Dela Rosa panel eyeing law
further regulating e-sabong

Sen. Ronald dela Rosa

THE Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs has wrapped up its investigation into the cases of missing cockfight aficionados, with its chairman, Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa reading out initial recommendations, including the crafting of a law that would regulate Online Sabong and limit its holding and availability only during Sundays and holidays.

The hearing on Monday was the fourth for the committee which is looking into the reported kidnapping and disappearance on separate occasions of a total of 34 “sabungeros” in three cockpit arenas in Manila, Laguna and Batangas that were operated by the online-sabong firm of businessman Charlie “Atong” Ang.

Meanwhile, during the hearing, dela Rosa and fellow administration senator Francis Tolentino questioned the grant of government’s permission for “e-sabong betting” on the very day marking the death of Jesus Christ on the Cross.

Tolentino said the cockfight betting on “e-sabong” on Good Friday was a “gross disregard of the holiest religious observance” among Christian Catholics, and added, “They did not respect the faith and long tradition in the country when Christian Catholics observe Holy Week.” It was likely, he quipped, that  “they forgot they are also regulating E-Sabong.”

Tolentino acknowledged, however, it will likely “take many hours, weeks and months” to hammer out a law addressing the e-sabong situation, but quickly added it cannot disregard a tradition in the country, like “sabong.”

Panel recommendations

Aside from the regulation of the e-sabong—which, as Ang earlier testified before the committee, earned at least P2 billion for his company alone—the Senate committee also sought the delineation in the power and roles of agencies of government in the operation of the online cockfighting following the “finger pointing” as to who is responsible over the mess and alleged violations attributed to Ang’s company.

Likewise, dela Rosa’s committee recommended stricter “policing” of online betting in order to ensure that minors are shielded from it and for the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) to immediately collect the taxes due from online sabong operators and their companies.

The recommendations are among the measures to be included in the final report of dela Rosa’s committee.

At Monday’s hearing, Nicolas Mano, 22, and his younger brother, 21, denied their involvement in the kidnapping and disappearance of

Johndel Francisco and his driver on April 18, 2021 at the Ang-operated cockpit in Sta. Cruz, Laguna. This, despite their earlier admission to Francisco’s wife, which was recorded.

They also denied they were assets of the police, despite admitting it, also to Francisco’s wife, who claimed she even saw the two suspects in the company of policemen. The members of the committee initially believed they were in cahoots with these cops.

The Mano brothers were arrested by the National Bureau of Investigation on separate anti-illegal drugs charges on June 8, 2021 in Batangas City. According to their NBI case officer, lawyer Eduardo Ramos Jr., they were identified by witnesses and complainants as the abductors of Francisco.

Ramos said the arrest of the two during the operation was covered live by a television station and when the network aired it, the complainants officially identified them as the perpetrators.

One of the brothers was even wearing Francisco’s wristwatch, as claimed by his wife and confirmed by Ramos.

Francisco’s wife said that when she confronted the Manos at the NBI headquarters in Manila following their arrest, one of them claimed it was given by her husband, even while admitting the abduction. He also told her Francisco “went under” in Laguna, which meant the victim had been killed and buried.

The woman told the committee that the wristwatch was already with the NBI and being kept as evidence.

Testifying before the committee Nicolas and his brother denied all of the claims, although it was caught and recorded by Francisco’s wife.

Questioned by dela Rosa about the kidnapping, their relationship with policemen, the wristwatch and their conversation with Francisco’s wife, the brothers denied everything and professed their innocence even if they were seated beside Ramos, as the committee chairman, himself a former National Police chief, could not help observing.

In capping the hearing, dela Rosa appealed to the police and the NBI to make sure their investigations into the cases of the missing 34 sabungeros will yield positive results, stressing that justice must be served to the victims and their families no “matter how rich and powerful” the suspect[s] are.

Lawyer Noel Bocaling, the NBI assistant regional director and agent in charge, said like the senators, they wanted to solve the cases because they too, are very concerned.

He said the country was mired by cases of desaparecidos a long time ago and “now, it is happening again.”


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