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'Better late than never,' senators say after Duterte apology over e-sabong suspension

At least three senators on Wednesday welcomed President Rodrigo Duterte's apology over his initial decision to allow the operations of online sabong despite several reports of cockfighting enthusiasts' disappearance and cases of Filipino bettors finding themselves in heavy debt.

"Better late than never," outgoing Senate President Vicente Sotto III said in a text message to reporters.

This was the same position of re-elected Senator Joel Villanueva, applauding the outgoing chief executive for his "tenacity" to stop e-sabong operations after realizing the ill effects of this form of online gambling.

"Malaking bagay po para sa susunod na henerasyon na naging klaro ang polisiya ng Estado na mas mahalaga ang pag-aalaga ng moralidad ng bayan kesa sa kitang ibibigay ng e-sabong. Nalantad rin ill effects na dulot nito na masasabing magdudulot ng irreparable damage sa mga pamilya at buong lipunan," Villanueva said.

(Clarifying the policy of the State that we give importance to morality rather than the revenues that we receive from e-sabong will greatly help our next generation. We already exposed the ill effects that it causes us including the irreparable damages to Filipino families and the nation as a whole.)

Duterte's ally, Senator Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa said the president's apology is "never too late," thanking the latter for "finally giving more weight on the social costs brought about by e-sabong than the revenue that the government is collecting from it."

"After all, revenues lost are recoverable but lives lost are forever gone," he noted.

Dela Rosa, who led the Senate inquiry into the disappearances of e-sabong enthusiasts, said he is personally against gambling but he doesn't want to "preempt" the decision of the incoming administration of President-elect Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.

"Should it decide to continue e-sabong operations, the Senate is ready to provide the needed [legislation] in order to have it properly regulated and hopefully minimize the social costs it may bring," Dela Rosa said.

Duterte initially defended e-sabong operations in March and April even amid the sudden disappearance of dozens of persons involved in the industry.

The president decided to stop e-sabong operations in May, citing a Department of Interior and Local Government finding that communities are largely opposed to e-sabong operations since it resulted in a deterioration of moral values.

Before the end of the 18th Congress, Dela Rosa sponsored the Senate public order and dangerous drugs committee report on the disappearances of online cockfighting enthusiasts.

The report recommended further investigation into gaming tycoon Atong Ang and his e-sabong firm Lucky 8 Star Quest, after his name was repeatedly mentioned by witnesses during the hearing and the firm was tagged as the operator of the arenas in Manila, Laguna and Batangas, where the missing persons were last seen.

The Philippine National Police and the National Bureau of Investigation were also asked to continue investigating all reported cases of missing persons in relation to e-sabong activities until they are finally resolved and to ensure that laws enacted to regulate gambling activities are enforced and complied with by all concerned entities.

The Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs also recommended that the next administration, if it decides to allow the operation of e-sabong, craft a law regulating the online sabong industry.

The legislation should include limiting e-sabong operations to Sundays and legal holidays, similar to the provisions of Presidential Decree No 449 or the Cockfighting Law of 1974. —KG, GMA News