gradual takeover of the human psyche by gambling is a big liability that can become no less than a socio-affective disorder,” Tala-oc said.

“It will slowly weaken and eventually destroy the moral fiber of the people,” he added.

.President  Duterte earlier said he will allow a casino to be built in Boracay, reversing his previous stance over the tourist destination because he said the government needed more funds now.

Even as Boracay stakeholders are still reeling from the lifting by President  Duterte of the ban on casinos in the island resort, the President signed a new order, this time extending again the term of the Boracay Inter-Agency Task Force (BIATF) until June 2022.

Under EO 147, the BIATF will be deemed dissolved on June 30, 2022, “unless extended or sooner terminated by the President.”

The BIATF, created by virtue of EO 53 signed by Duterte on May 18, 2018, was tasked to facilitate the rehabilitation and ensure the ecological sustainability of the famous island of Boracay.

The task force’s term was supposed to end two years after its creation, but it was extended until May 8, 2021 through EO 115.

Duterte extended anew the BIATF’s term for one more year upon the task force’s recommendation to “ensure completion of the remaining milestones of the Boracay Action Plan until 2022.”

“The Covid-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) pandemic and the imposition of community quarantine measures have resulted in unprecedented delays and massive disruptions on the implementation of critical programs and projects based on the key thematic areas of the Boracay Action Plan,” EO 147 read.

Boracay was closed to tourists from April to Sept. 2018 to pave the way for a massive rehabilitation of the island.

The BIATF has issued laws and local ordinances to address the environmental problems that have long been plaguing the island.

Since the creation of the task force, it has made various accomplishments to reverse Boracay’s ecological degradation, according to EO 147.

Based on the new EO, around 80 percent or 271 out of 339 establishments in Boracay are now compliant with the “25 + five-meter beach easement,” while 83 percent or 1,017 of 1,230 total structures are now compliant with the “12-meter road easement.”

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources, EO 147 said, has also prepared 163 cases against illegal occupants of forestlands. Fifty-four of the 163 cases have been filed in court by the Department of Justice and the National Bureau of Investigation, and one by the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office of Aklan and Community Environment and Natural Resources Office of Boracay.

According to the EO, the Environmental Management Bureau has also filed a total of 262 cases before the Pollution Adjudication Board, 160 of which have already resulted in settlement of fines.

The ambient water quality monitoring has also found that all beaches, except at the Tulubhan outfall, are now “Class SB-compliant,” which means that they are suitable for recreational activities.

“Ninety-six percent of accommodation establishments adjacent to the White beach with 40 rooms and above, and 95 percent of accommodation establishments outside the White beach with rooms 50 and above, have satisfactorily constructed their individual Sewerage Treatment Plants,” the order read.

EO 147 added that two wetlands in Boracay have been fully recovered from illegal settlers, as part of the ongoing rehabilitation of all the nine wetlands of the island.

The 10-year Sold Waste Management Plan and Cave Management Plan have likewise been approved and their implementation is continuously being monitored.

Phases 1 and 2 of the rehabilitation and improvement of the Boracay Circumferential Road have also been completed in 2020, while Phase 3 is ongoing, and Phase 4 is planned to be implemented in 2022, the EO said.

“Fifty-seven percent of Phase 2 of the Boracay Drainage Improvement Project, under the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority, has been completed,” it added. (Jeanne Michael Penaranda/Claire Morales True)