Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has reversed course in his support for online cockfighting and banned the lucrative new gaming segment one week before the presidential election.
Duterte said on Tuesday (May 3) that he had ordered Secretary of the Interior Eduardo Año to cease all “e-sabong” (online cockfighting) operations by the same day, following Año’s recommendation to do so.
“The recommendation of Secretary Año is to do away with e-sabong, and he cited the validation report coming from all sources,” Duterte said.
“So it’s his recommendation and I agree with it, it’s good, so e-sabong will end by tonight,” he said.
“We were only after the tax revenues, but after the stories I heard, it’s loud and clear that it’s working against our values,” he continued in remarks translated by media outlets Rappler and CNN Philippines.
“The impact on families and on people, it turns out players are not sleeping for 24 hours.”
Año’s “validation report” was based in part on a survey by the Department of the Interior and Local Government that raised significant concerns about the impacts of e-sabong on the community.
The survey was conducted amid ongoing investigations into the disappearance of 34 individuals involved in e-sabong operations, a scandal that triggered a Senate committee probe and a Senate resolution demanding suspension of e-sabong in March.
Duterte had rejected that demand.
Duterte’s about face on e-sabong, only six days before the presidential election, flies in the face of strong support from both the Office of the President and gambling regulator PAGCOR, amid severe pandemic damage to most other gaming segments.
Duterte had welcomed the economic benefits of e-sabong, which firmed as the Philippines’ most aggressive new gaming activity with annual revenue of 640m pesos ($12.2m) and rising, and PAGCOR chair Andrea Domingo had lined up with Duterte in backing the segment.
On Tuesday, Domingo said in response to Duterte’s recorded comments that PAGCOR will not oppose the reversal in policy.
She previously suggested that PAGCOR’s regulation of e-sabong be transferred to a separate regulator with more capability to communicate with local governments.
Traditional cockfighting operations involving on-site betting will seemingly not be affected by today's decision.