Cory Aquino’s casino legacy

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Gambling is a social disease. Fortunately, the consuming desire to gamble can be addressed by avoiding gambling houses and similar places. If left untreated, the desire to gamble is a cancer that destroys families and futures.

The disease affects the rich and the poor. Rich gamblers go to casinos. Others go to less ostentatious establishments, most of which are operated on the sly.

Many a gambler forfeits a bright future and gainful employment by making regular visits to the game rooms, a sure roadmap to poverty and bankruptcy and, in some cases, even crime. The sanctity of the family often gets compromised in the process.

Because it is habit-forming, counter-productive and destructive of the social fabric everywhere, it is acknowledged as a vice which ought to be outlawed. That, of course, has proved difficult to realize, as seen in the proliferation of gambling casinos in known places of the world.

Many cities in the United States are gambling centers of the world. Its overmastering influence and power are best illustrated by Las Vegas. Despite its location in a hot and barren dessert, the revenues from the Las Vegas gambling tables are larger than those of many other American cities, thanks to its status as a major tourist attraction.

Casinos also proliferate in Western Europe, in the Middle East (except Saudi Arabia, a conservative Islamic state) and in Asia.

Macau has been traditionally regarded as the gambling capital of Asia. That status is fast being challenged by the Philippines.

Gambling casinos proliferated in the cities of Manila and Pasay in the Philippines as early as the 1960s, and reached their peak in the few years before President Ferdinand Marcos placed the entire country under martial law in September 1972.

Back then, Roxas Boulevard was the destination of choice for many foreign and local gamblers. The gambling casinos of that period were owned by powerful oligarchs.

The proclamation of martial law in 1972 saw the closure of all gambling establishments in the Philippines. Under the new authoritarian political order, the Marcos administration could have easily taken over the gambling casinos and made billions of pesos in revenues — but it did not. It was obvious that the Marcos administration did not approve of gambling and disliked its bad effects on the Filipinos in general.

To keep the tourists coming in, however, the Marcos administration limited gambling to tourists and confined to a yacht moored at Manila Bay, aptly called “the floating casino.”

When a fire later destroyed “the floating casino,” its operations were transferred to a restricted zone near the Manila International Airport. It catered only to foreign tourists.

The horse races, cockpits and jai-alai fronton remained operational under the Marcos regime, but their operations were strictly limited. For instance, the races and the cockfights were limited to weekends. Only one jai-alai fronton, located along Taft Avenue near the Luneta, was allowed to operate.

Under President Corazon Cojuangco Aquino, casino operations in the Philippines expanded. The first casinos during her term were located at the Silahis International Hotel and the old Manila Pavilion Hotel in the tourist belt district of Manila. Casino later expanded to Baguio, Tagaytay, Olongapo, Cebu and Davao.

Each casino was called Casino Filipino and they were operated by Aquino’s closest allies in the government-owned Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor).

Gambling activities in the country which are not done under the auspices of New Pagcor were declared illegal. Even bingo games were declared within the exclusive regulatory function of Pagcor. In other words, gambling isn’t illegal as long as the gambling takes place in a Pagcor casino. That policy of Mrs. Aquino made the Philippine government the biggest and sole gambling lord in the country.

Surprisingly, one of the campaign pledges Aquino made when she was running for president in 1986 was the closure of the solitary gambling casino operating during the Marcos administration. Under Aquino, the number of casinos increased. Aquino’s excuse — the 1986 EDSA Revolution erased all her campaign pledges.

The gambling revenues of Pagcor from 1986 to 1992 financed the operations of the Aquino administration which, ironically and hypocritically projected itself to the world as a morally upright government.

Today, the Philippines is considered a top gambling destination in Asia. It is one of the “legacies” of Aquino which her misguided followers in the moribund Liberal Party, led by the Otso Diretso senatorial ticket, conveniently refuse to discuss in public. That’s hypocrisy, plain and simple.

No wonder many voters brand the pro-Aquino senatorial bets the Otso Diretso sa Impyerno ticket.

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