December 4, 2022

To uphold Baguio’s policy against the operation of traditional cockfighting and recently the online or e-sabong, members of the city council are exploring ways to totally restrict residents from betting in any form of cockfighting.

During their regular session on June 21, the councilors expressed alarm over the possibility of e-sabong becoming rampant in the city, as it can be easily accessed via the digital platform by anyone, whether it involves games licensed by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. or those that are illegally operated.

This was after the Pagcor Licensing Department told the council there are four licensed e-sabong operators nationwide, and there indeed are entities that operate illegally or those that are not licensed by Pagcor.

For the licensed operators, Pagcor Licensing Department Manager Rodenmarx Gatdula said anybody from any point of the country could access these e-sabong platforms and watch and place their bets, as long as they meet the qualifications prescribed by Pagcor and are duly registered in their system.

He said e-sabong games are those that take place from a local government unit-licensed cockpit arena which are streamed live in a digital platform by licensed operators. Other e-sabong activities that do not meet this requirement are considered illegal, but he said it is possible that such illegal operations exist. To stop them, they need to coordinate and work with government enforcement agencies, LGUs, and concerned citizens as Pagcor on its own does not have police power over illegal gambling activities.

The councilors told Pagcor the situation presents a serious problem.

The city has an old but standing policy against cockfighting and has recently passed an ordinance banning e-sabong, reason why no locational clearances for the establishment of cockpits in the city have ever been issued, and the city council has denied a recent application for live streaming of e-sabong in the city.

Councilors Fred Bagbagen, Philian Allan, Betty Lourdes Tabanda, and Michael Lawana raised the fear that even with these measures, anyone, including Baguio residents, may easily access online betting platforms, whether these are legal and illegal.

Tabanda said with the city’s policy against cockfighting, the Pagcor may be infringing upon the city’s autonomy to prohibit such games.

“The city has an ordinance which prohibits cockfighting, it is a statement of policy of the city. Shouldn’t you respect that? Is it possible that there should be no betting from the city and respect our local autonomy or ordinance? Our stand is very clear and you are infringing on our local autonomy if you are establishing a betting platform contrary to our policy,” Tabanda said.

Gatdula said Pagcor respects the position of the city and all other LGUs that do not want e-sabong to be played in their areas.

In the framework Pagcor drafted for the regulation of e-sabong, he said LGUs may call the attention of Pagcor through a resolution if they do not want their citizens to gain access to e-sabong and any other licensed games by Pagcor.

Pagcor, he said, can include all registered residents of such LGU in their national database of restricted players so that they will not be able to enroll and have access to these platforms.

“Pagcor always practices gaming responsibility, and part of this is really to promote our national database of restricted players so we can define who can and cannot access not only e-sabong but also other forms of gaming and entertainments we have,” Gatdula told the council.

Lawana said this safety net is good but then, basing on testimonies, anyone can easily register fake names or gain access through agents who can enroll anybody in the system and be able to watch the livestream and place bets.

Bagbagen, while suggesting to adopt Pagcor’s suggestion for the city to pass the resolution, was reluctant in doing so because the restriction will only cover legal e-sabong operations.

“If we are to restrict the legal operations, what will flourish is illegal e-sabong because we have no control over them,” he said.

The council deferred action on the issue and referred it to the proper body which has been tasked to closely coordinate with Pagcor to further discuss and study the best course of action to restrict the residents from betting and e-sabong operation as a whole. – Hanna C. Lacsamana