ASIA/PHILIPPINES - Stop the spread of gambling in Negros Oriental: civil society protects the lives of young people

Friday, 19 April 2024 human rights     addictions   civil society   corruption   criminality  

Dumaguete City (Agenzia Fides) - Gambling is a scourge in the Philippines. Present in society and culture for centuries, it has also taken on illegal forms and is widespread throughout the archipelago. The Philippine government has established an agency, the “Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation” (Pagcor), to regulate gambling and also to generate government funds. There are numerous public and private agencies that offer certain forms of gambling. Gambling in casinos in particular is seen as an essential element for tourism. For this reason, a new casino is now being built on the outskirts of Dumaguete City, the capital of Negros Oriental Province (in the Visayas Islands in the central Philippines), a tourist area known for its natural beauty. On the other hand, Dumaguete, a coastal city with over 134,000 inhabitants, is home to four universities and several colleges, which has also earned the nickname "university city" and makes it an educational and cultural center in Negros Oriental.
The city was shaken on March 4, 2023, when former soldiers killed ten people, including Negros Oriental Governor Roel Degamo. But social peace is also threatened by a company's plans to open a new casino on the outskirts of Dumaguete, an idea that has sparked alarm and protest in the Catholic civil society community. The "Southern Lights Gaming Corporation" will be able to open the casino with city government approval. Julius Heruela, parish priest in the Diocese of Dumaguete, says that "the community was taken by surprise". The priest, president of the Diocesan Pastoral Council, also emphasizes that the diocese will oppose the establishment of a casino because it is "immoral and detrimental to society", especially considering the corruption and the harm it could cause to youth, and because it is a hotbed for crime. The local church intends to coordinate with educational institutions such as universities, schools and colleges as well as associations in the area to carry out a nationwide information campaign against gambling. "Casino operators try to attract tourists with entertainment offers," the cleric notes. For example, some resorts already offer gambling as part of their services to tourists. The Catholic community will therefore "seek alliances with educators, environmentalists and health experts, i.e. with people who are genuinely interested in the well-being of the population and not just with profit in mind."
According to police, casino activities are often used to launder money. And despite pressure from civil society, lobbying by the gaming industry at the legislative level in the Philippines remains very strong to obtain permits to open new establishments.
Meanwhile, gambling addiction also puts a strain on public health: pathological or compulsive gambling is a real social disease that harms individuals, families and businesses. It is true that the relevant government authority is committed to licensed, legal, conscious and balanced gambling to minimize the potential harm to individuals and communities. But the popularity and prevalence of gambling in Philippine society - a practice that was institutionalized as early as the 1500s, at the time of the Spanish occupation - makes it difficult to control or restrict the practice in society. According to anthropologists, gambling is a social, cultural and economic phenomenon, as well as an extremely flexible means of redistributing wealth.
For the predominantly Catholic Philippines, the issue of gambling also has serious moral implications: in several statements, the Philippine Bishops' Conference has highlighted the role of politics in curbing the effects of gambling in society, as it "seriously undermines the moral values of the people, fuels corruption, negatively impacts families' lives and is addictive". (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 19/4/2024)