President Rodrigo Duterte has approved the recommendation of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) to stop e-sabong or online cockfighting operations.
Duterte’s decision came following a survey conducted by the by DILG in cities and provinces regarding e-sabong operations, which is being blamed for the deterioration of moral values among many Filipinos.
“And the recommendation of [DILG] Secretary [Eduardo] Año is to do away with e-sabong and he cited the validation report coming from all sources,” Duterte said during his prerecorded Talk to the People aired Tuesday.
“So it’s his recommendation and I agree with it and it is good. So e-sabong will end by tonight. Bukas. Lalabas ito bukas,” he added.
Duterte said he is leaving it to Año to order when the operations should be stopped.
“I leave it to Secretary Año kung kailan niya... it might be tomorrow or, at least, tomorrow night or tomorrow afternoon. Kapag na ano na ‘yan, because it is immediate. Immediately,” he said.
There are seven accredited e-sabong operators in the country.
The President's decision was a turnaround from his statement last month wherein he defended its operations, noting the revenues it generates.
Government revenue from e-sabong hit P2 billion this year alone, according to the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR).
Duterte, however, had said that he may suspend e-sabong if its ill effects on the public are proven.
Duterte, during his Talk to the People on Tuesday, said the message is "loud and very clear" that e-sabong is "working against our values."
"Ang labas hindi na natutulog yung sabungero, 24 hours", he said.
Sought for comment, PAGCOR chairperson Andrea Domingo said the regulator “has to implement the President's decision to stop e-sabong operations immediately.”
“The Executive Secretary will issue a formal memorandum to this effect and we will serve the appropriate notice to the PAGCOR regulated e-sabong operators,” Domingo told GMA News Online.
“We will also inform the COA (Commission on Audit) Auditor officially that starting today, there will no longer be revenues collected from e-sabong operations.”
Domingo earlier proposed to have a separate agency that would regulate e-sabong operations.
In separate statements, at least seven senators welcomed Duterte's decision.
"It's about time. Napakinggan din ang [resolution] ng Senado [They finally listened to the Senate]," Senate President Vicente Sotto III said in a Viber message to reporters.
To recall, Sotto and Senator Panfilo Lacson proposed a resolution, urging President Duterte to direct the suspension of the licenses of firms operating online cockfighting until the resolution of cases of the missing "sabungeros."
Proposed Senate Resolution 996, signed by at least 23 senators, was subsequently filed in March.
However, Malacañang, through Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea's memorandum dated March 8, has allowed e-sabong to continue despite the call of the Senate.
Instead, the Palace ordered the Philippine National Police and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to look into the case of the missing sabungeros and submit a report within 30 days.
"Unless otherwise directed, the operations of e-sabong licensees will remain unaffected, pending the result of the abovementioned investigations," Medialdea said in the memorandum.
In his Talk to the People aired on March 16, Duterte had said he is not keen on suspending the operation of online cockfighting betting considering the billions of income that the government receives from it.
Senator Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa, who led the Senate investigation into the cases of at least 34 missing sabungeros, said the 24 senators were "never wrong" in supporting the resolution that they filed urging PAGCOR to stop the operations of e-sabong.
"I have no further recommendations to the President," he added.
In a press conference in Tagaytay City, Lacson said Duterte "exercised prudence" before deciding on the suspension of e-sabong operations in the country.
"I think the President exercised prudence bago siya ang act on the matter because if you remember, after receiving or after being informed of the Senate resolution, iba ang kanyang reaction [he had a different reaction]. Siguro prudence lang 'yung sa kanya but in the end, he decided to end it and that's good," Lacson said.
Senator Grace Poe, chair of Senate committee on public services which handles the bill seeking to grant a franchise to one of e-sabong firms, also lauded the order of the President.
"Sumasang-ayon tayo sa pagpapatigil ng e-sabong habang patuloy ang mga pag-aaral ng masamang epekto na dulot nito," she said.
(We support the suspension of e-sabong while the studies on its ill effects are still ongoing.)
"Buhay at pamilya ang lagi't laging mas mahalaga. Sa utos ng Presidente, mauuna natin ang pagbibigay hustisya sa lahat ng mga nawala at naulila," Poe added.
(The lives and families of our countrymen are always of utmost importance. With the order of the President, we can give justice to all who went missing and also to their families.)
Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, for his part, said it is good that the President has "stepped on the brakes" on e-sabong operations as it is being hounded by controversies, particularly the cases of at least 34 cockfighting enthusiasts whom, he said, are suspected to be dead by now.
"Mabuti naman at tinapakan ni [President] Duterte ang brakes para hintuin muna ang e-sabong na isang activity na balot ng kontrobersya dahil sa pagkawala ng 34 katao na hinihinalaan natin ay patay na lahat," he said.
For his part, Senator Francis Tolentino, a staunch supporter of Duterte, said the development was a "strong statement" and a "testament of his political will in ensuring the welfare of the public."
Senator Manny Pacquiao, who is running for president, said: "It is the prerogative of the Executive to issue an Executive Order on e-sabong. Karapatan niya 'yan kasi trabaho niya 'yan. Respetuhin na lang muna natin, (It is his right because it is his job. Let us respect it)" Pacquiao said.
However, Pacquiao said he does not believe investigations about the missing "sabungeros" or cockfight bettors should stop.
“Hindi puwedeng i-stop 'yung investigation kasi may nawawala. Importanteng ituloy 'yung investigation at malaman natin kung nasaan na 'yung mga tao,” he said.
(The investigation should not stop because of the missing men. It is important for the probe to continue so that we will know where they are.)
Meanwhile, House Deputy Speaker Bienvenido “Benny” Abante Jr. welcomed Duterte’s order, saying that it will save Filipinos from the “evils of gambling.”
“There is incontrovertible evidence that e-sabong, like other forms of gambling, is a vice that ruins lives and even endangers lives, as online cockfighting personnel have even gone missing under suspicious circumstances,” Abante said.
“The President’s directive will save lives from the evils of gambling, and will also prevent criminal incidents related to online cockfighting operations,” he added.
The lawmaker previously lodged House Resolution No. 2512, which urged PAGCOR to immediately suspend the operations of e-sabong until concrete measures can be put in place to guarantee the safety the personnel and participants.
Abante also expressed belief that online gambling platforms pose danger to minors and vulnerable individuals given its accessibility. —with Ted Cordero and Hana Bordey and Anna Felicia Bajo/KBK/AOL/BM, GMA News