Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Casino standoff in Sta. Ana, Cagayan

by Ray EƱano
August 22, 2007

The Malaysian operator of the second online casino facility in Sta. Ana, Cagayan, had its first brush with the local government last week. It will not likely be the first and last of such encounters with local officials, who have increasingly asserted their authority in their own town, notwithstanding the encompassing mandate of the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority.

The grapevine said the Malaysian group was so overwhelmed by the initial success of the venture that it decided to construct a two-story building near the casino site. The group led by Malaysia-Chinese Thomas Kok Wai started work on the building, about 300 meters from the main casino facility, to provide its casino staff with housing accommodations. To the group’s surprise, however, the office of Mayor Norberto Victor Rodriguez stopped work on the building last Friday, citing the absence of a construction permit.

Mayor Rodriguez made sure that construction in the site was halted. He sent a team composed of members of the National Police and officials from Sta. Ana’s engineering office to enforce his order. The grapevine said the Malaysian operator of the online casino facility had thought that the permit it obtained from Ceza was enough for it to push through with the construction. Obviously, it was not.

Who’s the boss?

Ceza officials were naturally alarmed at the development and went to the mayor’s office on Sunday to plead their case. “Ceza and the casino operators were earlier given a warning, which they ignored. The mayor’s office sent a friendly letter, reminding them they need to secure a building permit. Without permit, the construction work is illegal,” a Sta. Ana resident told this writer.

Ceza insiders said Mayor Rodriguez’s move was a moral victory for town officials and some lawyers, who are intent on questioning the legality of the economic zone’s charter. Ceza’s charter, according the insiders, gave the government agency an authority over 44,000 hectares of land that virtually covered the whole Sta. Ana town, a portion of Aparri and three islands nearby, including Fuga, which is owned by the family of the late taipan Tan Yu.

“There could be a bigger legal battle. Some lawyers in the province are threatening to question the legality of Ceza’s charter. Ceza administers the economic zone and the free port but the local government also has its own responsibility as a political unit,” says the resident. Ceza, along with First Cagayan Resort and Leisure Corp., which holds a gaming franchise in Sta. Ana, aims to develop a world-class casino complex in the town to address the needs of potential tourists and gamblers from Taiwan, China and Macau. Ceza is under the Office of the President.

Vic Vic’s property

The second online casino opened in July this year, seven months after President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo led the inauguration of the first complex. The first casino facility is operated by Eastern Hawaii Online Gambling and Casino Corp., which is owned by businessman Kim Wong and his Asian partners.

The second casino complex, meanwhile, is located at Game Fishing Condotel building, owned by restaurateur and gaming fishing enthusiast Vic Vic Villavicencio. Vic Vic, the grapevine said, sold his building to First Cagayan, which in turn, leased the property to the Malaysian group, reportedly a member of the Sun City Resort Casino group.

Cagayan now could serve as an alternative destination for the thousands of tourists frequenting Clark and Subic to play a round of golf. Sta. Ana is a mere 45-minute flight from Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s largest industrial and shipping center, and much the same distance from Hong Kong.

Original Article from Manila Standard Today website: