As I See It

Pagcor caught in middle of Okada-Wynn fight


Two House committees are investigating the reported $30-million bribe given to a former consultant of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) by billionaire Japanese casino operator Kazuo Okada in exchange for a license to operate in Pagcor’s Entertainment City in Pasay. The Committee on Games and Amusement chaired by Rep. Amado Bagatsing and the Committee on Good Government chaired by Rep. Jerry Treñas should not forget that the root cause of all this is the rivalry between Okada and his erstwhile partner and now bitter enemy Steve Wynn of Wynn Resorts. The motive: Pagcor’s Entertainment City in the Philippines would pose a direct threat to Wynn’s casinos in Macau.

The facts are these: Okada invested $2.5 billion of his own money in the Entertainment City project, which would generate 5,000 to 6,000 jobs for our countrymen next year.

What has Wynn done on the other hand? He has unleashed his attack dogs against Okada and his investments in the Philippines. While Okada is here to help Pagcor realize billions of pesos from foreign high-rollers and tourists, Wynn seeks to deprive us of those incomes. While Okada wants to create jobs for Filipinos, Wynn seeks to deprive us of those jobs.

If there was bribery, by all means punish the guilty. But as the saying goes, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

The attacks against Okada are all about corporate greed (there’s that word again). Because of this, Wynn used his country’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Nevada gaming commission to bully his Japanese rival.

Some Filipinos ask: Where should our sympathies lie—to a fellow Asian who wants to put food on our tables or to an American who wants to take that food away?

Let’s look at the charges raised against Okada by some lawmakers who had allied themselves with Wynn. The first salvo, fired four or five months ago, claimed Okada spent $110,000 to billet the present Pagcor chair and his predecessor in Macau. That attack fizzled out because people naturally asked: Why raise the issue only now?

Then came the accusation that Okada bribed then Pagcor consultant Rodolfo Soriano $5 million to get a license to operate a casino in Entertainment City. There is also the claimed payment of an additional $10 million to Soriano that never was, but was made to look in media like it actually happened.

In the opening hearing of the House Committee on Games and Amusement, the $5 million turned out to be a disbursement not authorized by Okada and for which he has filed charges against three of his employees. After all, Pagcor had already granted Okada that license back in 2008 but the alleged bribery happened in 2010.

And why would Okada pay money to a consultant of an administration already going out in 2010?

Bagatsing has summoned Soriano to the next hearing and the report is that he will explain that the $5 million was part of an effort to invest or to acquire the Subic Yacht Club as a secondary destination to those visiting Entertainment City.

And is that bad? Developing Subic is well in line with the tourism development concept. Maybe bad for Wynn’s bottom line in Macau. But for us that’s good. Imagine the jobs to be created in Subic and the potential profit for Pagcor’s pro-poor projects.

Let us be clear that all of these happened during the previous Pagcor administration. The present Pagcor does not have anything to do with it. Its officials have issued a statement that the case is being investigated and those who are guilty would be punished.

*   *   *

Here is the latest chapter in the ongoing legal separation court battle between former Philippine Ambassador Francisco “Paqui” Ortigas and his wife, Susana Madrigal-Bayot.

Last week’s column dwelt on the conflict of interest surrounding Judge Liza Marie Picardal-Tecson of Makati RTC Branch 144, the judge trying the legal separation case. Judge Tecson’s husband, lawyer “Cons” Tecson, happens to be a business partner of Susana’s lawyer, Thea Daep. Ortigas’ lawyers have filed a motion for the inhibition of Judge Tecson because of lack of confidence in her impartiality due to the business partnership of her husband and Daep. The motion also explains how Judge Tecson, by virtue of her conjugal relationship with Cons Tecson, is also a business partner of Daep, a situation that clearly shows conflict of interest.

Cons Tecson and lawyer Daep are chair and treasurer, respectively, of Prestige Asia Co. Inc. Other real estate corporations where the two are directors and stockholders were also listed in the second motion for inhibition. They include Heartwood Realty Inc. and First Pillar Realty Inc.

Any judge would realize by now that such a situation clearly proves a conflict of interest that dictates the urgency to preserve his or her integrity and impartiality by withdrawing from the case.

More interesting facts:

It was “Pacqui” Ortigas who first filed an annulment case in San Juan on Jan. 26, 2012. His estranged wife, Susana, was served a summons for the case on Feb. 1, 2012. Instead of responding to the summons, Susana filed a legal separation case in Makati on March 19, 2012, which was raffled to RTC 144.

Makati should have no jurisdiction over the case as the estranged spouses were residents of San Juan.

Judge Tecson also refuses to recognize the annulment case filed earlier by Ortigas. She had declared that she would proceed with the case filed in Makati.

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Tags: business , congress , court , Francisco “Paqui” Ortigas , gaming and casinos , kazuo okada , Okada-Wynn fight , Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) , Susana Madrigal-Bayot

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