President Rodrigo Duterte (Presidential photo)

MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte has rejected calls to suspend the operations of e-sabong (online cockfighting).

In his prerecorded Talk to the People aired Wednesday morning, Duterte said the government will suffer big revenue losses in the event that he heeds the proposal to temporarily halt e-sabong operations.

“Ito ang sabihin ko sa mga senador, ang interest lang talaga ng gobyerno is ‘yung pera (This is what I will tell the senators: The government’s interest there is the money). That is all there is to it actually,” Duterte said.

The President made the remarks, as he acknowledged the Congress’ “strong clamor” to suspend e-sabong operations.

Calls for the suspension of the multibillion cockfighting industry have mounted following a series of alleged abductions and disappearances of aficionados over the past few months.

Twenty-three senators have signed Resolution 996 urging the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) to suspend the license to operate of e-sabong operators and immediately stop all related activities until the cases of 31 missing cockfighting aficionados are resolved.

E-sabong is ‘good’

Duterte recalled that he once “hated” gambling, but had to allow its operation because it is “good” since the government is benefitting from it.

Ang ano ko lang kasi is, itong (My take is this) gambling, it is good because government allows it. Kasi kung bad ito (If it’s bad), then there’s no… You cannot look for a rationale to justify it,” he said.

Duterte then told the lawmakers to respect his decision to allow the continued operations of e-sabong because the government is “short of money”.

Ang appeal ko lang sa mga congressman, huwag na lang niyong anuhin iyan, kumikita iyan. Walang nakikinabang diyan ha, except Pagcor and except ‘yung mga malalaking player (My appeal to congressmen, just don’t ask for its suspension. It is generating money. No one is benefitting from its operations, except Pagcor and key players [of e-sabong]),” Duterte said.

The government was able to collect around PHP3.69 billion from gaming operations of eight e-sabong licensees from April to December 2021, Pagcor chair Andrea Domingo told Duterte.

From January to March 15, 2022, there was a collection of around PHP1.37 billion from the operations of seven licensees, Domingo added.

Domingo said two of eight e-sabong operators have already been suspended following their failure to comply with their “financial obligations.”

Law enforcers to solve case of missing aficionados

Concerning the case of missing aficionados, Duterte said he would let the law enforcement agencies act on the issue.

Duterte issued the statement, as he raised the possibility that some of the missing cockfight aficionados are involved in “widespread game-fixing.”

“I’m sad na nawala sila (that they went missing). I don’t know. I really do not know. Maybe because there’s really widespread game fixing. Kung walang rason, bakit mawala ang mga tao? Kasi napakarami naman (If there’s no reason, why would they go missing? The number of people missing is too high),” he said.

Duterte, nevertheless, expressed confidence that law enforcers would be able to resolve the cases of the missing individuals.

“I’m sure the police pati (and the) NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) will have the result. Kilala nila ang tao (They know who are behind that). Everybody knows. That’s my take,” he said. “It’s up to the law enforcement to solve it, ‘yung nangyayari doon sa ano (the issue on e-sabong).”

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año told Duterte that at least eight suspects have already been identified.

“Sa oras na makuha na natin ang sapat na ebidensya ay hihingin na natin ang tulong ng korte. At sa bisa ng mga warrant, agad nating hahanapin ang mga suspect na ito para mabigyang linaw na ang mga insidente at mapatawan ng hustisya ang mga taong responsible dito (Once we are able to gather evidence, we will ask for the court’s help. Once the warrants are issued, we will immediately look for the suspects to shed light on these incidents and bring those responsible to justice),” he said.

Año noted that the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) has observed key points with regards to the missing cockfighting aficionados.

Based on the CIDG’s report, Año said all of the missing sabungeros were last seen near or within the premises of the cockpit arenas and almost all of the vehicles they rode in were found abandoned near the places of their residences.

Año also pointed out that these cockpit arenas either do not have or have defective close-circuit television (CCTV) systems while the persons of interest involved in these cases are their security or management staff.

Hindi lamang po ang PNP ang nagsusumikap ma-resolve ang kasong ito (missing sabungeros). Patuloy ang pagtutulungan ng pambansang kapulisan, ang National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) at ang ating mga korteng panlalawigan, panglungsod at ang Department of Justice (DOJ) upang mapanatag at hindi na mangamba ang ating mga kababayan (It is not only the PNP who is trying to resolve this case. The national police has continuously coordinated with the National Bureau of Investigation, regional and city/ municipal trial courts and the Department of Justice to appease and let the public not worry),’’ Año said. (with Lloyd Caliwan/PNA)