Opol town Mayor Maximino Seno stresses a point during the hearing on the Grand Imperial casino operating in said municipality called by the Misamis Oriental provincial board Tuesday, Jan. 11. (Jigger Jerusalem/davaotoday.com)

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines — The Misamis Oriental provincial legislative board has started its investigation Tuesday, January 11, into the operation of the Grand Imperial casino in Barangay Taboc, Opol town, as it questions if the gambling establishment have complied with the requirements of the local government units.

The provincial legislators have admitted that while they have no question on the legality of the casino as it is being sanctioned by the Phil. Gaming and Amusement Corp. (PAGCOR), their concern during Tuesday’s hearing held at the Sangguniang Panlalawigan session hall was focused on whether or not the company that runs the gaming facility had secured permits from the mayor’s office.

Some members of the provincial board, acting as a committee of the whole, was led by Vice Gov. Jeremy Jonahmar Pelaez.

The members of the investigating panel were board members Gerardo Sabal III, Wayne Militante, Dexter Yasay, and Kerwin Jess Soldevilla, who is sitting as ex-officio member being the provincial federation president of the Sangguniang Kabataan.

During the hearing, Daniel Cabaluna, officer-in-charge of Grand Imperial, said that they have not obtained permit from the office of Opol Mayor Maximino Seno.

Seno, for his part, told the legislators that he did not issue a mayor’s permit since he didn’t want to violate the law, particularly Presidential Decree 771, issued by then President Ferdinand Marcos in 1975, which revokes all powers and authority of local government to grant franchise or permit and regulate wager or betting by the public on all forms of legal gambling.

He said that PAGCOR can set up casino even without the approval of the LGUs as the charter of PAGCOR empowers it to centralize gambling, citing the case between then Cagayan de Oro city mayor Pablo Magtajas versus Pryce Properties and PAGCOR, recorded as G.R. 111097 by the Supreme Court in 1994.

PAGCOR, he said, is the national government agency “that has been mandated to regulate all games of chance in the country” as provided under PD 1869 and Republic Act 9487.

“In a memorandum issued from the President’s office in 1996 that only the national government has the power to issue licenses or permits for the operation of gambling,” Seno said.

Yasay, who is a former mayor of Opol, said that while the issuing entity for the franchise of the casino is PAGCOR, the power to issue a business permit belongs to the local government.

“I don’t think PAGCOR would violate the autonomy of the LGU in securing other requirements,” Yasay said, adding that businesses wanting to operate in an area must secure the pertinent permits the local governments, based on provisions from the Local Government Code.

Militante said there is a distinction between the mayor’s permit, which the local government may issue, and the license to operate a casino, which PAGCOR has the power to give.

To dispel any speculations, Militante said Seno should address the issue of the mayor’s permit.

“They must be compliant with the laws. That’s all we’re asking,” he added.

During the course of the hearing, Cabaluna told the legislators that they were able to obtain the mayor’s permit for the Grand Imperial General Santos City branch.

For his part, Sabal said that if Grand Imperial has taken the time out to request for a mayors permit in General Santos, then there’s no reason that they could not do the same in Opol.

A second hearing on the issue is set by the provincial board sometime next week, and Sabal said, “we have asked them to present documents, and I hope they can comply with that.”

Pelaez said they will also invite the provincial office of the Department of the Interior of Local Government, as will as the Grand Imperial officials who are based in Manila.

The Roman Catholic Church have issued a statement earlier opposing the establishment of the casino. The Iglesia Filipina Independiente, also supported this position as the casino is established right across one of their parishes. (davaotoday.com)

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