MisOr casino operating sans permit

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 12 Jan) – The controversial casino in Opol, Misamis Oriental has been operating without a business permit since December, a provincial board inquiry revealed.

The Misamis Oriental provincial board investigation chaired by Vice Gov. Jeremy Jonahmar Pelaez also found that the casino had been operating within 300 meters from a church of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, a nursery school and a high school, raising questions about the legality of its operations.

Misamis Oriental Vice Gov. Jeremy Jonahmar Pelaez. Photo from the vice governor’s Facebook page

The Grand Imperial Casino operated by the Gokongwei-owned Universal Hotels and Resorts, Inc. under the Philippine Amusement Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) opened in Barangay Taboc, Opol, days before Christmas without residents and officials being properly informed about the nature of its business.

Daniel Cabaluna, URHI manager, failed to show the provincial board a fire safety certificate and other documents required before an establishment could secure a business permit.

“They have no right to operate without the required permits,” Provincial Board Member Gerardo Sabal said.

Officials cite Section 3 of the PAGCOR regulatory manual that requires operators to secure business permits, occupancy permit, locational clearance, fire safety inspection certificate and a certificate from a licensed geodetic engineer confirming that the location is compliant with distance requirements.

Casino operators are also required to secure a Letter of No Objection (LONO) or a resolution from the local legislative councils stating that they have no objection to its operations.

In the case of Opol, its municipal council approved a resolution in 2017 that favored PAGCOR’s plans then to operate a casino in the municipality.

The Grand Imperial is the second casino under the UHRI in Mindanao, next to the casino with the same name that opened on Feb. 25, 2020 at the back of Robinsons mall in General Santos City.

Cabaluna admitted before the provincial board that the casino in Opol opened without the necessary permits unlike in General Santos City.

Opol Mayor Maximo Seno said he did not require UHRI of the permits because the PAGCOR charter allows the operation of casinos and other forms of gambling “within the territorial jurisdiction of the Philippines.”

Besides, Seno argued, the municipal council in Opol passed a resolution on July 10, 2017 stating it has no objection to the opening of a casino in the town.

But provincial board member Dixon Yasay said the town council’s resolution was passed two years before the election of the present set of Sangguniang Bayan.

Yasay, a former mayor of Opol, said the present town council should have been asked about their position on the casino.

He said provisions of the Local Government Code of 1991 were not complied with when the casino started operating sans permits.

The opening of Grand Imperial in Opol was greeted with opposition by the local Roman Catholic Church and the Iglesia Filipina Independiente.

Archbishop Jose Cabantan, of the Cagayan de Oro Archdiocese, said the casino caught the religious sector, residents and local officials by surprise.

Cabantan said the absence of consultation “was a betrayal of public trust” and the Opol casino would certainly become a local election issue.

He said the local archdiocese has started a signature campaign against the casino, the way it did in 1993 when it led street protests and successfully pressured PAGCOR to stop casino operations at the Pryce Plaza Hotel in Cagayan de Oro.

Bishop Felixberto Calang of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente had also signified that they would joined forces with the Cagayan de Oro archdiocese in opposing the casino. (Froilan Gallardo / MindaNews)