Intentional delay and ‘resbak’

Days after announcements that President Rodrigo Duterte has agreed to suspend online sabong, Malacañang has declared that they have not received a formal resolution from the Senate or recommendation from Pagcor to suspend e-sabong. News reports, on the other hand, quote Pagcor sources as saying that they have not received instructions from the President while Senator Bato Dela Rosa says that a soft copy of the resolution has been sent to the President and Pagcor as of Feb. 28, and a hard copy the following day. According to Malacañang, the Senate resolution must be given to Pagcor which in turn must give their recommendation to the Office of the President.

In basketball parlance I already see a potential “intentional delay” game plan in the making, given that Pagcor earns P3 million to P3.5 million a day from online sabong, and that investors and incorporators can earn ten times that if not more. There is no incentive for Pagcor or the Office of the President to act with haste or expedite the suspension of licenses of e-sabong operators.

Meanwhile, the Senate is continuing their investigation to determine what laws were broken by Pagcor when they empowered or authorized themselves to issue “franchises” or licenses for a gambling model that was not covered by their charter or provided by law. When I told Senator Bato dela Rosa that Pagcor was citing the opinions of the Solicitor General, DOJ and the Executive Secretary, Senator Dela Rosa curtly pointed out that “an opinion is just an opinion.” Perhaps the Senate can consider placing Pagcor under the supervision of an external or independent board for oversight or under the Government Commission for Government Owned and Controlled Corporations and NOT under the Office of the President, which effectively makes it slightly untouchable to check and balance.

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While writing this article, I was reminded of President Duterte’s repeated threats that go: “If you destroy my people – I will kill you!” Well, Mr. President, the latest news report suggests that there are now 31 missing people related to e-sabong, many politicians and leaders have decried how e-sabong has led to gambling addictions, suicides, bankruptcy and now even policemen are suspected to be involved in the abduction and disappearance of victims as well as collectors for loan sharks. Mr. President, your people are being destroyed by online sabong while Pagcor officials are collecting blood money through gaming licenses. Will you now keep your word?

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During the Senate investigation on the missing 31 sabungeros last week, Senator Francis Tolentino appealed to GCash, PayMaya and other mobile payments services to drop or to stop servicing e-sabong payments. Not everyone picked up the story or the fact that a large volume of transactions for these electronic payment companies are directly for BETS made on online sabong. During our interview on the program AGENDA on Cignal TV, Senator Bato Dela Rosa, who led the investigation, shared that roughly 75 percent + or – of the income of GCash was from online sabong.

Two days later GCash came out with a statement: “While there are other platforms dealing with e-sabong, at GCash, we ensure strict compliance with guidelines of Pagcor, BSP, DICT to promote safety and security of our users. We do this with proper verification and monitoring as what may be required by various regulatory bodies.”

Senator Tolentino was apparently trying to appeal to the corporate social responsibility of the companies to stop receiving “payments” made to e-sabong accounts, but when hundreds of millions are at stake, it may be hard to prioritize CSR versus profit. But Senator Tolentino, being a lawyer and now lawmaker, may have an ace in hand if he delves deeper into the grey area between the business of electronic payments versus the fact that the payments made to e-sabong accounts are actually bets for the fights. As a result, the companies are effectively operating, albeit indirectly, as betting terminals or betting stations which I don’t think is covered or authorized by their registrations at SEC and their business licenses.

Given all the regulations on financial transactions and payments related to money laundering, I doubt very much if the companies receiving the bets can claim ignorance of the fact that they in effect are the conduit for bets made on cockfights online. I’m speculating about potential anti-trust issues and the concept of “mule accounts” that could open a can of worms. One unhappy former participant in these online sabong has suggested for the Senate to invite the BIR and inquire on the record of payments made by incorporators and investors of online sabong, especially those in the class A & B category who get monthly dividends in the millions, some of whom have been buying hectares of prime properties.

Aside from the intentional delay in suspending online sabong, reports have trickled in from provinces that traditional sabong will remain prohibited until Alert Level 1 is declared for the province. Traditional cockfighters call it “resbak” or getting back at the critics of online sabong as there has long been a suspicion that many mayors or LGUs have been enticed or corrupted by e-sabong operators, and the pronouncements and “rumors” being spread is under the direction of certain operators to frustrate those clamoring for the return to traditional sabong or an act of allegiance by corrupted local officials.

By coincidence Senator Francis Tolentino recently appealed to local officials to restore traditional sabong in order to phase out online sabong. While it may not be their expertise, Senator Tolentino and Senator Dela Rosa could be the champions of a multi-billion industry, employing millions of Filipinos in related industries by working with various sectors to get a deep understanding of the industry and craft legislation that will recognize traditional cockfighting as the real industry that it is. The industry sorely needs representation for the billions of pesos generated, the millions of jobs created and protection for citizens being exploited by e-sabong.

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