MANILA (UPDATE)— President Rodrigo Duterte has rejected calls to suspend online sabong operations, citing the need for billions of revenue to the government amid the economic problems brought by the pandemic and rising oil prices.
During a taped public address that aired on Wednesday, Duterte said he became "interested" in e-sabong when government was forced to look for other sources of revenue.
"I hate gambling. Noon, wala pa tayong masyadong problema sa pera, di talaga ako pumayag. Then came a time when events happen and again konektado ito sa oil because the pandemic and everything, kailangan ko mag-look ng sources," Duterte said.
(Before, when we did not have any problems with money, I did not allow gambling. But then events happened and these are all connected to the pandemic and oil, so I had to look for sources.)
"Ang interest lang talaga ng gobyerno nito is yung pera. That is all there is to it, actually," he added.
(The government's only interest here is the money.)
Duterte said e-gambling should be regulated.
"Ang yayaman nito, nakikinabang ang gobyerno, pero ang yayaman nito yung mga operators. That is why there is need for a regulator on this particular game," said the President.
(The government benefits from this but the it's the operators who get rich.)
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said this task falls generally on the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR).
He said negative developments on e-sabong must be weighed against the economic impact of its proposed suspension.
Malacañang last week ordered the national police and PAGCOR to investigate the disappearance of around 30 cockfighting enthusiasts and possible violations by operators.
HOW MUCH DOES GOV'T EARN FROM E-SABONG OPS?
PAGCOR earned nearly P3.7 billion from April to December 2021 from e-sabong and another P1.4 billion so far this year, said gaming regulator chief Andrea Domingo.
"Sa aming projection, aabot sa P7.2 billion hanggang P8 billion ang magiging koleksyon sa e-sabong ngayong taon na 'to," she said.
(Based on our projection, collections from e-sabong will reach P7.2 billion to P8 billion this year.)
Suspending online sabong operations might lead to the rise of illegal gambling, she warned.
Duterte said he was responding cautiously to the issue due to potential revenue losses.
"Ang ano ko lang habol ay figures nga na naibigay na sa akin kaya maintindihan ng Congress, marinig niyo kung ilan yung kinikita, kaya ako dahan-dahan na hindi muna ako nag-react kaagad," he said.
(The only thing I am interested in is the figures. I hope the Congress understands. This is why I did not react immediately.)
"Mamimili ako ngayon, mawawala yung income mo by the billions, allowing it... sayang eh, wala tayong pera. We are short of money," he added.
(I have to choose whether to lose income by the billions. It is a waste, we do not have money.)
He said he was undecided on a proposal to limit e-sabong to daytime operations as "it will mean a reduction of income."
In light of controversies hounding online sabong, Duterte appealed to lawmakers, "Huwag na lang ninyong anuhin 'yan, kumikita 'yan."
(Do not... it is earning.)
Asked what Duterte meant, his acting spokesman Martin Andanar said, "Ang ibig sabihin po ng Presidente ay huwag magpadalus-dalos sa pagsuspinde nang hindi napag-aaralan ng kabuuan."
(The President only means that we should not rush in deciding about the suspension unless we have studied it carefully.)
A Senate body earlier passed a resolution urging PAGCOR to suspend the licenses of several operators over the disappearance of "sabungeros."
Some e-sabong operators said they had yet to install CCTV cameras at their newly-built establishments when some of their patrons went missing.
Addiction to e-sabong reportedly forced a woman to sell her baby to settle debts, while a young man lost nearly all of his family's savings.
Gambling, particularly e-sabong, is one of the most difficult addictions to manage, warned psychologist Dr. Randy Dellosa.
"Sabong is very culturally condoned and tolerated in the Philippines. [It] can be addictive is because of the culture and festivity. You're not only going there to bet. There's a whole culture and environment you are addicted to. Your friends are there; you're addicted to the noise," he said.