A committee of the Philippine Senate investigating the mysterious disappearances of 34 men with connections to the newly regulated online cockfighting (e-sabong) market wrapped up proceedings this week.
But The Philippine Inquirer reports the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs was no closer to learning what had happened to the missing men.
All of the victims were suspected of involvement in match-fixing schemes, which usually involve sabotaging the performance of a rooster for the benefit of a gambling syndicate.
In many cases, they were last seen in one of three cockpit arenas operated by Lucky 8 Star Quest Inc, a licensed e-sabong company, according to the Inquirer. Some were seen conversing with cockpit security officers before they disappeared.
‘Atong’ Ang Denies Involvement
Lucky 8 Star Quest Inc is owned by gambling tycoon Charlie “Atong” Ang. A controversial figure in the Philippines, Ang is a former illegal numbers operator and crony of ex-Philippine President Joseph Estrada, who was impeached in 2000 for corruption. Ang also spent time in prison on “plunder” charges.
Testifying at a committee hearing last month, he denied any involvement in the disappearances and claimed there was a “conspiracy” against him by rival operators.
But on Monday, chair of the Senate committee Ronald Dela Rosa said the panel will recommend that the CIDG (Criminal Investigation and Detection Group) and the DOJ “gather more evidence against ‘Atong’ Ang and the other officials of pitmasters.”
Several people have been arrested on suspicion of involvement in the kidnappings, including five police officers. CIDG chief Gen. Eliseo Cruz told the committee his agency had already filed kidnapping and robbery charges against the officers.
Other recommendations of the Senate committee include making security cameras in betting stations and cockpits arenas a compulsory condition of licensing. Dela Rosa said the investigation had been hampered by a lack of available security footage.
He also wants to introduce a new law that would limit e-sabong operations to Sundays and public holidays, bringing them in line with existing laws on traditional cockfights.
Duterte Won’t Suspend Market
Last month, the committee called on President Rodrigo Duterte to suspend the e-sabong market while the investigation into the disappearances was ongoing. The president declined, citing the revenue licensed operations were generating for government coffers.
I will choose now between losing income by the billions. It’s such a waste,” Duterte told lawmakers. “We don’t have money. We’re short on money.”
E-sabong exploded in popularity during the Philippines’ extended coronavirus lockdown when many live venues were closed to spectators. This spurred the government to tax and regulate it.
Gambling regulator PAGCOR began issuing the first licenses in May 2021, shortly after people started to go missing.
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