If you know anything about “sabong” or cockfighting which is considered the national pastime of the good old Philippines, then you would know that “PAGO” is the cockfighting term for “bet” as in ang “pago” ni Mayor or the mayor’s bet is so and so. I connected the word PAGO with POGO given how President Rodrigo Duterte recently said he would not give up on POGO because it gives him an easy P2 billion (I think?) to help bankroll the Universal Health Care Program. If the president can endorse POGO in the interest of UHC, please allow me to endorse “sabong” to our lawmakers and government officials who’ve made the mistake of belittling the sport and treating it like a vice while allowing all forms of state sponsored and operated forms of gambling.In a recent episode of AGENDA on Cignal-TV, we tackled the possible fallback once COVID-19 begins to seriously affect different industries such as tourism, aviation, etc. One of our guests, George Barcelon of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, pointed out that tourism alone contributes 12.7 percent of the Gross Domestic Product. With COVID-19, that will surely be cut in half if not more. On the other hand, the agriculture sector has so much potential and is only at seven percent of the GDP. He suggested that the government and the private sector should all get together to reinvest in agriculture, study, plan and implement a serious national program because that will enable agriculture to make up for what tourism will surely lose and suffer in the next six to 12 months if not more. The sad fact is we plowed so much time, money and attention to tourism and treated agriculture as a perennial disappointment and expense. Ironically, that was how past governments treated tourism until the PNoy and Duterte administration really went big on their promotions. Like they say, never have favorites, treat everyone the same. When I shared all these with Secretary William Dar, he liked the idea of giving agriculture a fresh and serious start, but when I talked sabong, I immediately knew that it was not in his vast treasury of expertise. So I explained. While most people think of sabong as pure and simple gambling, very few are aware that it is a full pledged P3 billion plus industry. There are thousands of “gamefowl farms” all over the Philippines that cover thousands of hectares of land. One island, Negros, has even earned a reputation as the premier place for gamefowls in the Philippines. Many of the farms all over the country are fenced to keep thieves and rodents out. These farms are cared for by an average of four to as many as 20 farm boys and the value of fighting cocks, hens etc. can total to several millions of pesos per farm. These high value fowls are fed only the best gamefowl feeds and I know of farms that spend upward of P50,000 a month just on feeds. Then there are the medicines, vaccines, and vitamins that also cost a lot. Supplying those necessary products are companies like BMeg, San Miguel Animal Health Care, Harbest, Nylon Net fence suppliers, fabricators and manufacturers of pens and cages and feed cups and water dispensers. In short, the sport of sabong generates enough business to sustain the country’s big feed mills, animal drug manufacturers, electric companies, municipal water districts etc. At the tail end comes all the cockpits all over the country that also generate jobs and small businesses for vendors of sabong related products and food stalls. On top of it all there are so many tax generating and tax collection points along the way. By the way, sabong is so big that there are 2 major events each year that features nothing else but fighting cocks, hens and equipment at the SMX and at the World Trade Center.But here’s the kicker, you can bet on Lotto every other day of the week, thousands of Chinese workers have employment in POGO joints, STL has become the legitimate version of jueteng but sabong is treated the same way it’s been treated 50 years ago. Officially speaking sabong is only allowed on weekends and holidays or as special events as rich peoples’ circuit derby at the dome or Resorts World where it’s also featured as a tourist attraction. Anyone who wants to hold sabong outside of those restrictions need to get chummy with the local Mayor or council. Several experts and veteran sabungeros recently talked shop with me and pointed out that this is one sport or form of gambling that is 90 percent about agriculture and only 10 percent gambling. If the government, lawmakers and local officials treated sabong as a business and as a legitimate aspect of agriculture, and allowed more events all over the country, that alone would double the production and demand for gamefowls, create more jobs increase demand for feeds and equipment etc.Perhaps, the sabungeros inside Congress should stand up and be counted or come out and do something to boost the sport and the industry. They should invite the unschooled legislators to their farms and explain the economics, the job generation, and the contribution of what uninformed people mistakenly judge and label as the common man’s form of gambling. Yes Sabong is the sport of kings and commoners but as I mentioned it is first 90 percent agriculture, and only 10 percent gambling.