Posted on: March 11, 2022, 10:10h.
Last updated on: March 11, 2022, 10:21h.
The Philippines e-sabong, or online cockfight-betting market, will not be suspended, despite the mysterious disappearance of at least 34 people connected to the industry since last April.
The Office of the President (OP) ordered an investigation into the disappearances, but did not heed calls by lawmakers to suspend e-sabong operations.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) and National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) will conduct a thorough probe into the missing people. They have been ordered to submit their findings to the OP and the Department of Justice within 30 days.
“Unless otherwise directed, the operations of e-sabong licensees shall remain unaffected, pending the result of the above investigations,” the OP said.
Lead in the Case?
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra reported that the NBI has a lead in the case, but he declined to elaborate, according to CNN Philippines.
The 34, all male, disappeared between April 2021 and January 2022. All are either industry game fowl handlers, aides, helpers, or vehicle drivers, according to The Philippine Daily Inquirer.
All are alleged to have been involved in bout-fixing, whereby the performance of one bird is sabotaged for the benefit of a gambling ring. All are believed to have visited cockpits owned by e-sabong operator Lucky 8 Star Quest before their disappearance.
Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, who led a Senate inquiry into the matter last month, said he believes the men are probably dead.
Big Money Blood Sport
E-sabong is big business in the Philippines. It’s been around for about a decade, and previously existed in a gray area of the law. But it has exploded in popularity during the pandemic, at a time when live venues were closed for health and safety reasons. The government, feeling the economic strain of the coronavirus, decided to tax and regulate it.
Philippine regulator PAGCOR began issuing licenses in May 2021. There are currently seven operators in the market.
The Philippine cockfighting industry as a whole is estimated to be worth US $1 billion. Lucky 8 Star Quest owner Charlie “Atong” Ang told Bloomberg this week his company was taking more than US $28 million in revenues each month from the newly regulated online bouts.
A resolution filed last week by Senate President Tito Sotto called for the suspension of e-sabong, and was unanimously signed by his fellow senators. But PAGCOR chair Andrea Domingo said she was hesitant to halt the market without a formal order from the OP, considering the sums involved.
She said the government was generating around US $12 million in tax from the market per month.