'Missing sabungeros' probe: Pagcor hesitant to stop e-sabong; Atong Ang cries 'conspiracy'

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 4) – The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) is holding its horses on the suspension of e-sabong operations despite prodding from senators investigating the disappearances of more than 30 cockfight enthusiasts over the past year.

Several of them went missing from three arenas operated by Lucky 8 Star Quest, the e-sabong company of businessman Charlie "Atong" Ang.

At the second hearing of the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs on Friday, Pagcor chairperson Andrea Domingo recognized the need to resolve the alleged abductions, but stressed that the agency would risk violating rules without an order from President Rodrigo Duterte.

"Hindi po namin ayaw suspendihin (It's not that we don't want to suspend it)," Domingo said in response to Senate President Tito Sotto.

Last week, Sotto moved for the filing of a resolution urging Pagcor to halt e-sabong activities - a measure unanimously signed by his colleagues.

"Kailangan lang po talaga namin ng kaunting proteksyon mula kay Presidente kasi nga po hindi namin kayang sagutin yung gagawin ng COA (Commission on Audit) at yung mga kasong pwedeng ikaso sa amin kasi nga po malaking kawalan ng pera, loss of revenue. May mga auditing rules po diyan at may mga contractual obligations kami," Domingo added.

[Translation: We just really need a little bit of protection from the President because we cannot face COA and the cases that may be filed against us over loss of revenue. There are auditing rules and we have contractual obligations.]

The state regulator said revenues from e-sabong hit ₱400 million per month last year, and ₱640 million monthly since January.

Senator Grace Poe accused Pagcor of "using the President as an excuse to delay that decision."

Poe, who chairs the Committee on Public Services, also said issues surrounding Lucky 8 Star Quest must be addressed first before it is granted a new congressional franchise.

Ang revealed that his company alone gets ₱1 billion to ₱2 billion worth of bets everyday, or ₱30 to ₱60 billion monthly. Of its 5% commission, half goes to agents while Lucky 8 Star Quest gets the remaining amount of around ₱1.5 billion as revenue and operating fund every month.

Ang maintained that his company has nothing to do with the abductions of cockfight enthusiasts, and claimed there's a "conspiracy" against him.

"Ang Lucky 8 parang ginanun niyo lang na guilty e. Trial by publicity. Papatunayan ko sa inyo na may conspiracy rito. Wala kaming kinalaman riyan," Ang said.

[Translation: You treated Lucky 8 as if it were guilty. Trial by publicity. I will prove to you that there's a conspiracy here. We have nothing to do with that.]

He did not go into detail during the public hearing, but sought an audience privately with senators.

"Ayaw niyang sabihin kaya siya nagrequest ng executive session (He does not want to disclose publicly that's why he requested an executive session)," Public Order and Dangerous Drugs Committee chairman Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa said in a press conference after the eight-hour hearing.

Dela Rosa had also insisted that Pagcor should prioritize lives over revenue and hit the brakes on e-sabong activities now to prevent any more disappearances.

"Magdiretsahan tayo dito. Ano bang mas mahalaga sa inyo, yung pera na kinikita ninyo o yung buhay ng 34 na taong nawawala?" Dela Rosa told Domingo during the hearing.

[Translation: Let's go straight to the point here. What is the more important for you, the money that you earned or the lives of the 34 persons who are missing?]

Domingo said other e-sabong operators have written letters of appeal to Pagcor, questioning the possible suspension when no similar abductions happened in their jurisdictions. She said the Palace should take the licensees' concerns into consideration to ensure "fair and just treatment."