THE STIGMA brought by billiard halls and other places of amusement to schools seems to have worsen. Every day, more and more students are being drawn to what may be considered a social menace.

True enough, when the Varsitarian investigative team conducted a field survey, it found out that the patrons of these establishments are mostly students, some are minors.

As early as 1999, even when the network gaming business had just started to boom, a couple already raised concern over their child studying at UST High School, after he had been hooked to computer network games. In their letter to UST High School Principal Editha Fernandez, Engr. and Mrs. Adonias Carolino expressed serious concern over students who had been addicted to the video games.

The fact that school officials had been oblivious to their surroundings is rather humiliating. They also seemed ignorant of the law that prohibits such establishments from operating near educational institutions.

Surprisingly, only after the High School Department forwarded the letter to the UST Office for Student Affairs and Community Services (Osacs) did Mr. Roberto Evangelista, traffic management officer of Osacs, become aware that such a law exists.

In an interview with the Varsitarian, Evangelista admitted that he was unaware of the ordinance before the complaint. Nevertheless, he said Osacs took immediate action to answer the parents’ grievance. He forwarded a complaint to the Manila City Hall, but he was given the run-around.

Other school administrators also cried foul over the proliferation of these places of amusement.

Prof. Victoria Velasco, principal of the Perpetual Help College’s High School Department at V. Concepcion St., particularly complained of the JL Billiard Hall along Laong-Laan St., where her students were regular patrons.

True enough, when the Varsitarian interviewed Velasco, a group of students – minors – were being counseled at the Office of the Principal for patronizing the billiard hall.

Once in a while, Velasco said, students are seen at the nearby billiard hall even during class hours. Sometimes, they do not attend classes at all.

Prof. Emily Aquino, dean of the College of Nursing of Mary Chiles College, on the other hand, said she had already issued a memorandum prohibiting students from entering the billiard hall located at the basement of the college building, which was reported in the first part of the Varsitarian investigative project.

While not a single student has been caught cutting classes just to play billiards, Aquino has filed a complaint with the owner of the school about the very existence of the establishment.

However, there has been no answer from the school owner, she said.

In an interview with the Varsitarian, “Aling Carmen,” who is purportedly the owner of the billiard hall, said they are paying for their space, but she refused to confirm whether the owner of the building is also the owner of the school.

She added that she cannot stop the students from entering the billiard hall because they are paying customers.

“Mapipigil mo ba naman `yung mga iyon (students)? Basta may pera, makapaglalaro ka,” she said.

She also said there is nothing wrong with billiards because it is considered a “sport” or “recreation.”

On the other hand, school officials from the University of the East (UE), the Far Eastern University (FEU), and the University of Manila (UM), were unavailable for interview.

Futile efforts

In December 1999, Evangelista asked for help from then UST security chiefs Clemente Dingayan and Reynante Alcantara to survey billiard halls and computer gaming centers near the University.

Upon the completion of the list, Evangelista filed a complaint with the Manila City Hall. Aside from the proliferation of billiard halls and computer gaming centers around UST, Evangelista also cited the University’s problem regarding sidewalk vendors along A.H. Lacson St., and PVP Bus Liners, which illegally parks its buses along P. Noval St.

To Evangelista’s dismay, the complaint has remained unanswered and unresolved by the city government to this very day.

“The University is not sitting on this problem… We already brought this (problem) to their (city hall officials) attention… (but) the people there haven’t done anything,” Evangelista said.

Likewise, Velasco said their school had already filed a complaint with the Manila City Hall, but their efforts were futile.

In an interview with the Varsitarian, Wilma Marca, assistant director of the Business Promotions and Development Office, denied having received any complaints from the schools. If ever there were complaints, she said, they did not reach their office.

“Kung may reklamo naman, ina-aksiyunan naman ng opisina. Pag nahuli sila (establishments) or na-reklamo sila, kahit tama ang measurement, we will close the establishment,” Marca said.

Finger-pointing

For his part, Evangelista said he had followed up the matter several times. He clearly pointed out that the fault lies with the Business Licensing and Permits Office and the Business Promotions and Development Office of the Manila City Hall.

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“This matter cannot be given remedy by UST alone. If the licensing bureau of Manila is the one at fault, what can we do?” Evangelista said.

Likewise, Aquino said these establishments should not have been built in the first place.

“Bakit nila ina-allow (ang billiard halls) knowing na ang location ng mga iyan, malapit sa school premises? Dapat ini-investigate na nila iyan, prior to the issuance of the permit,” Aquino said.

Engr. Flordeliza Alampay, chief of the Drafting and Survey Division of the Manila City Engineer’s Office, told the Varsitarian that her office is only in charge of measuring the peripheral and radial distance of the business establishment to the nearest school, church, or public building.

She likewise denied that there have been anomalous transactions in her department. She clarified that if ever there are anomalous transactions, it can only be in the issuance of the permits.

Alampay added that there had been applicants who asked for reconsiderations as regards the measurement, but they did not succeed. Some complained that they would only compete with existing establishments in the neighborhood.

“Sabi namin hindi namin alam kung paano na-permitan `yan (existing business establishments). Basta ang sa amin, kung ano ang sukat `yan ang nilalabas namin.”

She likewise said that it would be very hard for the division to give special considerations since the name of the whole Engineering Department is at stake.

“Sa dami ng dinadaanan, hindi puwedeng isa lang ang pakiusapan diyan. Lahat `yan nakapirma. Pag binalikan mo, lahat kami masasabit,” Alampay said.

Like-wise, Marca denied allegations that the licensing office had issued permits despite the prohibition of the law.

“Kung meron man kayong nakikita (establishment operating within the 50-meter radius prohibited by the law), baka walang permit `yon,” Marca said.

But she admitted that they sometimes issue permits to business establishments that did not pass the 50-meter rule, but not without an affidavit of undertaking submitted by the owner.

An affidavit of undertaking is a sworn statement by the owner of the business establishment to abide by the rules set by the local government as regards the nature of the business. The affidavit also stipulates that in case an outside party files a complaint with the Manila City Hall, the business licensing office can easily revoke the issued permit.

Marca explained, “Kung 49 meters for example, one meter lang ang difference, pinagbibigyan na namin provided may affidavit of undertaking.”

A question of discretion

During the course of investigation, it turned out that City Hall follows the provisions of Republic Act No. 1224, which prohibits the establishment of certain places of amusement near public places, instead of the city ordinances.

According to Republic Act No. 1224, which was authored way back in 1955, bars, saloons, and other liquor-dispensing establishments are only limited to a radius of 50 meters away from public buildings. This is against the required 200-meter measurement of the ordinance, while night clubs and discos are prohibited within a radius of 200 meters from public buildings instead of only 100 meters. On the other hand, the law retained the 50-meter provision for billiard halls, bowling alleys, and other similar establishments.

In a legal opinion issued in 1989, Augusto Casirang, city legal officer, said Republic Act No. 1224 has already repealed, amended, and repeated pro tanto all inconsistent provisions of the earlier city ordinance, which was written before the war. The legal opinion was issued to settle the confusion that arose then as to what law should be followed in approving the business permit of amusement establishments—the more lenient Republic Act No. 1224 or the stricter Compilation of the Ordinances of the City of Manila.

It will be noted, however, that Republic Act No. 1224 is contrary to the City of Manila’s ordinance that clearly stipulates that the measurement shall be from the nearest outside perimeter of any public or educational institution.

Alampay said that one problem with the law is whether to consider a radial or peripheral measurement of the establishment. Radial measurement is from the center of the business establishment to the center of the government or educational institution. On the other hand, peripheral measurement is from the outside perimeter of the business establishment to the nearest outside perimeter of the institution or public building.

For her part, Alampay said her office provides both radial and peripheral measurements and leaves the discretion solely to the city business licensing office.

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On the other hand, Marca admitted that their office is faced with the dilemma of how to apply the law. According to her, their office considers the radial distance more than the peripheral distance. But she cited instances when they also considered the peripheral measurement, as in the case of UST.

“Case to case basis naman. Sa laki ng UST, (if the radial distance is to be followed) kahit sa loob allowable pa rin ang billiard dahil 50 meters lang,” Marca said.

But with the proliferation of such establishments near schools, business applications have become evidently much easier.

Other findings

Meanwhile, the Varsitarian team also surveyed bars and other liquor-serving establishments near the universities in the area. Among the bars that operate near UST are Coby’s Bar and Restaurant, Tapsi, and Mayric’s.

Ironically, Republic Act No. 1224, which repealed the city ordinance prohibiting bars and other liquor-dispensing establishments to operate within 200 meters from educational institutions, gave more freedom to such establishments and allowed them to operate as near as 50 meters away from public buildings.

Coby’s, owned by a UST alumnus, and Mayric’s, which is a popular hang-out of alternative rock enthusiasts, are about 40 meters away from UST’s walls. Mayric’s is located along España St. while Coby’s is along Navarra St., near Dapitan.

Coby’s opened in 1997 with much fanfare, and the owner, Jacob Fernandez, a former faculty member of UST, was able to secure a permit to close the stretch of Dapitan St. behind UST. Fernandez, in an earlier interview with the Varsitarian, said he opened the bar-restaurant to provide a hang-out for Thomasians.

According to Coby’s bar manager, their permits are all in order, and that they do not know of any violations they may have committed. The managers of Tapsi and Mayric’s, were unavailable for interview.

On the other hand, the Varsitarian found no law or ordinances that would prohibit hotels and motels from operating near schools, such as the case of the U-Belt Apartelle near FEU.

Although the U-Belt Apartelle, which is owned by the Wise Hotel chain, had earlier been closed down by the city government due to several complaints, notably by tabloid columnist Ruther Batuigas, the establishment was able to secure a new business permit. According to Marca, the U-Belt Apartelle owners applied for a new business license as a hotel. She added that they had already sent undercover assets to check if the establishment accepts “short-timers,” who stay for less than three hours. Marca said “short-time” is prohibited in Manila, as these establishments may be used for prostitution.

Marca explained that though the U-Belt Apartelle accepted their assets as “short-time” customers, the establishment issued a valid receipt normally issued to transients. Thus, no evidence can be used against the establishment.

In a similar investigation, the Varsitarian also sent two pairs of assets.

The first pair, composed of two male students, one of them a homosexual, was easily admitted at around 2:00 in the afternoon. The assets said the personnel in charge did not even bother to ask if they were minors or not. True enough, the U-Belt Apartelle issued a valid receipt for transients.

On the other hand, the second pair, composed of male and female minors, were not accepted because the female was wearing her college uniform. The attendant said it is a company policy not to admit students in uniform.

However, Marca clarified that there is no law prohibiting minors from entering hotels or motels. She reiterated that such establishments are not prohibited to operate near schools.

Contrary to this, Section 668-b of the Compilation of the Ordinances of the City of Manila states that minors are not allowed to enter a hotel unless accompanied by their parents or a lawful guardian.

Misrepresentation

Meanwhile, contrary to the Varsitarian’s first report stating that there are no provisions against computer shops engaged in video game rental, Republic Act No. 1224 states that places of amusements are not allowed to operate within 50 meters from educational institutions.

According to Marca, computer gaming centers are classified as amusement centers. The same rule is currently being applied to establishments renting out units of the highly-popular video game device Sony Playstation, which, unlike computer shops, go through the surveying and measurement process.

However, most computer rental shops misrepresent the nature of their business and apply for business permits under the educational category to avoid the law. Educational computer shops, which offer word processing and Internet rentals, do not require any measurement from any institution.

According to Section 596-a of the Compilation of the Ordinances of the City of Manila, City Hall can immediately revoke the permits of establishments that misrepresent the nature of their businesses. The provision is clearly indicated in the business permit issued to establishments.

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Despite this, several network gaming shops can be found near the schools. In a field survey conducted by the Varsitarian, almost all computer shops engaged in renting computers for video games are registered in Manila City Hall as computer shops for educational purposes.

Worse, these same establishments do not display their business permits as required by the city ordinance.

The ordinance requires all business establishments to display their business permit “conspicuously” and to present it to proper and competent authority upon demand. All violators are supposedly fined and/or imprisoned.

When the Varsitarian asked for a copy of their business permits during its field survey, the attendants of the establishments reasoned that the permits are being kept by the owners.

Surprisingly, no establishment has been fined despite the rampant and blatant violations.

Lack of inspectors

The lack of city inspectors that would regularly monitor establishments that do not comply with the law is one reason no such establishment has ever been sanctioned by the local government.

“Dahil sa kakulangan ng inspectors, hindi naman lahat iyon (establishments), naiikot,” Marca told the Varsitarian.

She explained that inspectors do not only check the requirements set by the business licensing office, but also those of the Manila Health and Fire departments. In several occasions, inspectors also follow special orders by the Mayor. But Marca was quick to note that their inspectors do find time to check the establishments if ever there are complaints. “Pag may reklamo, napupuntahan naman ng inspector namin,” Marca said.

As a preventive measure, Marca told the Varsitarian that starting last year, she began marking all permits for “educational” computer shops with a rubber stamp containing the words “NOT TO OPERATE AS VIDEO GAME RENTAL.” But since the measure was only implemented recently, it was not clearly and definitely imparted to the owners of existing “educational” computer shops that they are not supposed to rent their units for network gaming.

True enough, the only computer shop that willingly showed the Varsitarian its business permit, Gate.com, located along V. Concepcion St. near the Perpetual Help College, does not have the rubber stamp mark. Its permit is for educational purposes.

But Marca said even without the rubber stamp mark, establishments such as Gate.com are still liable for misrepresentation.

Remedy

Still, the Varsitarian team finds it hard to believe that even in a span of a year, no billiard hall or computer network gaming establishment has ever been found guilty of violating the law and other related city ordinances.

When the team presented a picture of a billiard hall operating directly at the foot of the Mary Chiles College building, Marca was surprised that such establishment exists. The team also presented to her a number of pictures that show blatant violations of the 50-meter rule, including the Santos and Sons Billiard Hall and Taco Ball Recreational Hall at the back of UST, and the 515 Billiard Hall directly in front of the University of Manila. But Marca said the “inspectors might have only missed the establishments.”

Evidently, the city government seems to have forgotten its responsibility to properly inspect the business establishments it has allowed to operate in the first place.

And with the evident lack of resources, nay, resourcefulness, City Hall is apparently toothless in apprehending the violators, at the expense of the students’ well-being.

There is still a remedy, though. The Mayor of Manila is empowered by the city charter to revoke the permits even of those establishments near schools that operate because of the inadequacies of the law:

REPUBLIC ACT NO. 409

REVISED CITY CHARTER OF MANILA

“Section 11. General duties and powers of the Mayor.—The general duties and powers of the mayor shall be: … (l) To grant or refuse municipal licenses or permits of all classes and to revoke the same for violation of the conditions upon which they were granted, or if acts prohibited by law or municipal ordinance are being committed under the protection of such licenses or in the premises in which the business for which the same have been granted is carried on, or for any other good reason of general interest.” (emphasis supplied)

There is no doubt that the closure of these establishments, which do more harm than good to our students, would be in the interest of the public. However, it would be best to amend the city ordinances immediately to once and for all, prohibit the establishment of these social menaces near educational institutions.

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