Philippine Senate To Probe Missing Cockfighting Gamblers

February 21, 2022
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The Philippine Senate is set to launch an investigation into rising missing person cases linked to cockfighting and associated online gambling activity.

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The Philippine Senate is set to launch an investigation into rising missing person cases linked to cockfighting and associated online gambling activity.

On Friday (February 18), Senator Ronald dela Rosa, chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs, announced a probe in aid of legislation on a growing number of “missing persons allegedly involved in sabong [cockfighting] and e-sabong [online cockfighting] related incidents based on news reports”.

The probe’s February 24 hearing follows reports in recent weeks of at least 30 men going missing in connection with cockfighting events.

In the most recent reports, four players were reported missing in Laguna Province, just south of Manila, while another five players in Bulacan Province, just north of Manila, went missing in January, according to the Inquirer daily.

The disappearances, now being investigated by the national police's Criminal Investigation and Detection Group and local authorities, have thrown up a new challenge to the government as it shepherds legislation enabling specific online cockfighting licences through Congress.

The incidents have also revisited the problem of government agencies working at cross-purposes on gambling issues, reminiscent of a years-long legal tussle between the Bureau of Internal Revenue and gambling regulator PAGCOR over tax rates for online gambling licensees.

In this instance, PAGCOR’s regulation of online cockfighting has drawn a warning from Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, a former Senate president, who said last week that all such online betting is illegal without the passage of operator-specific legislation, even if operators have received a PAGCOR licence.

Pimentel’s comments would indicate that three of four online cockfighting operators registered by PAGCOR as of September 2021 were operating illegally.

Yet those four operators were key to producing some 1.6bn pesos ($31m) in payments to PAGCOR, according to PAGCOR chair Andrea Domingo, potentially making the gaming regulator a recipient of substantial proceeds from illegal gambling.

The Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs is notable for including Risa Hontiveros, the senator primarily responsible for busting an online gambling-driven immigration scam at the Philippines’ biggest airport, imprisoned political prisoner Leila de Lima and boxing legend and presidential hopeful Manny Pacquiao, who supports cockfighting regulation.

Rapid growth in online cockfighting has emerged as an election issue ahead of this year’s presidential poll, following damage to the land-based sabong industry amid pandemic restrictions and the closure of more than 3,000 cockfighting rings around the country.

Typical of supporters for the industry is House of Representatives member Sonny Lagon, who serves as vice chairman of the House Games and Amusements Committee.

Lagon recently defended the industry and its online expansion, citing hundreds of thousands of people with livelihoods linked to the sport who have suffered through the pandemic.

“I remain in favour of online cockfighting for the simple reason that it helps a lot of people. When properly regulated, it is not the work of the devil; rather it is a usual source of livelihood for poor Filipinos,” he said on February 7.

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