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Panel report on e-sabong probe reaches Senate plenary

GMA News Online logo GMA News Online 31/05/2022 HANA BORDEY,GMA News
Senate panel holds e-sabong hearing March 4, 2022 Senate panel holds e-sabong hearing March 4, 2022

The Senate's Public Order and Dangerous Drugs Committee on Tuesday reported out to the plenary its committee report on the disappearances of online cockfighting enthusiasts.

Senator Ronald "Bato" Dela Rosa, chairperson of the panel, sponsored Committee Report 646 during the Senate's plenary session Tuesday.

"Ang sabong, ano man ang opinyon at pagtingin ng bawat isa sa atin ay maituturing na bahagi na ng ating kultura [Cockfighting, whatever your opinion on it is, can be considered part of our culture]. The existence of sabong in the culture of Filipinos has been around for hundreds of years. It has made a lot of contribution not only in the entertainment of Filipinos, but also towards the livelihood of different communities in the country. This industry became a source of income to many in providing food for their families and education for their children," Dela Rosa said in his sponsorship speech.

"Sadly, it seems today that while we recognize the notable contribution of cockfighting, some have made it as a tool of uncontrolled gambling, others exploited it as an object of commercialism and worse, there has been proliferation crimes committed in relation to it," he added.

The former Philippine National Police then cited reports about a mother who sold her eight-month-old child to pay off her "e-sabong debts" as well as the disappearance of at least 32 individuals who are involved in sabong and online sabong operations.

"Though e-sabong is an industry known to be raking billions of pesos and is claimed to be of help to the country and community, it will never be as significant and as treasured as compared to the lives of our fellow Filipinos. Ang buhay ng tao ay kalianma’y hindi matutumbasan ng kahit anong halaga ng salapi [No amount of money can ever equal a person's life]. The disappearance of these sabungeros or even those who only went for entertainment undermine the peace and order situation in our country. A situation which all of us believed, was more than enough to suspend the operations of the root cause thereof," Dela Rosa said.

"I can stand in two vantage points and view gambling in two different perspectives. Also, I can view it from two distinct personalities: as a lawmaker; and as an ordinary citizen. But wherever I choose to stand or whoever I choose to become, my opinion will remain the same: morality transcends legality," he added.

Under the committee report, which was uploaded on Senate's website last week, the panel recommended further investigation into gaming tycoon Atong Ang and his e-sabong firm Lucky 8 Star Quest, after his name was repeatedly mentioned by witnesses during the hearing and the firm was tagged as the operator of the arenas in Manila, Laguna and Batangas, where the missing persons were last seen.

The Philippine National Police and the National Bureau of Investigation were also asked to continue investigating all reported cases of missing persons in relation to e-sabong activities until they are finally resolved and to ensure that laws enacted to regulate gambling activities are enforced and complied with by all concerned entities.

The Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs also recommended that the next administration, if it decides to allow the operation of e-sabong, craft a law regulating the online sabong industry.

The legislation should include limiting e-sabong operations to Sundays and legal holidays, similar to the provisions of Presidential Decree No 449 or the Cockfighting Law of 1974.

The Senate panel also said the regulation should include "clear delineation of powers and functions of government agencies involved in sabong, strict implementation of imposition of taxes to e-sabong operators and its agents, and installation of CCTV cameras not only in betting station but as well as in areas where the actual cockfighting are being conducted."

Among the other recommendations of the Senate panel are:

  • For the PAGCOR to conduct an impact assessment study on e-sabong considering that more Filipinos are patronizing the online game as a way out of poverty;
    • to ensure safeguards are in place to prevent minors' access to electronic gambling platforms, such as, but not limited to, requiring electronic gambling operators to do a verification check each time a user logs in to the system to determine that the user is not a minor;
    • to study the inclusion in its Regulatory Framework, the commission of a crime and/or offense within its premises if the operator is found negligent, and failure to cooperate in its investigation, as grounds for suspension' and/or cancellation of license in the absence of regulatory laws on e-sabong.
    • PAGCOR should also take a more proactive approach as regulator, in instances of unusual and/or criminal activities surrounding regulated gambling activities (e.g. kidnappings occurring after sabong), among others.
  • For Money Transfer Facilities to ensure that minors will not be able to use their facilities for gambling purposes, recommend the strict implementation of Know-Your-Customer (KYC) policy not only during registration stage but as well as usage and management of account.
  • For all local government units to suspend business permits of cockpit arenas found to be noncompliant with their existing ordinances on the mandatory requirement of installation of CCTV cameras.
  • For the Bureau of Internal Revenue to immediately collect taxes due from e-sabong operators in accordance with Revenue Memorandum Circular No. 25-2022 and other memoranda to be released in relation thereto, as well as strict imposition of penalty for those who failed to pay the correct taxes; and
    • to issue a clarificatory opinion regarding the tax treatment of income generated from e-sabong while taking into consideration the latest order of the President to halt e-sabong operations in the country starting 03 May 2022.
  • For the Department of the Interior and Local Government and the PNP to continue to monitor and stop any possible illegal and unauthorized conduct of e-sabong operations while the directive of President Rodrigo Duterte to halt the operations of e-sabong is still in effect.

"Ang pagkalulong sa sugal ay hindi nalalayo sa epekto ng pagkalulong sa droga at iba pang bisyo na dapat nating bigyang importansya at solusyon. Ang pagtatapos ng pagdinig sa isyung ito ay hindi nangangahulugang pagtatapos sa usapin patungkol sa e-sabong ngunit simula pa lamang sa mahabang diskusyon ng mga isyung pumapalibot dito," Dela Rosa said.

(The effects of the addiction to gambling are not far from drug addiction and other ills that must be given importance. The end of this hearing does not mean that the matter is over; this is just the start of a long discussion about the issues surrounding it.)

On the 34 missing sabungeros, the Senate pushed for a resolution seeking the suspension of e-sabong operations pending the resolution of the cases.

Malacañang  initially allowed e-sabong operations to continue and ordered the PNP and the NBI to look into the case of the missing sabungeros.

Eventually, President Rodrigo Duterte approved the DILG's recommendation to stop e-sabong or online cockfighting operations. — BM, GMA News

This article Panel report on e-sabong probe reaches Senate plenary was originally published in GMA News Online.

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