PHILIPPINE Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) chairman Andrea Domingo said on Friday, March 4, 2022, that President Rodrigo Duterte is not in favor of the resolution of lawmakers that calls for the suspension of online cockfight betting or e-sabong operations.

Domingo said this was Duterte’s stand on the matter according to Executive Secretary (ES) Salvador Medialdea.

“Tinanong ko po sa Executive Secretary, ‘Sir, pumayag po ba talaga ang President na i-suspend ang operations according to the news reports?’ Kung sinabi ni ES ‘yon isu-supinde po namin kaya lang po ang sabi po ni Executive Secretary: ‘Tinanong ko si Presidente diyan, Andrea, sabi niya wala siyang sinasabing ganon.’ So paano po ang gagawin namin?” Domingo said during the resumption of the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drug inquiry into the cases of missing sabungeros in Laguna, Batangas and Manila.

(I asked the executive secretary, ‘Sir, did the President approve the suspension of e-sabong operations, according to news reports?’ We could have suspended the operations if the executive secretary said so, but he said: ‘I asked the President about that, Andrea, and he said he did not say anything about suspension.’ So what should we do?)

This did not sit well with committee chairman Senator Ronald dela Rosa, who earlier said that Duterte gave him an impression that he agrees to the call of the lawmakers during the short conversation over the weekend when he attended the wedding of the President’s grandson.

“So, ako ngayon ang sinungaling? Ako ang kausap mismo ni Presidente, sinabihan ako niya ng ‘Sige, sige, sige.’ Ako ngayon ang sinungaling?” Dela Rosa said.

(So, I’m the liar now? I talked to the President, and he said ‘Yes, yes, yes.’ I’m the liar now?)

“Ibig sabihin, Sec. Medialdea would like to make me appear na, being the chairman of this committee at personally nakiusap kay Presidente, ako ngayon ang sinungaling?” he added.

(It means that Secretary Medialdea would like to make me appear as I’m lying, being the chairman of this committee and someone who talked to the President?)

Domingo expressed reservations on the suspension of e-sabong operations amid the conduct of a probe into the alleged abduction of e-sabong enthusiasts, saying it will result in billions of pesos in lost revenues.

She said from May to December 2021, the average monthly revenue from e-sabong ranged at around P400 million.

From January 2022, the monthly revenue increased to P640 million a month.

“We are all emotional here. I do condole with everybody who suffered from this but we also have to look into the repercussions of this, with this loss of revenues committed by us -- because when you urge us, you actually give us the responsibility of using our own discretion to implement the sense of the Senate. So, therefore, in the final analysis, it would be Pagcor who would be responsible for the decision,” said Domingo.

Domingo also raised possible legal implications of suspending e-sabong operations since it would mean breaching their contracts with e-sabong operators who pay P2.5 million for the license, P75 million cash performance bond, and P75 minimum guarantee every month.

In response, Dela Rosa asked Domingo if revenues are more important than the lives of people. She said people’s lives are more important.

“It goes without saying na kung gusto maraming paraan, kung ayaw maraming dahilan (if you want to do something, you’ll find many ways. If you don’t, you’ll find many excuses),” Dela Rosa said.

“We are giving you the solid assist. Itong resolution pirmado ng 24 na senador (This resolution was signed by 24 senators)...Now, the ball is in your hands. It’s up to you to make the winning three-point shot for the Filipino people or you will dribble the time away hanggang mag-adjourn itong 18th Congress or you throw the ball out of bounds para the opposing team to get the ball possession,” he added.

Domingo also scored the committee for apparently commanding them, instead of simply encouraging them to suspend e-sabong operations.

Dela Rosa maintained they were urging Pagcor to make a stand in order to help resolve the disappearances.

Domingo said the law enforcement, not the Pagcor, should be blamed if there will be more cases of disappearance among sabungeros amid the prevailing operations of e-sabong.

“Ayun na. Pinapasa na natin 'yung problema e. Pinapasa mo na naman sa law enforcement agency. Kayo nga ang may primary jurisdiction over e-sabong, ngayon ayaw n'yong i-suspend. Kung may mawala na namang tao, ipasa sa law enforcement. So pasahan na tayo dito ngayon. We’re passing the buck,” Dela Rosa said.

(So that’s it. We are passing the problem here. You’re passing the blame into the law enforcement agency. Pagcor has the primary jurisdiction over e-sabong, but now you don’t want it suspended. If another person will go missing, you’ll blame the law enforcement.)

“So, sino po ang mag-iimbestiga at manghuhuli, kami po? (So who will investigate and arrest persons, we at Pagcor?)” Domingo responded.

“Hindi nga kayo ang nanghuhuli but you’re the one regulating. Paano sila makakapag-operate kung wala silang license to operate galing sa inyo na kayo ang nagbibigay?” the senator replied.

(You’re not the one arresting, but you’re the one regulating. How can they operate if they don’t have a license, which comes from you?)

Senate President Vicente Sotto III explained they were hoping that the truth will come out after the e-sabong operations are suspended.

“May dahilan kayo bakit hindi puwede. Therefore, ayaw ninyo. ‘Yun lang 'yon e. Now the position of the Senate is to strongly urge you na makisama kayo sa investigation, suspend ninyo muna, tingnan niyo may mga sisingaw diyan. Ganoon ang sinasabi namin. E ang sinasabi ninyo e ayaw ninyo. 'Yun na 'yon,” Sotto said.

(You have reasons not to suspend e-sabong. Therefore, you don’t want it suspended. That’s it. Now, the position of the Senate is to strongly urge you to cooperate in the investigation, temporarily suspend the e-sabong operations, and see if something comes out of it. That’s what we’re saying. But you said you don’t want it suspended.)

Domingo said they only wanted the “protection” of Duterte against any liabilities before the Commission on Audit and the courts.

Dela Rosa said the number of missing sabungeros has gone up to 34. (SunStar Philippines)