CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines – One of the largest Protestant churches in Cagayan de Oro, the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), and several evangelical groups have joined a united front of religious organizations to prevent a newly established casino in a neighboring Misamis Oriental town from resuming operations the moment the government downgrades the COVID-19 pandemic alert level in the province.
Their leaders signed a position paper in time for the celebration of the World Interfaith Harmony Week which started on Tuesday, February 1, calling on their members to work together in stopping the operation of the Grand Imperial Casino that was opened by the Gokongwei-owned Universal Hotel And Resort Incorporation (UHRI) and the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) in Barangay Taboc, Opol town days before Christmas.
At least eight influential religious leaders in Cagayan de Oro signed the Ecumenical and Interfaith Statement of Concern:
- Bishop Ligaya Flores San Francisco of the UCCP Northwest Mindanao Jurisdiction
- UCCP District Conference of Northern Mindanao minister Mario Ebora
- Cagayan de Oro City Evangelical Ministers Association president Nasalli Silava
- Bishop Genesis Udang of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches – Peace and Reconciliation Commission
- Cagayan de Oro Catholic Archbishop Emeritus Antonio Ledesma
- Archbishop Jose Cabantan
- Iglesia Filipina Independiente Bishop Felixberto Calang of Cagayan de Oro
- IFI Bishop Redeemer Yanez of the Diocese of Libertad
The casino had its soft launch in late December 2021 and was supposed to have its grand opening in January, but a surge in the number of COVID-19 cases in Misamis Oriental and Cagayan de Oro forced the government to place the province and the city under the more restrictive Alert Level 3 category under which casinos, bars, and similar establishments may not operate.
The COVID-19 Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) extended it to February 15.
Cabantan added the united front also counts among its roster four other prominent local religious leaders – Bishop Herbert Gadian of the Jesus for All Nations, Bishop Alex Eduave of the PCEC, Interfaith Forum for Peace, Harmony, and Solidarity convenor Monsignor Rey Monsanto, and the IFI Bishop Emeritus Rudy Juliada of the Mindanao Lumad Ministry.
The Cagayan de Oro Network of Archdiocesan Schools earlier issued a position paper against the casino’s operations.
“We call on the LGU (local government unit) of Opol municipality to resolve this issue by taking comprehensive action that would benefit the people in the community. We call on the government to address the issue of socio-economic crisis that motivates people to gamble their small money in exchange for a fake promise of fortune,” read part of the joint statement.
The ecumenical group also noted that the casino was opened without public consultations and was operated near churches.
Misamis Oriental provincial board member Gerardo Sabal III said the province’s legislature would reconvene as a committee of the whole and pass a resolution, stating its position on the casino next week.
The province’s legislators, who started an official investigation into the opening of the Grand Imperial casino, found it started operations even without a business permit, safety inspection certificates, and other requirements. –Rappler.com
Froilan Gallardo is a Mindanao-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship