Philippines President Duterte’s Relative Emerges as Whistleblower in Manila Casino Land Lease Scandal

Posted on: August 13, 2018, 03:10h. 

Last updated on: August 13, 2018, 03:19h.

A relative of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte says she was the whistleblower to the administration in exposing a flawed land lease contract that officials in Manila offered to a casino developer.

Philippines casino Manila Rodrigo Duterte
Maria Fema Duterte claims to have been the one who informed Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration about a bad deal an agency she was part of made with a casino company. (Image: Facebook/Edge Davao/

Hong Kong gaming and hospitality company Landing International received a provisional permit from federal regulators to build a $1.5 billion integrated resort in July.

But just as they broke ground last week on the development in Manila’s Entertainment City, Duterte’s spokesperson said the president was halting construction after learning the lease terms were “grossly disadvantageous to the government.”

Duterte subsequently removed all members of the Nayong Pilipino board, the local agency that was responsible for coming to the land lease terms with Landing. Speaking with ANC News in the Philippines, Nayong Pilipino board member Maria Fema Duterte, who married into the president’s family, says she was the whistleblower.

“There was no bidding. It did not undergo proper process. They [board members] did not publicize or put it to challenge of other investors for comparison,” Maria explained. Like her colleagues, she too was terminated by the president.

The specific land lease deal hasn’t been disclosed, but reports have surfaced that it’s a 70-year contract that affords Landing to pay rent that is more than two-thirds below current market value.

Nayong Pilipino chairperson Patricia Ocampo denied the allegations that there was graft and corruption in reaching the Landing deal. “We negotiated what we believed then, and believe now, are most advantageous terms and conditions,” she concluded.

Casino Continuing

Despite Duterte’s administration claiming the Landing project won’t be taking off, the company says unless the lease is “cancelled or nullified on solid legal grounds by the courts,” it’s pressing on with the complex.

Philippines Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra agrees the company has that right. Appointed to the cabinet position by Duterte this year, Guevarra is going against his boss.

“The removal of all the members of the Nayong Pilipino board, by itself alone, does not affect the implementation of the project,” Guevarra told reporters.

The Philippines Amusement and Gaming Corp (PAGCOR) additionally stated that the operational permit it issued Landing remains intact, but would be withdrawn should the casino company’s land lease contract be considered invalid.

Duterte ‘Hates’ Gambling

Duterte’s had a contentious relationship with gambling since taking off in June 2016. He’s repeatedly stated his disdain for casinos, but has allowed the industry to expand under his administration in order to grow tax revenue for the government.

Gross gambling revenues totaled $3.33 billion in 2017, a nearly 12 percent year-over-year-gain. Reuters reports that there are nine licensed casino operators in the Philippines, plus the state-run PAGCOR, that operate more than 1,400 table games and 9,400 gaming terminals.

Duterte says no further casinos will be approved.

“I hate gambling. I do not want it,” the president affirmed. “There will be no casinos outside of what are existing. I am not granting anything.”

That doesn’t bode well for Landing, nor Galaxy Entertainment, the latter which is trying to build a casino resort on Boracay Island. Duterte has blocked that project from also moving forward.