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Senate panel to urge Duterte to suspend e-sabong amid 31 disappearances

The Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs on Thursday said it would urge President Rodrigo Duterte to direct the suspension of the licenses of firms operating online cockfighting or e-sabong until the cases of the 31 missing "sabungeros" (cockfighting enthusiasts) were resolved.

Senate Ronald "Bato" Dela Rosa, panel chairperson, said the committee would issue a resolution asking Duterte to direct the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) to temporarily stop e-sabong operations.

The resolution was proposed by Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Senator Panfilo Lacson during a committee hearing.

To be covered are the existing e-sabong licenses of 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.

“There are 31 missing at napakalaki ng implication ng nangyayari. Kawawa ang mga pamilya at saka hindi na natin nakukuha ang cooperation na hinihingi ng pulis like CCTV ang taong hinahanap nawawala, person of interest nawawala. I think by doing so, medyo mapilitang makisama ang iba,” Sotto said.

(There are 31 missing and the implication of what is happening is overwhelming. I pity the victims’ families and then we can no longer get the cooperation that the police needed like CCTV, the person they are looking for is missing, the person of interest is missing. I think by doing so, others are a bit compelled to get along.)

Senator Francis Tolentino also questioned the legal authority of the PAGCOR to grant e-sabong operators a license to operate.

Tolentino underscored that there is no provision under Republic Act No. 9487 or Revised PAGCOR Charter that the country’s gambling regulatory body has any legal jurisdiction to issue any license to e-sabong operators to operate—including PAGCOR’s regulatory framework for online cockfights and the supposed creation of an e-sabong licensing department.

“Saan nag-ugat ang karapatan ninyo, ang authority na mag issue ng prangkisa sa e-sabong? Nagke-claim kayo na may delegated authority na wala naman po sa Republic Act No. 9487,” Tolentino said.

(Where did your authority to issue an e-cockfighting franchise come from? You are claiming to have delegated authority that is not in Republic Act No. 9487.)

Senator Joel Villanueva supported Tolentino’s manifestation during the inquiry, saying that being one of the primary authors of RA 9487 in the lower chamber during the 13th Congress, the law is clear on Section 10 that the nature and term of PAGCOR’s authority shall not extend licenses to other games like cockfighting.

PAGCOR Acting Assistant Vice President for E-Sabong Department Diane Erica Jogno said the agency will heed the suspension of the licenses of the e-sabong.

“We are okay with suspending e-sabong and we will secure approval from the Office of the President,” Jogno said.

She also acknowledged 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 and the Department of Justice in May 2018 and January 2021 respectively, as well as another memorandum earlier issued by the Office of the Executive Secretary.

Have faith in PNP

Dela Rosa assured the families of the missing sabungeros to “have faith and trust” in the Philippine National Police (PNP).

“When you say, na mukhang nagdududa kayo sa PNP, please tanggalin ninyo sa isipan ninyo yan, have faith in your police, kilala ko personally itong chief PNP [at] CIDG director natin na hinding -hindi po yan makikiapid sa sindikato, hindi po sila sasama sa sindikato,” Dela Rosa said.

(When you said that you doubted the PNP, please clear that from your mind, have faith in your police. I personally know our chief PNP and our CIDG director, they will never be involved in any syndicate, they will not join in the syndicate.)

He also appealed to the families to continue their cooperation in the investigation.

“Ako bilang chairman of the committee I can give you the assurance na hindi po sila sasakay sa kalokohan, magtiwala lang po kayo with your trust and confidence to our PNP sana magpatuloy po kayong magcooperate at tumulong sa investigation para magbigay linaw itong ating problema,” he added.

(Being the chairman of the committee, I can give you the assurance that they will not be involved in any syndicate or groups. Just put your trust and confidence in our PNP and I hope you will continue to cooperate and help the investigation to solve our problem.)

Dela Rosa said the next hearing is on March 3, Thursday.

PNP chief Police General Dionardo Carlos confirmed that the investigators are now investigating the cases of the 31 missing individuals, up from the earlier total of 29.

Investigators are also coordinating with different banks due to reports of ATM cash withdrawals made by unidentified persons using the victims’ bank accounts.—LDF, GMA News