House to clip Pagcor powers after Resorts World attack

MANILA, Philippines – Ranking lawmakers plan to file a bill seeking to transfer to the House of Representatives the power of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) to grant licenses to casinos.

Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas disclosed this on Wednesday, June 7, during the House joint committee probe into the shooting and arson attack of lone gunman Jessie Carlos.

The June 2 attack left 37 dead, including the alleged gunman and the wife of Pampanga 3rd District Representative Aurelio Gonzales Jr.

The joint investigation, in aid of legislation, was conducted by the House panels on public order and safety, games and amusement, and tourism at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3, just across the street from Resorts World.

"Under the leadership of the Speaker [Pantaleon Alvarez], we will review Republic Act (RA) [Number] 9487 with the view of amending it and repealing altogether Presidential Decree (PD) Number 1869," said Fariñas.

"You know gambling is prohibited in the country, but by a presidential decree, the power was delegated... to Pagcor to have the sole authority to authorize, license, regulate gambling. That should not be allowed. That should only be a congressional grant of franchise," he added.

PD 1869 first formalized Pagcor's charter. RA 9487 was then signed in 2007 under the Arroyo government, which not only extends Pagcor's franchise for another 25 years but also grants it authority to operate and license casino and similar gaming and entertainment clubs nationwide.

Fariñas' proposal comes after the deadly attack last June 2, when Carlos fired gunshots and set ablaze gaming tables at the casino floor of Resorts World Manila. He was a former tax specialist at the Department of Finance and was heavily in debt due to casino gambling. 

Revoke franchise

Apart from amending Pagcor's charter, however, Alvarez also wants to consider revoking Resorts World's franchise.

Alvarez asked Pagcor Chairperson Andrea Domingo: "What are the violations committed by Resorts World that would warrant a suspension and/or cancellation of their franchise?"

Domingo said Resorts World failed to respond to a recent Pagcor advisory ordering licensees to strengthen their security measures and to abide by ordinances on curfews and other security-related matters in the cities where the casinos operate.

Domingo said they issued the advisory after the Maute Group clashed with government troops in Marawi City on May 23, prompting President Rodrigo Duterte to declare martial law in Mindanao on the same day.

"From our assessment, there was really a lack of security in the entrance and parking lots in RWM… [There was a] lack of [an] adequate [number] of properly equipped security personnel, and this can be seen from their video that we saw," said Domingo.

She was referring to CCTV footage of the attack that was given by Resorts World to law enforcement authorities. 

Domingo told Alvarez that a team is still checking the other violations that Resorts World may have committed and they expect to complete the report by Friday, June 9.

She added that the Resorts World management already volunteered to temporarily suspend operations after the attack.

Alvarez insists on terrorist tag

On Wednesday, Alvarez once against insisted the Resorts World incident should be called a terrorist attack.

This is contrary to earlier statements of Duterte as well as Philippine National Police chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa, who both said the Resorts World incident is "not ISIS (Islamic State)."

Alvarez first asked National Capital Region Police Office director Chief Superintendent Oscar Albayalde what is the "universal definition" of terrorism.

"An act of violence that would create massive casualties and massive fear in the population, sir," said Albayalde.

Alvarez then asked the police official if he would then consider the Resorts World attack as a form of terrorism.

"Of course there was fear, sir. But the deaths were all incidental doon po sa pagsunog niya (because of him committing arson)," said Albayalde. 

But Alvarez refused to accept Albayalde's reasoning. The Speaker said "simply a person who harms and kills anybody indiscriminately" can already be considered a terrorist.

He qualified though that he was not trying to connect the Resorts World attack to the Maute Group's activities in Marawi.

"We are not connecting this incident to what's happening in Marawi. We just want a proper labeling of what happened in Resorts World. Let us not be confused between a crime and [an] act of terrorism," said Alvarez. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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