Palace clears e-sabong ops as probe of missing goes on

MALACAÑANG has allowed “e-sabong” (online cockfighting) operations to continue despite the ongoing investigation by authorities on the reported gambling-related crimes linked to the enterprise, including the apparent abduction of 34 people.

It made the decision in response to the Senate’s appeal for the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) to defer the “e-sabong” activities pending the resolution of the ongoing Senate inquiry on the cases of over 30 missing cockfighting workers and enthusiasts.

“Unless directed, the operations of e-sabong licenses shall remain unaffected pending the result of the above investigations,” Executive Secretary Salvador C. Medialdea said in a memorandum issued on Tuesday, but only released to the media the following day.

Pagcor earlier told the Senate it nets on average nearly P700 million monthly from seven licensed e-sabong outfits. The biggest of them, Charlie “Atong” Ang’s Lucky 8 Star Quest, grosses some P3 billion.

The Palace go-ahead for e-sabong to continue came as Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra disclosed that the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has found a lead in its investigation on the 34 missing people.

Guevarra, however, said the NBI did not provide further information on its ongoing probe.

At the second Senate hearing on March 4, police probers told the Public Order and Dangerous Drugs panel led by Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa that authorities have in custody a witness who saw 14 men, including six security personnel at Manila Arena, seize the first batch of the missing persons.

“Yesterday I was informed by the NBI that they had found a lead, but no further information was given,” Guevarra said.

“I am confident that the NBI and the PNP (Philippine National Police) will soon come up with positive results. It is improbable that 34 persons in strikingly similar situations would disappear without a trace,” he added.

Even before the OP gave the orders for the NBI and the PNP to conduct a joint investigation on the 34 missing cockfighting enthusiasts, Guevarra had already issued an order last February 17 directing the NBI, through its Officer-in-Charge Eric Distor, to conduct its investigation.

The NBI was specifically ordered to probe the “reported abduction and disappearance of sabungeros (cockfighting aficionados) in various places during the past few weeks and, if evidence warrants, to file the appropriate charges against all persons involved and found responsible for any unlawful act in connection therewith,” Guevarra had said.

In the one-page issuance, Medialdea ordered the Philippine National Police and the National Bureau of Investigation to look into the cases of the missing “sabungeros.”

Both investigating agencies were directed to submit the result of their probe to the DOJ within 30 days from the issuance of the memorandum.

Medialdea also told Pagcor to check the compliance by “e-sabong” licensees to the Regulatory Framework for E-Sabong Off Cockpit Betting Station, which includes the installation of close circuit  television (CCTV) systems in e-sabong gaming sites.

Senator Dela Rosa earlier said in a television interview that President Duterte supports senators’ appeal to suspend the e-sabong operations.

Pagcor, however, denied this at the second Senate hearing, adding it has yet received any word from Malacañang for the suspension of “e-sabong” operations.

It noted the suspension will have legal implications and cause “serious” revenue loss for the government.

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