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No longer a ‘sport’

CTALK - Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) - May 21, 2021 - 12:00am

My mother Marita once told me that as an infant I slept in a small crib that was right next to a “brooder” or lighted box with chicks or “Texas” sisiw, as my dad Louie Beltran was very much into raising chickens since his childhood days in Sta. Rosa, Nueva Ecija. Sleeping next to future game fowls would explain why I developed an asthmatic allergy to chicken dander and why I have been into raising game fowl on and off through the years. I’m a hobbyist and breeder of all sorts and bloodlines, although I have not stepped inside a cockpit since 1980 and I don’t like the gambling part of what was primarily the country’s national pasttime and a gentleman’s sport.

Like every sport or livelihood, even the sport of sabong has seriously been affected by quarantines and lockdowns, including all the thousands of farms and backyard breeders who breed, raise and sell game fowls as their main source of livelihood. In the first six to eight months of the lockdowns, many breeders and farm owners opted to sell half of their stock at bargain basement prices or enter into partnerships with professional gamblers who were also cockfighting enthusiasts. After eight months, many breeders simply cut back on their production until the concept of “On-Line Sabong” really got traction and before you know it, there were several groups who were hosting on-line sabong practically everyday. One group reportedly even carried on during Good Friday, acting like the Centurions who gambled over the clothes of Christ.

To be fair, all the on-line sabong created a sure market for fighting cocks or game fowls. The buying spree is so intense because one day alone would feature 300 to 350 fights, which of course required two birds per fight or a total of 600 to 700 a day. In short, the online sabong revived an economy doomed because of Covid. I’ve heard of breeders and investors buying or renting properties left and right and buying chickens like they were peanuts in a bag. So far, it’s all good, but underneath all that economic movement and productivity, I would, once in a while, hear concerns about how online sabong was no longer about a pasttime or a gentleman’s sport but an electronic tool that entices and victimizes many young people through electronic gambling.

Like any form of gambling there will be winners and losers, but there is, they say, a difference: those who enter casinos undergo some measure of scrutiny in terms of credit card validation, profiling and cash on hand. For online sabong, there are no screening processes and a minor who is pretty good with computers can easily create a “Bot” or fake personality just to gamble. You can even pay via the same electronic payment portals you use to buy food online.

Sadly what used to be the “Sunday Sport” or pasttime has reportedly become an addiction for many that robs them of their savings, drives them into debt and desperation and has started to ruin and tear families apart. I have heard a couple of accounts where young professionals got hooked onto the online sabong and ended up owing loan sharks as much as P2 million upwards. None of them are even real sabungeros or breeders. Often the victims have to sell or give up cars or property, or their relatives have to cover their losses. A father even asked a loan shark to stop entertaining or lending money to his son but the loan shark continued to do so.

The sad and shocking part was to discover that the collection agents for the loan shark were police officers, who would send feelers to parents that they might have to arrest their son or daughter for estafa or non-payment of a “loan”. I don’t know if loan sharking is actually legal in the Philippines but I do know that their presence in casinos is public knowledge and that they even have a table or area where they can be reached. On the other hand, I can only pray that PNP Chief Guillermo Eleazar can form a tracker team to bust these loan sharks and “collector cops” IF possible.

In the meantime, regular sabungeros or enthusiasts are calling on the IATF and the Games and Amusement Board under Chairman Baham Mitra to study and consider the hosting of  “Breeder’s derbies” or pre-matched fights among owners or handlers only – with no public participation or audiences in order to revive the true nature of the sport, put a stop to “Tupadas” or illegal cockfights and to reduce the destructive effect of online sabong that has become nothing more than online gambling.

As someone familiar with the commercial aspect of the sport, there will always be bets to cover the costs and heighten the competition, but under the present circumstance, we cannot simply write off hundreds of ruined lives, relationships and futures as collateral damage in a business model that enriches less than a hundred people with hundreds of millions of pesos a week, robs the government of hundreds of millions in taxes and tarnishes the reputation of what was a gentleman’s sport. Those who operate online sabong must find ways to screen, filter and monitor online gamblers who’ve lost control because one tragedy, one lost life is all it will take to break this highly lucrative business.

For those who might be tempted, here are a few reminders from the Bible:

Proverbs 13:11 - Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.

1 Timothy 6:10 - For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.

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E-mail: utalk2ctalk@gmail.com

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