By ACE ALEGRE
BAGUIO CITY — An influential church-led lobby is increasing its ante to block a casino at the former American rest-and-recreation facility Camp John Hay.
On Monday, Roman Catholic Bishop Carlito Cenzon of the Baguio Vicariate with church leaders from the United Chuch of Christ of the Philippines-Northern Luzon Jurisdiction and the laity-formed multisectoral group (MSG) are trooping to the Baguio City Council to press local officials to join them in the fight versus a huge gambling complex.
This after an agreement between the state-controlled Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA) and the private-run Camp John Hay Development Corporatin (CJHDevCo) to build a casino was already forged last year.
On July 1, 2008, a “Casino Cooperation Agreement” was signed by BCDA president and CEO, retired Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Narciso Abaya, and CJHDevCo chairman and CEO Robert John Sobrepena and its president Ferdinand Santos.
Thus confirming earlier suspicions by Bishop Cenzon and other anti-casino groups here of continuing moves from capitalists to put up a “gaming complex” at John Hay despite the vigorous opposition they had consistently registered before the local and national government.
Earlier, the BCDA and CJHDevCo refused to confirm any plan for a casino though the latter conceded that a “bingo gaming complex” has applied.
In yet another resolution by the church led lobby group MSG, Bishop Cenzon and other church leaders insist a casino at John Hay violates the 19 conditions set by the Baguio City government when the former American facility was leased to developer CJHDevCo in 1991. Any casino operation, it said, not only violates conditions of the lease agreement, but also insults local initiatives against all forms of gambling in the city.
CJHDevCo officials, despite efforts to reach them, remain indisposed, while even Mayor Reinaldo Bautista has publicly claimed he did not know about the agreement.
“The people of Baguio will not allow this,” claimed lawyer Alexander Bangsoy, speaking in behalf of the MSG. “Gambling is a pathological disease,” their manifesto insisted, while adding, “it has a spell on the people that makes them gamble away even money for basic necessities and education of their children.”
In the 70’s, a casino operated at the Pines Hotel at Luneta Hill. Church leaders said many small and medium entrepreneurs gambled away their capital and became bankrupt.
Baguio City, it further claimed, will lose its image as an “educational center of the North,” gambling poses a threat to the youth’s well-being. It is likely, the manifesto went on, that a casino operation will breed more crime in the city.
Pro-casino advocates in the city however argue that the city has lost opportunities and local taxes that the casino operation in San Fernando City in La Union offered earlier.
“The ‘hypocrisy’ has refused to look at the fact that though there is no casino in Baguio, big-time “players” from Baguio still frequent the casino in La Union”, they said. # www.nordis.net