Baguio folks slam gambling in city; push council to stop these

>> Thursday, August 3, 2017

By Aldwin Quitasol and Eileen P. Refuerzo

BAGUIO CITY — Residents here slammed the city government for unabated gambling activities like jueteng and e-bingo in this Summer Capital which they said, destroyed its bid to maintain it a “Character City.”   
Various sectors who attended Wednesday’s public hearing at city hall on a resolution rescinding an earlier council approval of operation of electronic bingo (E-bingo) here said they were willing to gather many signatures to push for “people’s initiative” in creating a resolution or ordinance against E-bingo including other forms of gambling.
Aurelia Suclad of the Baguio-Benguet Ecumenical Group (BBEG), an advocacy group against gambling in Baguio City and Benguet said some councilors seem to have abandoned them again.
She said they have passed many signature campaigns against gambling citing how they gathered thousands of Baguio folk’s signatures against the entry of casino in Baguio.
She added people expressed their opposition to e-bingo through signature campaign and lobbying at city hall yet the council still passed a resolution of “no objection” to e-bingo.
She said they are losing hope on the council and doubt councilors especially those who voted before in favor of e-bingo will rescind their vote against e-bingo.
“What is needed now is a decisive measure that will show the real sentiments of Baguio people on gambling especially e-bingo,” she said. She cited need for a people’s initiative.
During its regular session on May 22, the city council approved Resolutions 176 and 176-A interposing no objection to the operation of an electronic and traditional bingo outlet in the Albergo Hotel by Bingo Palace Corporation and the renewal of the operation of the electronic and traditional bingo outlets in SM City Baguio and Baguio Center Mall by Highland Gaming Corporation. 
In a resolution, Councilor Maria Victoria Mylen G. Yaranon argued  some councilors failed to consider merit of petitions and position papers submitted by religious groups and concerned sectors when it approved the two resolutions.
She said there was a total disregard of the sentiments of the residents against the existence of gambling joints in the different parts of the city.
Yaranon was not present during the approval of the two resolutions in favor of e-bingo as she was in the burial of her father Braulio Yaranon who was the former City Mayor and a staunch anti-gambling advocate.
She said earlier that if she was present that day, she could have voted against it and subjected her colleagues to a deliberation on the matter. Only councilor Peter Fianza voted against e-bingo while another councilor, Robert Ortega was on official leave during the council’s May 22 session.
As a result of Yaranon’s objection, the city council decided to convene as a committee of the whole to study her proposed resolution rescinding the earlier two resolutions.
In the public hearing that was supposed to be attended by all councilors, only Yaranon, chairperson of the council committee of the whole Elaine Sembrano and councilor Fianza faced the people who attended where almost all of them expressed their objection to e-bingo and any form of gambling.
Most of them were barangay officials and residents of different barangays of Baguio City including religious sectors and non-government organizations.
Yaranon told the people who were there that they were not gathered at that moment to condemn the councilors who voted against e-bingo but to pray for them and ask them to reconsider their stand and hear the people’s cry against any form of gambling in the city.
Sembrano said that they will gather reactions of the people especially those who attended the public hearing.
She said they will compile them and submit these to the council and study them and hopefully come up with a council action regarding the matter.
Suclad said if the council will fail to listen to the voice of the people, they will push for people’s initiative and will not stop until gambling is stopped.
 Fr. Manuel Flores of the social action center of the Diocese of Baguio led the religious groups in supporting Councilor Mylen Yaranon’s proposed resolution rescinding Resolutions No. 176 and 176-A series of 2017 which interposed no objection to the operation of e-bingo games at SM Baguio, Baguio Center Mall and Albergo Hotel.
Fr. Flores denounced the city council’s disregard of the people’s earlier appeal for the city to stop the operation of the existing bingo joints and to disapprove new applications and threatened to initiate a signature campaign or people’s initiative to make it happen.
“Since our plea has fallen into deaf ears, I suggest that we just make our own resolution or initiative so it will become an action of the people,” he said.
Flores read a statement signed by concerned citizens lamenting the city council’s approval of Resolution No. 176 and appealing for consideration of their opposition to e-bingo and other forms of gambling.
“Legalizing gambling will not make it morally right.  It is and will always be against our morals – our morals which we are doing our best to uphold and hopefully preserve for the future generation,” the statement reads.
Former councilor Betty Lourdes Tabanda brought up legal and procedural flaws in the city council’s approval of bingo.
She said the locations of the bingo operations do not comply with the distance requirement of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) and the zoning ordinance of the city.
She said the most “objectionable part” was that Resolution 176 included a provision approving the operation of not only e-bingo but also “other games” which Tabanda said is dangerous as it meant allowing the operation of other forms of gambling like poker and casinos.
Tabanda also said the measure was approved under “suspicious” circumstances detailing how it was approved posthaste without discussion or consultation.  
She also questioned the unverified identities of the proponents and the companies they represent.
 Gerry Beltran, manager of Albergo Hotel which is one of the proposed e-bingo sites, clarified that the hotel management has declined the proposal to house the operation.
The anti-bingo stand was echoed by the other speakers one of whom a former bingo player who got hooked and eventually lost his fortune to gambling.
Brookside barangay kagawad Johnny Mangayan expressed agreement to bingo operations as long as proceeds will go to helping the needy particularly those afflicted by dengue fever and kidney patients undergoing dialysis.
Councilors Yaranon, Peter Fianza and Elaine Sembrano said the inputs gathered from the hearing will be collated and submitted to the committee of the whole before the body will decide on the proposed rescission of Res. 176.
 Last April, religious groups asked the aldermen to consider their appeal for the body to refrain from issuing the documents being required by the PAGCOR to put a stop the e-bingo operations in the city.
They said e-bingo and other forms of gambling in the city corrupts and degrades its citizens and the city itself which “has always consistently maintained a character of being an anti-gambling city.”

The group has in the past been at the forefront of the successful campaigns against casino and lotto, bingo and even STL which was then at its birthing stage. 


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