Can we win in the e-sabong game?

Published May 13, 2022, 12:05 AM

by Manila Bulletin

Temporarily set aside because of the wall-to-wall coverage of election news was the fact that President Duterte ordered the immediate termination of e-sabong (aka online cockfighting) operations in the country, days after extolling its benefit in helping raise funds for our economy.  The change of mind, the President said, was due to the recommendation of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Eduardo Año to suspend e-sabong for the meantime.

“The recommendation of Secretary Año is to do away with e-sabong. He cited the validation report coming from all sources. I agreed with it…so e-sabong will end by tonight,” the President said in his “Talk to the People” early this month.

The DILG welcomed the President’s directive, saying that it “validates the department’s assessment of the situation on the ground as well as a nationwide survey that reflects the pulse of the public.” “The President’s decision based on public sentiment against e-sabong is a sign of the responsive governance of his administration. It serves the common good and the preservation of the moral fabric of our society.” 

With this order, the DILG clarified that traditional physical sabong venues will still be allowed to operate as long as they comply with minimum public health protocols. Some may argue that the difference between traditional sabong and online e-sabong is very minimal because both are forms of gambling. The DILG, however, disagrees as its survey revealed that the majority of the respondents sees more negative effects on e-sabong. 

In a statement, it said that the survey’s respondents were individuals who are engaged in e-sabong whether they are agents, employees, bettors, or players, and non-participants or non-players but related or acquainted with the three stakeholders mentioned. 

“A total of 8,463 respondents answered the survey of the DILG from April 19-20, 2022 to gauge public perceptions of e-sabong and to provide the President with a basis for his decision on the fate of e-sabong,” Año said. 

Based on the survey results, 62 percent want to put a stop to e-sabong, which became prominent (and rose to become a billion-peso industry) during the pandemic; 34 percent want it to continue but with tighter regulation, while only four percent completely support it. 

The reasons cited by the respondents for opposing e-sabong include addiction to gambling, bankruptcy of players, indebtedness, cost to family, neglect of work and studies, and crime.  Since betting is so easy because of digital wallets and accessible as one just has to have a smartphone or laptop to log on online, e-sabong became a popular “pastime” which saw rising and falling fortunes — tempting even the minors who were able to bet due to the laxity in the registration process.  

A drastic downside to e-sabong, as the DILG claimed, is the crime element with missing e-sabong cockfighters who were allegedly kidnapped or killed by lawless elements.  It could be recalled early in March that 23 senators have signed Senate Resolution No. 996, which urged the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) to suspend the license to operate of e-sabong operators and immediately stop all related activities after the worrisome news of the disappearances.

The latest recommendation from the DILG said that e-sabong operations will remain suspended “until a better set of framework and regulations are formulated, in such a way that it will not significantly harm any of the stakeholders and lead to the moral decay of society.”

Whether one agrees with gambling or not, we look at both sides of the coin. Pagcor said that from January to March 15, 2022, around P1.37 billion was collected from the operations of seven e-sabong licenses. This, as the President earlier said, is a much needed fund to lift us from the ravages of the pandemic.  But this money earned is at the expense of morality and violates the values of hard work, perseverance, and integrity — money easily earned especially in gambling is also money that can easily be lost.  

So, on whose side will the next administration be? We will have to wait and see.