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Opinion

The first against the curse

CTALK - Cito Beltran - The Philippine Star

Presidential candidate Panfilo “Ping” Lacson and his running mate Tito Sotto are the first and only candidates so far bold enough to point out the curse of online gambling, particularly the damaging impact of E-Sabong on Filipino families.

In recent interviews given to The Philippine STAR, Lacson and Sotto jointly expressed concern over the growing addiction of Filipinos to online gambling, particularly E-Sabong or online sabong. Lacson shared a now common tale of a father who got deep into a P600,000 debt because of online sabong and ended up committing suicide.

Unbeknownst to Senator Lacson, such suicides have become more common but largely unreported or under reported. The media has publicized about three to four such incidents but it seems that the number is higher, according to the police. During a lunch meeting with a chief of police, I learned that in their AOR or Area Of Responsibility the number of suicides has already alarmed local officials. Generally, families are ashamed to admit that a gambling-related suicide has occurred but are left with no choice after police conduct in depth interviews to rule out foul play.

Another police official shared that on numerous occasions they have arrested “criminals” who were bent on robbery and murder in order to pay off large amounts of debt they incurred with loan sharks because of addiction to online sabong. I was recently informed by a regional official of the LTO that it is now a common site to see betting machines in TODA sheds in southern Luzon or people using digital tablets to place their “pusta.”

Meanwhile, a section editor for a major daily shared with me that on the Tagaytay/Alfonso, Cavite boundary he actually sees kids hanging out with tricycle drivers in order to place bets on online sabong. This situation unfortunately gives rise to numerous cases of theft, burglary and robbery and domestic violence committed by desperate gambling addicts.

In the meantime, local residents with OFW relatives are saying that aside from the COVID challenges on travel, a sizable number of Filipino OFWs will not be sending lots of cash or gifts this Christmas because the curse of online sabong has reached foreign shores, targeting OFWs in particular.

Adding insult to injury, some viewers of the “talpakan” or online fights have expressed disgust against party-list candidates and organizations who have been placing political advertisements during live broadcasts of the online sabong while participating in the derbies or cockfights online!

Lacson and Sotto, along with the members of the Senate, are still studying the issue on whether Congress is authorized to issue a “Franchise to Operate” online sabong since the game of chance is NOT a public utility or a media outlet. That actually has been the same question asked of the House of Representatives which overwhelmingly approved a 25-year franchise for online sabong.

While the legislators are all dribbling the ball on the issue of constitutionality and definition of public utility, it makes me wonder why none of them have gone after the officials of Pagcor for its failure to properly control and manage the operations of online sabong all over the country.

This is not the first time that I have suggested that the quickest way to reduce the addiction and participation of minors and low income individuals is by imposing a minimum bet requirement equal to the minimum monthly wage per region. Yes, make the betting anti-poor and anti-minors, who will surely hesitate or can’t afford to engage in online gambling because of the high minimum. It won’t hurt the business of the operators because bets from P100 to P1,000 is just loose change for the operators.

Aside from pressuring Pagcor to impose the minimum bet rule, Sotto and Lacson should also speak with traditional sabungeros who can fill them in on how the system operates, how cartels have been established, how the government is getting a pittance from revenues collected by Pagcor and how corruption has expanded to the point that various mayors, vice mayors, councilors and regional IATF officials have become suspect of receiving as much as P10 million in monthly “ayuda” from online sabong operators in exchange for not allowing the reopening of traditional NON-online cockpits.

I recently received information from Negros that one local cockpit that instituted strict health protocols such as: “Only vaccinated people allowed, must wear masks and social distancing required,” managed to stay open for only three weekends and was subsequently shut down by the vice mayor and councilors in spite of their compliance with ordinances and health protocols.

Locals suspect that the elected officials are supporters of the online sabong operation in their province. I suggested to the sabungeros in the area and similar localities to launch an online campaign: “Walang Sabong – Huwag iboto si Mayor.”

While Ping Lacson and Tito Sotto are on the right track, they would surely help rescue the game fowl or traditional sabong industry by working out a monitoring system with the DILG, GAB and sabong groups to prevent the suspected bribery and corruption of local government officials. Not only has online sabong caused death, debts and destruction of marriages and families due to Pagcor’s indifference and lack of better management, what could have been a blessing to game farms has, because of greed and cartel mentality, resulted in the slow but certain wipe out of Philippine cockfighting worth hundreds of billion pesos and the displacement of many farm workers, loss of income for many poultry and agricultural supply stores as well as reducing local income for farmers that provide the grains such as corn etc. to feed mills.

I am glad that Senators Ping Lacson and Tito Sotto have taken on an issue that hundreds of thousands of Filipinos have been critical of but have not found a voice. They are the first; God willing, they won’t be the last!

PANFILO LACSON SABONG
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