Philippine Senator Questioned Over Alleged Family Ties to China and Gambling Project

Posted on: August 8, 2023, 08:29h. 

Last updated on: August 8, 2023, 12:09h.

The Philippines’ gaming industry has come under fire recently, mainly over controversies surrounding Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs). Leading the fight to eradicate them, as well as possibly all online gaming, has been Senator Sherwin Gatchalian. He now faces a controversy of his own, as questions arise over his family’s involvement in a project that has questionable ties to China.

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian participating in a Senate hearing.
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian participating in a Senate hearing. The anti-online gambling legislator faces scrutiny over his family’s ties to a Chinese construction company. (Image: Rappler)

The legislator’s family owns Waterfront Manila Premier Development Inc (MWPDI), which is behind a reclamation project in Manila Bay. It’s a PHP34.3-billion (US$611 million) complex that will eventually host a casino, a business district, and other amenities.

A construction firm involved in the development of the 318 hectares (785 acres) of reclaimed land is out of China, which is causing an issue. The company is already on a U.S. government blacklist, and the U.S. Embassy to the Philippines has raised concerns.

Out of the Picture

Gatchalian, according to a report by PhilStar, acknowledged that the project belonged to his father, and asserts that it received all the necessary permits it needed. He added that he doesn’t “meddle with the business.”

The U.S. Embassy brought its concerns to the Philippine government, highlighting that the Chinese company, China Communications Construction Co (CCCC), has been blacklisted for years. It is allegedly involved in the militarization of the South China Sea, as well as possible fraudulent business practices, according to the U.S. government.

Gatchalian, who also wants to disassemble the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp., doesn’t view the Embassy’s complaint as an issue. He stated that the opinion isn’t registered with the Philippine government, and that the CCCC has all of the necessary paperwork in order. The Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA), which is overseeing the reclamation projects in the country, agreed.

This isn’t the first time that MWPDI has dealt with potential problems. A year ago, a court nullified its contract with the government of Manila. It determined that it didn’t follow the proper bidding protocols. However, that decision was reversed on appeal.

Trouble at Sea

It’s unclear why MWPDI would turn to the CCCC to assist with the project in light of tensions between the two countries. The company has had involvement in other projects in the South China Sea, which has continuously been a subject of friction between China and the Philippines.

At the center of the friction is a territorial dispute. China has allegedly laid claim to waters that the Philippines say belong to them. But both sides have accused the other of trespassing on numerous occasions.

Most recently, China allegedly attacked Philippine vessels. Over the weekend, as the ships were transporting supplies to the Ayungin Shoal in the Spratly Islands chain, Chinese Coast Guard vessels hit them with water cannons.

The ships were carrying replenishments for Philippine military troops on the atoll. China accuses the Philippines of stationing the troops there illegally. It added that the supply vessels had illegally entered Chinese territorial waters.

China has repeatedly said that it owns almost the entirety of the South China Sea and has everything from military ships to fishing boats in the area. The country’s stance violates several international treaties on territorial and water boundary definitions.