Clamor vs online ‘sabong’ spread; Senators act to halt operations

By Claire Morales True and Jeanne Michael Penaranda

PASAY CITY – A big clamor for the closure of online sabong operations in the country has gained support due to its bad effects on the youth and adults, including policemen who had to rob stores and gas stations to sustain their addiction to the gambling and the disappearance of at least 31 sabong afficionados.

Responding to the clamor, the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs headed by Senator Ronald dela Rosa, a former chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP), held its investigation and decided unanimously to call for the suspension of the operations of e-sabong.

Sen. dela Rosa said his committee made the call also due to the absence of clear government rules on e-sabong.

“In the light of the missing cockfight players and the probe on the alleged kidnappings, I move that the Senate committee issues a resolution for PAGCOR (Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.) to suspend the licenses of e-sabong operators until the case has been resolved,” Senate President Vicente Sotto III said at the panel hearing.

In his opening statement at the hearing, Dela Rosa called on the people behind the missing personalities to release the victims to their families.

“Doon sa mga suspect, sino ang gumawa, we just hope na kung buhay pa ‘yung mga kinidnap ninyo, itinago ninyo, sana i-release na ninyo para makabalik sa kanilang pamilya. At kung sinamang-palad na ito’y namatay na, sana naman bilang isang Kristiyano, or bilang kung kayo ay hindi Kristiyano, sana tulungan naman ninyo na ma-recover ‘yung katawan, ‘yung bangkay nu’ng pinatay ninyo kung saan man ninyo ito itinago,” he said.

He also called on the Philippine National Police to double its effort to resolve the case even as he asked the relatives of the victims not to be afraid and, instead, provide the investigating agencies or his committee any information that will help in the speedy and complete resolution of the case.

Dela Rosa said another hearing will be held as his panel summoned businessman Charlie Atong Ang who reportedly controls e-sabong operations to its inquiry into the disappearance of the 31 cockfight enthusiasts.

“We are going to conduct another hearing next week wherein we will invite every name that was mentioned during the hearing but were not invited by the panel last meeting,” said Dela Rosa during the online interview.

It was reported during the committee hearing that at least seven e-sabong operators have been licensed by PAGCOR, namely, Belvedere Vista Corp., Lucky 8 Star Quest Inc., Visayas Cockers Club Inc., Jade Entertainment and Gaming Technologies Inc., Newin Cockers Alliance Gaming Corp., Philippine Cockfighting International Inc. and Golden Buzzer Inc. The seven are covered by the calls for suspension of operations.

Sen. Francis Tolentino questioned PAGCOR on its authority to regulate and issue licenses to e-sabong operators or the remote betting on live-streamed cockfighting the absence of a provision under Republic Act 9487 or the Revised PAGCOR Charter.

“I don’t see any legal authority, some authority, coming from law, or from Congress, that gives you the right to issue licenses for e-sabong,” Tolentino said.

Tolentino stressed PAGCOR’s ‘broad interpretation’ of RA 9487 through the separate opinions issued by DOJ and SolGen has enabled a ‘gross misrepresentation’ over their questionable authority on regulating e-sabong.

“Sila na po yung nag extend ng kapangyarihan nila, sila pa po angn nagbigay sa sarili nila ng kapangyarihang i-interpret yung kapangyarihang iginawad nila sa kanilang sarili,” the senator added.

Senator Joel Villanueva backed Tolentino’s manifestation during the inquiry, adding that being one of the primary authors of RA 9487 in the Lower House during the 13th Congress, he noted that the law is very clear on Section 10, in which the nature and term of PAGCOR’s authority shall not extend licenses to other games like cockfighting.

At the hearing, acting vice president of E-Sabong Licensing Department of Pagcor, Diane Erica Jogno,  said PAGCOR officials have no objections to the proposal to suspend the e-sabong permits.

Jogno admitted to members of the Senate panel that their supposed authority on granting e-sabong licenses are only based on separate legal opinions previously issued by the Office of the Solicitor General (SolGen) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) in May 2018 and January 2021 respectively, as well as another memorandum earlier issued by the Office of the Executive Secretary.

The PNP earlier  said it is willing to share pieces of information with the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) on the investigation into the reported disappearance of some cockfight aficionados.

“We already have the accounts of witnesses and other pieces of evidence which can aid in the probe. If they request, then we will gladly share notes. We see this as a welcome development to work hand-in-hand in resolving these cases,” said PNP chief, General Dionardo Carlos, citing headway in the initial investigation by the PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG).

He said the PNP has been adamant in getting into the bottom of the case, adding that vital information has yet to be obtained from the concerned cockpit management where the missing persons were last seen.

“Nevertheless, the PNP assures the worried families that it is exhausting all efforts to locate the missing persons and arrest those who are behind this. The PNP will also cooperate in the senate probe that aims to look into the matter. We will be transparent with the case update and all evidence on hand,” he added.

Earlier, Carlos said the CIDG is particularly investigating the case of 10 men who disappeared shortly after being seen in separate cockfighting areas in Laguna and Manila last January 13.

Closed-circuit television (CCTV) camera footage from the arena showed that the vehicle used by the victims was seen exiting the coliseum in Sta. Cruz, Laguna but it was not clear if the victims were inside the vehicle.

On the same day, another six men went missing after participating in a cockfighting tournament in Manila.

Earlier, another 10 men from Bulacan who attended a cockfighting match were added to the list of missing individuals. These men, according to their relatives, have been missing for more than eight months.

Last February 17, Justice Secretary Menardo directed the NBI to look into “and if evidence warrants, to file the appropriate charges against all persons involved and found responsible.”