Ver is a single father working in a veterinary clinic. While attending to clients and their pets, Ver jokes about “online sabong” or cockfighting derbies conducted virtually. His jokes follow this recurring theme: “Thanks to online

sabong, I live in an apartment. Dahil sa online

sabong, wala na ang mga lupain namin. Online sabong pa more...”.

Ver is only half in jest. Two of the siblings he was supporting in their studies got “addicted” to placing online bets in websites where cock derbies were livestreamed.

Ver says he was too busy to monitor his siblings. He was alerted that his siblings used the money he sent for tuition and allowances for e-sabong when the schools’ counselors alerted him about his siblings’ absence without leave (Awol) status.

Since 2020, when health protocols to curb the spread of coronavirus disease (Covid-19) prohibited cockfighting games to be conducted live, online cockfighting became popular, boosted by many persons’ predilection to turn to the digital portal for entertainment, business, and other pursuits during the lockdowns that curtailed circulation in public.

While traditional cockfights are under the regulation of local government units, e-sabong is regulated by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor). Since January 2022, online cock derbies raised P640 million per month for government coffers, Pagcor chairman and chief executive officer Andrea Domingo recently told senators.

The Senate public order and dangerous drugs committee has resumed its investigations into the disappearances of 34 persons said to be involved in the game fixing of e-sabong since April 2021.

Twenty-three senators signed a Senate resolution calling for the suspension of e-sabong operations until the resolution of the disappearances.

Sen. Francis Tolentino, chairperson of the Senate local government committee, urged that actual cockpits be re-opened and cockfights staged live again to dilute people’s compulsion to wager bets on e-sabong.

Whether face-to-face or remote, cockfights are detrimental vestiges of tradition and culture, maiming or destroying not just the fighting cocks trained to slash and kill their opponents in the arena but also maiming the lives of gamblers and their co-dependents through debt, poverty, and family strife.

Gambling ruins many lives but online access worsens the pernicious effect of this vice on gambling addicts and their families. In an Oct. 6, 2021 column in Business Mirror, Susan V. Ople warned that online sabong is emerging as a “secret pastime” of many overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), threatening the financial stability and mental health of many families.

Ople opined that despite the revenues from e-sabong that replenish government funds, especially for pandemic responses and remedies, there must be a “better way for government to earn revenues” without promoting e-sabong.

Presidential Decree No. 449, also known as the Cockfighting Law of 1974 signed by then President Ferdinand Marcos, explicitly prohibits gambling in cockpit arenas, stipulating that cockfighting should be permitted but regulated to maintain that it remains a “vehicle for the preservation and perpetuation of native Filipino heritage and thereby enhance our national identity.”

Yet, official investigations affirm anecdotes attesting to the involvement of some law enforcers and government officials in illegal cockfight operations, whether traditional or electronic. While authorities call for laws and technology to enable enforcers to go after parties involved in these illegalities, the lack of political will to resist and root out corruption remains the more crucial gap.

For Ver and other Filipinos living with the consequences of an irresistible but preventable addiction hinging on a duel to the death between two fighting cocks, sabong is a residue from the past that should have long been replaced by mindsets and practices that did not poison individuals, families, and societies.