E-sabong must end!

CTALK - Cito Beltran - The Philippine Star

It is one thing for government and elected officials to say the right thing versus actually doing the right thing. As I read and listened to the statements of Senator Bato dela Rosa regarding the online or E-sabong controversies, he surely sounds like someone who has done his homework and understood the complexities of online sabong as an illegitimate if not illegal activity, and the hesitance or lack of integrity among law enforcers and regulators to correct everything that is illegal and immoral about online sabong.

Some may say that it is easy for Senator Bato Dela Rosa to talk fearlessly, given his immunity and security as a sitting member of the Philippine Senate, not to mention being former chief of the Philippine National Police as well as loyal friend and ally of the President. Be that as it may, I admire Senator Dela Rosa for at least stating the obvious that other regulators, law enforcers, even government officials and legislators, have played blind to and remain gutless wonders, silent while people started dying and disappearing one after another and while thousands have lost house and home due to their addiction to online sabong.

Senator Bato dela Rosa correctly pointed out that the PAGCOR does not have any legal basis to issue franchises for online sabong and to regulate the same since it was never part of their powers. Sabong is or was the turf of the Games and Amusement Board based on a presidential decree. The fact is the “franchise and regulation” of online sabong by PAGCOR was an act of self-anointment and appointment, where PAGCOR used the proliferation of small time, one-man illegal online websites and betting stations as “illegal gambling that needed to be controlled.” Plainly put, in order to stop some guerilla operators of online sabong, the PAGCOR walked in and took over the territory and gave life to the greatest gambling monster, similar to what they tried to do to control jueteng nationwide and failed miserably.

As attested to by provincial collectors, the PAGCOR’s Small Town Lottery or STL ended up becoming a mule that legitimized jueteng lords and enabled some to launder their money. With PAGCOR’s takeover of online sabong, the Philippine cultural tradition and pasttime of sabong has fallen into the hands of seven or eight operators who now influence or decide if traditional sabong will be allowed by mayors or regional IATF officials. Worst of all, what was a weekend pasttime or fiesta special event has generated 100 times or more profit for online operators than jueteng lords ever made.

I remember two occasions last year when Games and Amusement Board Chairman Abraham Mitra attempted to ward off the PAGCOR takeover of his territory through letters to the office of the Executive Secretary in Malacañang, but ended up having to stand down after being told to uphold the status quo. If I may, I humbly suggest to Senator Bato dela Rosa to consider inviting Executive Secretary Medialdea to the Senate to explain what was his legal basis for backing PAGCOR’s self-appointed power to issue franchises and regulate E-sabong because his “opinion” and letter seems to be the only thing that PAGCOR has been standing on.

Senator Bato dela Rosa has suggested, at least twice, that while the disappearance of 30 or more sabungeros remains unsolved, online sabong should be suspended. I presume it is the senator’s way of hopefully pressuring whoever is behind the disappearances to release the victims or their remains unless they have been fed to pet crocodiles or been stuffed in drums and dumped in Laguna de Bay, and then what? Perhaps Senator Bato dela Rosa and his colleagues should go beyond “police work” of investigating the disappearance of 30 cockfighters.

It is about time to address the fact that E-sabong has to end. Operators have not made efforts to prevent minors and low-income individuals from betting, there are no mechanisms that determine serial losers unlike casinos that keep tabs on serial losers and keep them out. We have all heard or read stories of people young and old getting into debts, losing their possessions or worse, committing suicide due to heavy losses and addiction to E-sabong. There are no limits on bets and too much money is involved which people believe could be the reason that people may be willing to kidnap and kill game fixers and erring collection agents.

Even before E-sabong became a thing, enthusiasts have long expressed concern over the commercialization and high stakes betting that have taken precedent over pride and prestige. In other words, online sabong has gotten out of control. PAGCOR has focused too much on their collections and have failed in the area of management and regulation of gambling in the Philippines. They failed to properly regulate jueteng/STL, POGOs, many of which have avoided paying taxes to the BIR, and now our experience with E-sabong is indicative of PAGCORs choice to be collectors or kubradors, rather than state regulators.

I also found Senator dela Rosa’s reminder or admonition to investigators and law enforcers not to be afraid or intimidated regardless of how big the personalities may be behind the missing 30 sabungeros as a loaded statement, when he reportedly pointed out that when the PNP and other law enforcement agencies had to deal with drug dealers, they also faced big names and big threats. That Senator dela Rosa had to remind his former colleagues to have courage essentially substantiates or validates the public suspicion that law enforcers as well as legislators and government officials are either scared to mess with gambling lords or may have been compromised by those who they are supposed to investigate or regulate.

As Senator dela Rosa correctly pointed out, there are so many “eyes” watching what is happening to the investigation of the 30 missing sabungeros. Yes, many people are watching and listening because when 30 people can disappear with such impunity, everyone – investigators, government officials, even legislators – are suspect of protecting the guilty.

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