Philippines: Bishops Are Up in Arms About the One-Armed Bandit

October 26, 2021

The Pearl of the Eastern Seas is the scene of a new standoff between part of the episcopate and the head of state, Rodrigo Duterte. The controversy is growing on Boracay, a small island paradise located three hundred kilometers south of Manila. In question is the installation of casinos to replenish the funds of the archipelago.

The sea is a turquoise blue as far as the eye can see. It is a dream setting which 33,000 residents enjoy, but who nevertheless have to share the view with nearly two million tourists each year. Suffice to say that the Filipinos vacationing in Boracay represent a real financial windfall for the state.

So, in August 2021, the government led by Rodrigo Duterte decided to lift the moratorium, in force until then, on the installation of casinos on resort islands. The Covid-19 pandemic has passed through there and state coffers are empty.

This was without counting the reply of several bishops of the Boracay region, determined not to allow the morals of their flock to be corrupted in a country where Catholicism is professed by more than 80% of the total population.

On October 4, the ordinaries of Jaro, San Jose de Antique, and Bacolod co-signed a strongly worded statement seeking to dissuade the authorities from carrying out their project.

For them, there is no doubt that the casinos - in Boracay as elsewhere - threaten the family values ​​and the simple way of life of the Catholics of the region: “Is it necessary to know how many people and families have been destroyed in cause of the game? All of this will pave the way for destructive lifestyles and habits,” they warn.

The signatories also warn about the consequences inherent in gambling: “Gambling statistics further show that families in which at least one parent gambles compulsively are more likely to experience domestic violence, including child abuse.”

“Over 80 percent of problem gamblers were at risk of alcohol or drug use/dependency and half of compulsive gamblers commit crimes.”  

Filipino bishops “also urged Catholics not to be blinded by the tax revenues the government might generate through the casinos” but to keep in mind the importance of values ​​and family life: “the harm and risk factors far outweigh the expected benefits,” they say.

“As a church, we are not against development, but it should be a development that is both sustainable and integral, a development that is authentically just and for the common good,” they say at the conclusion of their open letter.

An op-ed was published as the election season kicked off on October 1 in the Philippines, with several thousand candidates running for office ranging from president to city counsel.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who has not spared his criticism of the Philippine episcopate since the start of his presidency, then announced his imminent withdrawal from political life, leaving the way open to his daughter to eventually succeed him at the head of the country. He could not be re-elected anyway, since the country's constitution prohibits serving more than one term.