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Opinion

E-sabong hooking kids, OFWs

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

Online sabong is luring minors and addicting overseas workers. Gambling is brought right into homes and barracks. Families are wrecked, crimes incited and society corrupted. Still Congress is franchising “e-sabong” firms for 25 years. Strangely, Church leaders are silent.

Cockfights are livestreamed to personal gadgets. Bets and winnings are paid online. Enticement of bettors is indiscriminate. Minors aged 17 and younger technically are barred. But aided and abetted by “qualified” adults, they can sneak into the tele-cockpit.

A former congressman confided how a tenth-grade nephew was victimized. Not only did the lad fritter away personal savings, but also began filching cash from parents and siblings. The family discovered everything when he tried to hock home appliances. The long-time housemaid secretly had helped him set up an e-sabong account. That story is replicated countless times, NGOs lament.

Four recent suicides were induced in Bulacan and Pampanga, Deputy Speaker Eddie Villanueva said. All were despondent over huge gambling losses.

E-sabong illegally sprouted a decade ago. Initial clients were lonely OFWs, with some instantly hooked. Reports filtered in to labor circles about bettors losing overseas earnings and getting mired in debt.

The racket boomed in the homeland starting with the pandemic lockdowns in March 2020. Philippine laws limit cockfights only to licensed cockpits, one per city or municipality, and only on specified days and fiestas. But confined to homes, afficionados and newbies turned online.

E-sabong grosses P1.8 billion a day. Payout is 90 percent. Two major operators and three small ones net ten percent or P180 million a day.

Per major operator, about P5 million in bets are placed per “sultada.” That fight to the death lasts some five minutes, to make 12 fights per hour, for P60 million. The games run for ten hours a day, for P600 million total. Multiply that by three – two biggies and the combined take of the small operators. The P1.8 billion daily gross is P657 billion a year.

In April, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation began to regulate and tax the five operators. Their probity, capability and vulnerability to money laundering are being assessed, said Assistant VP Atty. Arnold Salvosa. Technologies for responsible gaming are developed, like apps to check each bettor’s playtime and biometrics to restrict minors. It’s a work in progress.

An undetermined number of “colorums” hold underground “tupadas” daily. Police raids average one per week. Among the biggest was by the NBI two months ago. More than 250 syndicate bosses, helpers, cockers and bettors were arrested. Games were being beamed to online gamers.

E-sabong addiction spurs crimes. Sensational was the arrest of a Quezon City policeman for a series of robberies last May. He targetted two courier service shops in one day in San Miguel and San Ildefonso towns in Bulacan. He confessed to earlier robbing similar businesses in Cabanatuan, Zaragoza and Gapan in his Nueva Ecija home-province. Seeing him on TV news, convenience storekeepers robbed in Marilao and Malolos, also in Bulacan, rushed to the precinct to identify him. “He became obsessed with e-sabong,” an interrogator told reporters.

Last Sep. 13, the House of Reps rushed a 25-year e-sabong franchise for Lucky-8 Star Quest Inc. It took only a day to move the measure from committee recommendation, inclusion in the order of business, period of sponsorship and approval on second reading. “Inordinate haste,” former Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano cried. Lucky-8 is associated with Charlie “Atong” Ang, implicated in the 2001 plunder case against deposed President Joseph Estrada.

Two weeks later, the House committee on franchises suddenly endorsed to the plenary another 25-year e-sabong franchise for Visayas Cockers Club. Sponsor: Negros Oriental Rep. Arnolfo Teves. Villanueva complained to committee head Franz Alvarez the non-livestreaming of the supposedly public hearing, catching oppositors unaware.

The rushing of the franchise bills preceded the congressional break for filing of costly candidacies for Election 2022.

Lucky-8 and Visayas Cockers are not public utilities or services like water, power, transportation and telecoms. Franchising their e-sabong negates the law that makes Pagcor the country’s sole gaming franchisee. Unless extended, Pagcor’s corporate life is only till 2033. The e-sabong franchises are up to 2046.

The franchises would allow offsite cockfight betting. That contradicts the 1974 Cockfighting Law. The law upholds the native tradition and thus limits betting only inside cockpits on certain days. Franchises can make e-sabong 24/7, so long as there are Filipino bettors worldwide.

The franchises also set a special five-percent tax on gross earnings. Brick-and-mortar cockpits do not enjoy such special rate. Constitutional equal protection is violated.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8 to 10 a.m., dwIZ (882-AM). “Gotcha: An Exposé on the Philippine Government” is available as e-book and paperback. Book orders accepted at Shopee: https://shopee.ph/GOTCHA-(Paperback)-by-Jarius-Bondoc-i.264837039.3870254862

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