Saturday, May 25, 2024

Alarmed at disappearance of 31 persons, senators call for suspension of e-sabong

The Senate announced on Thursday, Feb. 24, that it will issue a resolution urging Pres. Rodrigo Duterte to direct the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) to suspend the operation of e-sabong until the case of the 31 missing persons is resolved.

Photo from Senate

The resolution was proposed by Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Sen. Panfilo Lacson during a committee hearing by Sen. Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa on the case of the missing individuals allegedly linked to e-sabong.

Covered by the resolution will be Beldevere Vista Corporation, Lucky 8 Star Quest, Visayas Cockers Club, Jade Entertainment and Gaming Technologies, Newin Cockers Alliance Gaming Corporation, Philippine Cockfighting International, and Golden Buzzer, Inc.

Diane Erica Jogno, Pagcor’s acting senior vice president for e-sabong, who attended the committee hearing, said “we are okay” in suspending the operation of e-sabong, subject to the approval of the Office of the President, as its attached agency.

Jogno clarified that Pagcor, which regulates e-sabong operations, issues license only for livestream broadcasting of licensed cockfights in licensed cockpits, and remote betting.

In his opening statement for the hearing, Dela Rosa called on the people behind the missing personalities to release the victims to their families.

He also called on the Philippine National Police (PNP) to double its effort to resolve the case even as he asked the relatives of the victims not to be afraid and, instead, provide the investigating agencies or his committee any information that will help in the speedy and complete resolution of the case.

Lacson said the reported disappearance of about 31 persons, without any trace apparently, is a big challenge to the PNP and the entire law enforcement community.

“Failing to resolve these cases will be a big slap or an embarrassment to the PNP as well,” Lacson said.

Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, on the other hand, said the brazenness of the individual or group behind the disappearances seems to project that they are as powerful as the PNP.

“We cannot allow such a person, a group or a syndicate to continue to exist,” Pimentel said.

Sen. Pia Cayetano, for her part, stressed that the government has the choice to make a policy to ban the gambling culture and address its social costs.

“We have a choice to make a policy that says (gambling) is not okay,” Cayetano said, adding that the government has already allowed and imposed tax on Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators to fund the country’s social concerns.

Sen. Francis Tolentino, meanwhile, questioned the supposed legal authority of Pagcor to grant e-sabong/online sabong operators license to operate.

According to Tolentino, there is no such provision under Republic Act 9487 or the so-called Revised Pagcor Charter that the country’s gambling regulatory body has any legal jurisdiction to issue any license to e-sabong operators to operate — including Pagcor’s regulatory framework for online cockfights and the supposed creation of an e-sabong licensing department.

Saan nag-ugat ang karapatan ninyo, ang authority na mag-issue ng prangkisa sa e-sabong? Nagke-claim kayo na may delegated authority na wala naman po sa Republic Act No. 9487,” said Tolentino.

Tolentino stressed that the “games of numbers” like cockfighting are not included in the authority covered by Pagcor under RA 9487.

Pagcor’s Jogno admitted that their supposed authority on granting e-sabong licenses are only based on separate legal opinions previously issued by the Office of the Solicitor General (SolGen) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) in May 2018 and January 2021 respectively, as well as another memorandum earlier issued by the Office of the Executive Secretary.

Tolentino stressed Pagcor’s “broad interpretation” of RA 9487 through the separate opinions issued by DOJ and SolGen has enabled a “gross misrepresentation” over their questionable authority on regulating e-sabong.

Sila na po yung nag-extend ng kapangyarihan nila, sila pa po ann nagbigay sa sarili nila ng kapangyarihang i-interpret yung kapangyarihang iginawad nila sa kanilang sarili,” the senator added.

Sen. Joel Villanueva backed Tolentino’s manifestation during the inquiry, adding that being one of the primary authors of RA 9487 in the Lower House during the 13th Congress, he noted that the law is very clear on Section 10, in which the nature and term of Pagcor’s authority shall not extend licenses to other games like cockfighting.

Villanueva said that providing jobs, not gambling, would provide more opportunities to Filipinos. He pointed out that the social cost of gambling is too high to be ignored — families falling into bankruptcy, people getting involved in criminal activities as a result of their gambling addiction.

He also cited a 2011 study conducted by Baylor University in Texas, United States, which found that the social cost of each pathological gambler is $9,393 annually or almost half a million pesos.

“It has already been established in different studies that pathological gambling is a mental disease and there is a correlation between gambling and suicide. Even the World Health Organization (WHO) has classified pathological gambling as a disease… It’s about time to wake up to the downside of gambling and discuss its ill-effects during this time of major health and economic woes,” he said.

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