E-sabong operations to continue as Malacañang orders swift probe

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 9)— The Office of the President (OP) ordered a joint investigation into the case of over 30 missing cockfighting enthusiasts, brushing aside for the meantime senators' call for the suspension of online cockfighting operations.

The memorandum signed by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea was shared by state media PTV-4 on Wednesday.

President Rodrigo Duterte's office directed the Philippine National Police (PNP) and National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to conduct a thorough probe on the case of the missing sabungeros. They were ordered to submit their findings to the OP and Department of Justice within 30 days.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra reported that the NBI has found a lead, but that no further details were provided. The PNP said its personnel are continuing to gather essential case evidence.

Violations of licensees

The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) was told to look into possible violations of e-sabong licensees. It was also directed to ensure compliance with safety and surveillance requirements in gaming sites, including the installation of CCTVs.

Pagcor chairperson Andrea Domingo, during the second hearing of the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs last week, was hesitant to stop e-sabong operations pending a formal order from Duterte.

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

Pagcor sought Duterte's protection due to the loss of revenue that will be caused by the suspension of online cockfighting operations. The state regulator said revenues from e-sabong hit ₱400 million per month last year, and ₱640 million monthly since January.

There are currently seven e-sabong operators licensed by Pagcor: Belvedere 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.

At least 34 people linked to e-sabong activities have been reported missing since April last year. Senate Public Order and Dangerous Drugs Committee chairman Ronald Dela Rosa said these were players, "master agents" or recruiters, and drivers whose whereabouts remain unknown up to this day.