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Opinion

The biggest ‘Sabong Lords’ of all time

CTALK - Cito Beltran - The Philippine Star

By the time you are done reading this article, I promise you that you will have a better appreciation of why many people refer to the traditional sabong or cockfighting in the Philippines as a multibillion-peso industry and why public figures such as former agriculture secretary Manny Piñol is pushing for sabong to be classified as part of the “agricultural sector” instead of the derogatory reference to it as “a form of gambling.” This article will also expose how the Duterte administration and Pagcor have become the biggest “Sabong Lords” in the entire history of the republic.

But first, let me give you an overview of the industry that has been sequestered by Malacañang and the Pagcor.

Sabong in the Philippines is referred to by enthusiasts as “The Gamefowl Industry.” According to data provided by the Games and Amusement Board (GAB), sabong is valued to be a P50-billion industry involving 30,000 known breeders nationwide, who breed and raise approximately 40 million gamefowls for sale locally and for export to the ASEAN region, selling for anywhere from P3,000 each to P100,000 for a breeding trio. In Manny Piñol’s view, the average price of roosters would be at P5,000 (x 40 million roosters), making the industry worth P200 billion on roosters alone.

Supporting all of this production are 14,000 poultry stores that supply different types of feeds, equipment, medicines, vaccines and vitamins. Due to the impact of COVID-19 and the closure of an estimated 1,200 traditional cockpits, the animal feeds industry lost 50 percent of its annual P15-billion sales, while a P3-billion loss was incurred by manufacturers of veterinary products, vitamins, vaccines, etc.

In terms of employment, an estimated 500,000 cockpit employees and workers for 1,200 cockpits nationwide have had no jobs since the IATF and Malacañang shut down all cockpits except for seven online sabong cockpits under Pagcor. About 50 percent or 75,000 to 150,000 workers of the 30,000 breeders nationwide have lost jobs or were sent home until fights resume. Several thousand employees of feeds, agri-vet and poultry supplies have also been separated from their ranks due to severe income losses of companies. At the bottom end and adversely affected are Filipino farmers who have suffered major reductions in sales of their corn, copra, rice bran and coco oil, sorghum, etc.

The once flourishing gamefowl industry that even had two major trade expos every year at the World Trade Center and SMX Convention Center is down on its knees, with many breeders closing their farms or subletting their facilities and stock to moneyed politicians and gamblers who are all in on the government’s online or E-Sabong.

It is important to note that in spite of easing of COVID restrictions and levels in the last year and a half, the IATF and Malacañang have opposed the reopening of traditional cockpits but never E-Sabong.

On the other hand, this is where the Duterte administration is:

• They don’t own a single cockpit in the Philippines.

• They don’t own any gamefowl farm.

• They don’t produce minimum 84,000 fighting cocks to fight monthly.

• They don’t pay entrance fees and minimum bets for 6-, 8- or 12-cock derbies.

• They don’t pay 10 percent of bets to any local government where they hold fights.

• They do not employ the hundreds or thousands of workers that run cockpits, take care of roosters, handlers, gaffers or magta-tare and traditional rooster medics.

• They don’t pay for electricity, rent, security or reimburse LGUs for risks and inconveniences that come with staging “mass gatherings.”

• They have no investments and no risks.

• They are not even supposed to be meddling into the affairs and business of cockpits and cockfights that are legally under the jurisdiction of the Games and Amusement Board (GAB) and local government units.

Yet in spite of all this, the Duterte administration has become the biggest “Sabong Lord” and has a monopoly of the business.

By way of a mere technicality, the Duterte administration has taken over the fate of cockfighting in the Philippines, claiming that it is doing so in order to control illegal online sabong. This is even backed by a memorandum from the Office of the Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, who recognized the authority given to the Pagcor to issue government franchises for E-Sabong, in order to control illegal or guerilla operations.

But instead of merely going after illegal gambling operators, the Pagcor creatively manipulated E-Sabong by issuing a limited number of franchises that are so expensive only the rich and powerful gambling lords or moneyed politicians and businessmen can afford one. The capital required from investors is P100 million as their start-up. One partnership slice being offered by someone was priced at P10 million!

But like a monkey on the back of their investors, the Pagcor insists that those who buy into their deal must stage at least 200 chicken fights a day, all year in order to be able to collect P75 million a month from each of the seven current E-Sabong operators. Failure to complete all 200 fights means that the investor will pay a penalty of P12,000 for EACH fight that did not push through. So instead of the traditional fights that are only allowed on Sundays and holidays or by special permit for fiestas, etc., the Pagcor has turned the gamefowl industry into an all-day gambling binge – seven days a week!

In order to maximize their income, some operators have staged as many as 350 fights a day. For breeders and gamefowl farm owners lucky enough to get their rosters “banded” by an E-Sabong group, the huge requirement for 700 fighting cocks a day is a seller’s dream. But for the rest of the ordinary game fowl enthusiasts, the government takeover of sabong and continued refusal to allow traditional sabong and reopening of cockpits has become a curse and is now fueling anger towards the IATF and the Duterte administration.

Is it really about public health concerns? Or is it about protecting the profits of “Sabong Lords?”

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