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E-sabong may end under Marcos

Edu Punay - The Philippine Star
E-sabong may end under Marcos
Television showing feeds of cockfight events.
Philstar.com / Irish Lising

MANILA, Philippines — Will it be the end for online cockfighting, popularly known as e-sabong, when the administration of presumptive president Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. steps in?

Marcos’ spokesman Vic Rodriguez has hinted that Marcos is not keen on tapping the popular and addictive form of online gambling as a source of revenue.

Rodriguez, the chief of staff of Marcos and head of his transition team, said the incoming president would not compromise the moral fiber of Filipinos in exchange for more government funds.

“Not just for e-sabong but for any industry, even if the potential revenue is really enticing, if it will compromise the moral fiber of the youth, if it will compromise the value of the Filipino family, president Bongbong is more than willing to let go of that very lucrative source,” Rodriguez said at a press conference last Tuesday.

Earlier this month, President Duterte ordered the immediate end to e-sabong operations, saying the P640-million monthly revenue collected from the industry is not worth the social damage caused by the gambling activity.

Rodriguez made the statement when asked if the incoming administration would allow e-sabong operations to raise billions in funds needed to serve the country’s foreign debt that has ballooned to a record P12.68 trillion as of last March.

The House of Representatives tax panel had earlier said the government needs to raise P326 billion in fresh revenues yearly to trim the country’s ballooning debt.

As to how the Marcos administration plans to address this problem, however, Rodriguez said they would rather wait for their assumption in office before laying down such plans in detail.

“I’m sure you understand that the present dispensation is still being led by President Duterte, so with all due respect and deference to the President… let us first wait for the official assumption of Bongbong Marcos as president. For now, let’s support the current administration,” he explained.

Asked if they would keep members of the Duterte administration’s economic cluster in the Cabinet, Rodriguez asked the public to give the presumptive president more time to “have his own government and have his own governance.”

“While we respect the many good people that are serving in the present administration, I think we’ll just give (Marcos) enough space to define his own government,” he said.

Probe, case build-up

The Philippine National Police (PNP) has started its investigation and case build-up against the people behind illegal e-sabong operations.

PNP spokesperson Col. Jean Fajardo yesterday said they have identified at least six e-sabong sites that continue to operate despite Duterte’s order stopping the operations of online cockfighting.

Fajardo added that the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) and the Anti-Cybercrime Group (ACG) are conducting a probe to unmask the illegal e-sabong operators.

“They identified initially six illegal e-sabong sites that are operating and now, they are conducting case build-up,” she said in Filipino and English at a press briefing at Camp Crame in Quezon City.

The PNP has also requested social media providers to take down the sites, which may take around two weeks.

Investigators are also probing if the operators of these sites were once given permits by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor), which has jurisdiction over gambling operations in the country, according to Fajardo.

PNP Directorate for Operations head Maj. Gen. Valeriano de Leon said they are planning to submit a position paper to have the operators of e-sabong sites blacklisted.

“If the time comes that these will have legitimate operations, they could no longer apply or their application will be denied,” De Leon said in an interview over radio dzBB.

He added that the challenge for police investigators is tracking down illegal online cockfighting operators as they can easily transfer to another platform once their sites are identified.

“They transfer or change their websites from time to time when the authorities monitor them,” he said.

The PNP also plans to hold a meeting with telecommunications companies to help in their efforts to stop the operations of online cockfighting sites, according to De Leon.

Ilocano frugality

Marcos has to prove his frugality skills, being an Ilocano.

An economist-lawmaker offered some caution for the presumptive president, whose government will have to observe belt-tightening measures to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and pay off the country’s huge debts.

“The incoming administration will need around P326 billion in new revenues every year to cover both principal and interest payments due to debts incurred during the pandemic,” Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, who chairs the House ways and means committee, said.

“Unless we can raise that kind of revenue, we will have to downscale our public spending or borrow again to pay the debt,” Salceda added, referring to the country’s record high debt, which has reached at least P12 trillion.

If the debt service due to deficit spending from January 2020 to March 2022 is annuitized, the government will have around P144 billion in principal payments over the next 20 years and around P181 billion in interest payments, according to Salceda.

He pointed out this would “vary per year, and some years will need lower debt than others.”

“But if you want to stretch out the payment schedule, that’s the kind of fiscal space you need to cover the COVID-19 debts without incurring budget cuts,” Salceda said.

“And of course, the P326-billion figure relies on current interest rates. To keep them at this level, we need to show our creditors we are in good fiscal standing. So tax policy reform is really our best option,” he added.

As far as the reelected administration lawmaker is concerned, “budget cuts aren’t a very good option if you want to sustain COVID-19 growth and of course, borrowing more to cover past borrowings is a downward spiral to fiscal hell. So, you really need to expand fiscal space.”

Salceda urged Marcos to “use his supermajority in both mandate and congressional alliances to enact smart, efficient tax and economic policies to address this debt overhang.”

“It’s the biggest election victory since 1961, so I think there is plenty of political capital for difficult but necessary reforms,” Salceda said.

‘Quick, effective’

Salceda also stated that “the earlier the Marcos administration starts with a fiscal expansion program, the better it will be for investor confidence, our credit ratings, our debt overhang and our future growth prospects.”

“You need money for the most important campaign promises: cheaper rice, more efficient government services and improved agriculture. So, I would suggest quick and effective fiscal measures being undertaken in the first hundred days,” Salceda said.

“You need digital economy taxation to grow tax revenues from digital transactions. The digital economy has grown by at least 16 percent during the pandemic, while tax revenues from digital sources have remained practically unchanged, based on BIR numbers,” he added, emphasizing that it can be done on both the policy side and the tax administration side. – Emmanuel Tupas, Delon Porcalla

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