EACH time I bumped on former workers of Fontana Casino, they make it a point to ask me if there is still a chance for the gambling house to reopen after it was arbitrarily closed December last year. And furthermore, they ask me when it will be, as if I know. Possibly they presume as a newsman and a former director of Clark Development Corporation (CDC), I should know. Well, sorry to say, I really don't know. And I think even the officials of CDC can't provide the answer. Maybe Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) would know. Just maybe.
To recall, without a benefit of an investigation that should have been made public, the government through CDC revoked Fontana Leisure Park's certificate registration, thus stopped the latter's business. The thousands of workers were part of the collateral damage. And of course, the millions of pesos in lease payments Fontana is paying yearly CDC, which is a lot. The resort closure effectively stole the 2016 Christmas to these more than two thousand workers. It was so bleak for them, narrated to me by a friend who used to work there.
I am not trying to question the wisdom of the government's action for I really don't know what happened in the backroom. Methinks there are options available other than the immediate closure which, by the way, included the swimming resort, restaurants and villas which were reserved in advance by patrons coming from all over the country.
Looking back, in 1993, that was the year when a law was enacted converting the former Clark Air Force Base into an economic zone. A Cabalen, Antonio “Tito” Henson was tapped to head the CDC as the corporate vehicle with board members who were leading citizens of the province. Their group did the spade work. Suffered the birth pains and painstakingly struggled to look for investors. It was then what they call the buyers’ market. Just to create employment and generate business activities, any willing locator can have wide spaces for a song, so to speak.
Then came another Capampangan. And he was retired Air Force General Romeo David, and like a jet plane, he maneuvered the Clark economic zone into full throttle, and investors came and ranks of those employed were growing in numbers.
When I was appointed in January 2001 as a member of the board and stayed there for almost ten years before I was appointed director of the Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA), I had the opportunity working with the likes of Roy Navarro, General Narciso Abaya, Benny Ricafort, Levi Laus, Rufo Colayco, Budge Madamba, Manny Angeles and Chichos Luciano and many others who collectively drew a road map for Clark to grow more. The thinking was to have more workers and business activities inside the freeport that will cascade down to the off-zone communities. That's where the former officials can really be proud of.
In those years I spent with the board, I consistently fought for the freeport to be investor friendly and I was sustained. And for the record, when Navarro's group took the saddle, there were only more than 200 locators and little more than 22,000 workers. And further for the record still, when I left CDC for BCDA the number of workers swelled to almost 60,000 and the locators to almost 600.
There's no finger pointing a blame here, though there's unjustified tendency for present and future locators to think that their business doors can be arbitrarily be closed without due process.
+ The word war between Department of Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre and businessman Atong Ang will further jeopardize the re-opening of Fontana.
+ DOJ Sec. Aguirre's brother is into Small Time Lottery operations, and the secretary is saying that STL is purely legal. There is no more jueteng. STL na lang. Place your bets now.
+ They should allow the Fontana casino operations because it paid all its dues to all government agencies. What should be investigated if there's tax liabilities of the on-line-gaming. Huwag idamay yaong casino which was monitored 24 hours a day by Pagcor.