MANILA, March 31, 2004
By Jess Diaz - Opposition presidential hopeful Sen. Panfilo Lacson urged President Arroyo to "reveal all" about gambling mogul Stanley Ho’s recent visit to Clark and his alleged investments in the country.

"There’s more than meets the eye about Ho’s Clark visit," he said.

He said the Macau and Hong Kong investor was in Angeles City on the night Mrs. Arroyo abruptly cut short her campaign sortie in the South and flew to the former American base.

He said Malacañang initially feigned ignorance of the controversial investor’s visit but later admitted that the President’s adviser on foreign investments, Dan Roleda, had welcomed and met with Ho.

The former Philippine National Police chief noted that Ho’s visit came amid persistent reports that the gambling mogul had started to operate way back in February a casino at a hotel in Malate, Manila, and that he had contributed tens of millions to Mrs. Arroyo’s campaign.

He recalled that during the Estrada administration, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) had given Ho a franchise to operate a casino at the Sheraton Marina Hotel, which was then under construction, aside from a permit to run his floating Jumbo restaurant-casino in Manila Bay.

He said the arrangement with Pagcor, like the floating casino, created a controversy because the state gambling agency would pay Sheraton higher rental fees than those it was paying other hotels where it was leasing casino space.

Lacson asked Malacañang to tell the nation whether Ho is running a casino under his old Pagcor contract or whether a new franchise has been given to him.

The gambling mogul brought his floating casino to Manila from Hong Kong on Dec. 31, 1999 but never opened it due to strong opposition from the Catholic Church and other groups.

Ho also invested in BW Resources, then controlled by Dante Tan, friend of deposed President Joseph Estrada. His investments triggered a sharp rise in BW’s stock price before it collapsed due to insider trading. The scam almost brought down the local stock market.

Tan fled the country, and last year created a controversy in Australia when authorities found that he had acquired Australian citizenship.

In a related development, Lacson promised to drastically cut red tape in the bureaucracy by simplifying procedures for the issuance of permits and licenses.

He said most transactions with government agencies should be completed within 24 hours, while other deals that need further scrutiny should not take more than seven working days to complete.

"One reason why the country has failed to attract investors is because they are afraid of bureaucratic red tape. It takes months and years to obtain licenses. Delay and corruption cost them money," he said.

Lacson’s campaign will take him today to Bicol, concededly the bailiwick of another presidential hopeful, former senator Raul Roco, and to Pangasinan next week.

Among his Bicol supporters is former communist leader Sotero Llamas, who is running for governor in Albay province.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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