E-Sabong Operations in the Philippines Ordered to Cease Immediately

On May 2, 2022, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines said that he will order the termination of online cockfighting operations in the countries. Previously, Duterte resisted the calls to shut down the games, citing the loss of potential government revenue.

The change in the decision was based on the recommendation of Interior Secretary Eduardo M. Año who was tasked to examine the social costs of online cockfighting. “The recommendation of Secretary Año is to do away with e-sabong and he cited the validation report coming from all sources. So it’s his recommendation and I agree with it, it’s good, so e-sabong will end,” Duterte stated.

E-sabong or online cockfighting gained popularity during the pandemic. Filipino gamblers only needed to place bets using their mobile phones. However, the concerning disappearance of at least 30 people allegedly connected to online cockfighting prompted a Senate investigation and urged calls for its suspension.

According to policy analysts, the order to stop online cockfighting operations might force operators and workers to go underground. John Paolo R. Rivera, an economist at the Asian Institute of Management said that stopping e-sabong operations abruptly without providing a clear roadmap for the affected sectors would likely force small-time operators and workers to operate illegally.

“Just like the other gambling operations suspended, this latest decision might temporarily fail to totally disenfranchise operations. Other operators may continue operating underground… The unintended consequences of this sudden decision would kick in,” he added.

Jefferson A. Arapoc, an economist at the University of the Philippines (UP) Los Baños said, “Underground e-sabong operations are expected to flourish as the government has shown it is unable to regulate online activities such as scams and sex trafficking. The Duterte administration’s order to stop e-sabong operations would depend on the government’s capability to implement it. His decision could have done more damage than good — imagine the government losing revenues while e-sabong continues to thrive in the underground economy.”

Previously, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR) estimated revenues from online cockfighting averaged P400 million monthly in 2021 and P640 million a month since January 2022. Duterte acknowledged that the government’s previous stand on e-sabong was based on the economic benefits. “It’s working against our values,” Duterte said. “The impact on families and on people, it turns out players are not sleeping for 24 hours.”

PAGCOR Chief Operating Officer Alfredo C. Lim said, “We are duty-bound to follow whatever is the decision of the President on e-sabong, which I am sure is always guided for the people in general.”

Senators welcomed Duterte’s latest decision. Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III said, “The suspension of e-sabong operations in the country, while delayed, will pave the way for families to recover from their financial losses.”

Secretary Año said that the order is effective immediately. Malacañang is yet to release a signed written order.