Parañaque City councilors face complaint over gambling permits

From Manila Bulletin by Czarina Nicole Ong:

 

Parañaque City Councilors John Ryan Yllana and Edwin Benzon and two others are facing a graft and breach of conduct complaint before the Office of the Ombudsman due to the reportedly anomalous issuance of the Letter of No Objection (LONO) on several gambling businesses, including the controversial Nayong Pilipino project.

Executive Assistant III Rick Villanueva from Yllana’s office is likewise included in the complaint for violations of R.A. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, R.A. 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials.

Councilor Brillante Inciong, the complainant, accused Yllana, Benzon and Villanueva yesterday of “excessive corruption” involving the issuance of the LONO – something that businesses wishing to operate a State-regulated and licensed gambling establishment must first seek from the Sangguniang Panlungsod.

Councilor Ryan Yllana

Because of Parañaque’s strategic location for foreign investors, there has been an upswing on the number of gambling businesses being established such as off-shore, off-track betting, online casinos, and integrated resort and casino operations, among many others.

The LONO is a pre-requisite before the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) or Philippine Chairty Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) issues a license or franchise to gambling businesses.

Unfortunately, Inciong said this became an opportunity for unscrupulous city officials to take advantage of their positions.

During the 6th Council from 2013 to 2016, resolutions with the nature of LONO were approved undergoing normal parliamentary procedure – filing of the draft resolution, endorsement to the appropriate committee, submission of a committee report, then finally approval by the Sangguniang.

Councilor Edwin Benzon

However, there had been several instances where an approval did not undergo the proper procedure and was approved through the “Suspended Rules,” said Inciong.

This was made possible by Yllana, as majority floor leader, by waiving the committee meetings and submission of committee reports concerning LONO applications. As a result, gambling operations managed to expedite their applications and bypass the games and amusement committee being chaired by Inciong.

In one instance on April 12, 11 LONO resolutions were waived and Inciong had an argument with Yllana about it. He was placated by fellow councilors Bengzon and Wahoo Sotto, but the remaining councilors still moved for the passage of the LONO resolutions.

On April 19, Inciong claimed that he was approached by Villanueva, who tried giving him a paper bag supposedly containing an unspecified amount of money. Villanueva said these came from “Boss Ryan” and was intended for the “LONOs before.”

Inciong informed Villanueva after the conversation that he was being recorded. Since he refused the money, another attempt was reportedly made by Bengzon and another councilor, Pablo Gabriel Jr., on April 26 in the legislative building and at Crabiz restaurant. They were not successful.

During a hearing held that same day, the Sangguniang Panlungsod interposed “no objection” LONO to the NayonLanding project of the Nayong Pilipino Foundation.

On October 5, 2017, Yllana even name-dropped Ombudsman Special Prosecutor Edilberto Sandoval as the owner of YRB Solutions Inc. and Genx Sports and Media Production Inc. in the hopes of convincing Inciong to waive the committee report.

Sandoval reportedly wanted a “swift and smooth passage of the LONO,” said Inciong, but when he asked Sandoval about it, he denied having any business interest in the off-shore businesses.

Inciong also cited TV personality Erwin Tulfo as the owner of Genx Sports and Media Productions Inc., who reportedly wanted Inciong to “participate in the proceedings” for the immediate passage of the LONO. Once again, he objected.

Inciong stressed that he had been subjected to several bribery attempts, but he never received any single peso. Because of his refusal to cooperate with other councilors, he was stripped off his chairmanship of games and amusement by Yllana on June 21, 2018.

It was only his committee that had a change in chairmanship, whereas the other committees remained intact.

“With all these being said, it can only be inferred that there is a paper mill in the Sangguniang Panlungsod of Parañaque particularly for the issuance of LONO resolutions favoring companies that promise and give grease money,” the complaint read.

 

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