‘No to casino, yes to land reform on Boracay Island’
DAVAO CITY — No casino will operate on Boracay Island, which will be closed to tourism for six months so it can be rehabilitated, President Duterte declared on Monday.
To the surprise of many, the President also declared the 1,032-hectare resort island an agrarian reform area, saying under the law, the country’s premier tourist destination is an agricultural and forest area.
“I did not say I will allow casino there somewhere. Far from it actually. I never said anything about building anything or even a nipa hut there,” Mr. Duterte said.
He made the statement before leaving for Hainan, China, in reaction to reports the government would allow a casino to be built on the island, which he called a “cesspool” in February.
After Malacañang announced on April 5 that Boracay would be shut down for six months starting April 26, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV said the closure was meant to pave the way for the construction of a casino.
Two major casinos on Boracay Island have been approved by state-owned Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor).
Pagcor has approved a $500-million integrated casino resort of Macau’s Galaxy Entertainment Group and its local partner, AB Leisure Exponent Inc., a unit of the publicly listed Leisure and Resorts World Corp.
Resorts World Manila also plans to start gaming operations at the Savoy Hotel, a component of Megaworld Corp.’s Boracay Coast development.
In his departure press conference in Davao City, the President noted that the island was owned by the government.
“It’s agricultural and forestal. Unless there is a law or proclamation by the President setting aside anything there, an inch of land maybe, then that would be all right for other people to go in,” he said.
But because there was no such proclamation, Mr. Duterte said the law remained and that Boracay was a government property.
“I’ll place it under [the] land reform [program]. It would be better. I will tell you now, ‘I will give it to farmers. I will give them tractors,’” the President said.
SC ruling, GMA declaration
A Supreme Court ruling in 2008 declared the island state-owned. Rejecting ownership claims of several resort owners, the high court said the island, which it classified as forested and agricultural, belonged to the government.
On May 22, 2006, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued Presidential Proclamation No. 1064 that categorized 628.96 ha, or 60.94 percent of the island, as alienable and disposable, and the rest as forest land and protected areas.
Most of the areas classified as public lands are occupied by residential and commercial structures.
Claimants of public lands will have to wait for 30 years after the land is declared alienable and disposable before they can apply for titling, according to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
Mr. Duterte said he did not care about moneyed people or businesses that would be displaced by his decision to declare Boracay an agrarian reform area.
Help for poor
“You’ll ask me what about the businesses? I’m sorry, the law says it’s agricultural. Why would I deviate from that?” he said.
The President said the poor, who would be affected by his closure order, would get help from the government.
“If you’re asking financial help, I’m going to sign a proclamation of calamity and I can make available P2 billion of assistance but this is only for the poor Filipino,” he said.
The President said various government agencies were helping in the cleanup.
After the cleanup, Mr, Duterte said he “would return” Boracay to the Filipino people.
“It’s going to be a land reform area. I do not have any plan to [put up] casinos there. I will give it to the people who need it most,” he said.
Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu is also against casinos in Boracay.
“No [to the casinos]. There are so many other places to put those up. Why [in Boracay] when we’re already working so hard to clean it up?” Cimatu said on Friday at the DENR central office in Quezon City. —Reports from Allan Nawal and Jaymee T. Gamil
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