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Opinion

Sen. Tolentino cuts the supply line

CTALK - Cito Beltran - The Philippine Star

After President Rodrigo Duterte announced the end of Pagcor sponsored e-sabong, Senator Francis Tolentino drew his sword of influence by asking the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas to order all e-wallet and electronic banking firms, specifically GCash and PayMaya, to remove e-sabong features or apps from their respective platforms. If the BSP acts on Senator Tolentino’s request, it would be equivalent to cutting the supply line between e-sabong operators and bettors. This is advanced thinking on the part of Senator Tolentino, just in case a bunch of colorum online sabong operators crop up like mushrooms or if efforts to revive the current version gather support from future congressmen.

Tolentino’s appeal should be undertaken by the BSP in order to put a stop to what is considered a gray area of opportunity and abuse regarding the original purpose of e-wallets and online “bank-less” services. E-wallet companies such as GCash and PayMaya exist to facilitate standard financial transactions such as payments and money transfers. However, the latter feature was abused when e-wallet companies received bets in the form of “money transfer.” The firms involved were well aware that the transfers were for gambling purposes, given the fact that the respective online operators are publicly known for e-sabong. Like any banking or financial institution, GCash and PayMaya should also be asking about repeated or unusually frequent transfers of cash that is part of the general guidelines on Anti-Money Laundering.

It may be prudent for Senator Francis Tolentino to craft several pieces of legislation that would prevent the use of any and all online payment platforms for gambling or betting purposes. We all know that if there is a law it becomes difficult to circumvent the matter or restore the supply line for online gambling via e-wallets or online payment. A specific law and prohibition is the only way to slay the dragon.

During our recent interview with Senator Tolentino this week, we talked about the need to set up a Philippine Cockfighting Authority to oversee the operations and needs of the P2-billion-plus industry. Senator Tolentino reminded me that there was once such an office called the Philippine Gamefowl Commission before it was taken over and fell under the control of the Games and Amusement Board. That, in my opinion, was detrimental to the industry and eventually led to cartels taking control of cockfighting in the Philippines. By placing the sport and industry under the Games and Amusement Board, the industry was downgraded to nothing more than fun and games and gambling instead of an industry that generates billions of pesos annually, employs hundreds of thousands of workers and provides income for various local governments.

Senator Tolentino, who has repeatedly advocated for the return of traditional cockfighting, should grab the opportunity and craft a bill that would restore the Philippine Gamefowl Commission with full powers and wider representation. Instead of merely being ministerial or remotely supervisory, a new Philippine Gamefowl Commission should be the equivalent of the DILG over all matters pertaining to gamefowls, farms, cockfighting and cockpits and should have a majority of its officials coming from respected and knowledgeable members of the community, including those from industries such as nutrition, feeds and medicines that have multimillion-peso stakes in the industry.

I just checked out some articles and court rulings relevant to the former Philippine Gamefowl Commission and the reason I suggest that the proposed commission be made the equivalent of the DILG for cockfighting is so that there can be a check or oversight group over corrupt mayors and councils that favor political allies or secret partners in cockfighting. During the two-year lockdowns in the Philippines, so many sabungeros complained about provincial, city and municipal officials who used COVID as an excuse not to allow certain cockpits to operate when in fact they were known supporters, investors or owners of slots in e-sabong as well as owners of physical e-sabong betting stations. While we support local government autonomy, there must be a law that would stop such an abuse.

Hopefully, by reviving the Philippine Gamefowl Commission, we can also put a stop to the system of exclusivity that has been put up by derby promoters, cockpit owners and e-sabong operators. This “exclusive” system is done through an enlistment process where farm owners and breeders call the promoter etc. to have wing bands placed on their two-month-old male chicks starting October or November until March. Promoters claim that this is a way of making sure there is no cheating regarding the age of roosters during derbies but in actuality this is how they control participation or force fighters to be exclusive. Without the wing band you can’t join their fights. Aside from creating a cartel, this system is also discriminatory. Only the big farms get to join the club while those without farms are excluded.

Last but not the least, Senator Francis Tolentino might want to consider a bill that would allow “Special Tupadas” in every barangay for income generation purposes of barangays. During our interview Senator Tolentino told us of provincial events where people would hold a “Special Tupada” in order to raise some money to pay for the burial of a community member. It is called “Special” because it is given as a special accommodation or consideration by the barangay officials.

Considering how all other forms of gambling are not limited to certain days, I also wonder if cockfighting should also be allowed some consideration? Maybe allow tupadas within the barangay during barangay fiestas which used to take place in the good old days? Or allow special private by-invitation only fights or breeders’ derbies under the supervision of the barangay. The argument is that if other people can have mahjong, poker or bingo nights etc., it’s only fair that breeders and industry related companies be allowed to hold “Special Events” inside their private property.

At least now we have a champion: Sen. Francis Tolentino!

FRANCIS TOLENTINO

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