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Live ‘sabong’ betting needs congressional franchise (Sabong Arena)

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Genre Sabong Arena
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Article ID 00000526
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Last week, we published letters from Manila Cockers Club, Inc. (MCCI) and Games and Amusement Board (GAB) chair Abraham Mitra explaining their respective positions on the legality of live “sabong” (cockfighting) or “e-sabong.” The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) commented on the proliferation of online sabong in an opinion dated Aug. 21, 2017, to Rep. Gustavo Tambunting, chair of the House committee on games and amusement. Solicitor General Jose C. Calida said the “taking of bets during e-sabong broadcasts at off-track betting stations (OTBs) constitutes illegal gambling that is not legalized by the permission granted by the local government units (LGUs) or GAB. No law authorizes betting on cockfights in OTBs or in any location remote from where the cockfight is held.” But in his May 31 reappraised opinion to Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) chair Andrea Domingo about the agency’s power to regulate e-sabong, Calida had a different position. He said that “given that Presidential Decree 449 allows betting on cockfights conducted on licensed cockpits, it is significant to note that it does not prohibit betting remotely on the same.” The SolGen further asserted that “since an LGU cannot regulate, and consequently issue licenses on bets/games of chance made outside of its local jurisdiction, it is necessary to reexamine Pagcor’s charter under Republic Act 9487.” “It may be argued,” Calida said, that “Pagcor under its charter has the authority to authorize, regulate and issue licenses for e-sabong.” In a letter dated June 18, Domingo then informed Mitra and Cagayan Economic Zone Authority administrator Raul Lambino that “the findings of the OSG essentially upheld the position of Pagcor that e-sabong is a distinct activity from traditional cockfighting and derbies regulated by the LGUs and GAB.” “Thus, it is not regulated by any law and accordingly it can be argued that Pagcor, under its charter, has the jurisdiction to authorize, regulate and license e-sabong.” Mitra wrote back on June 26, asserting that “e-sabong is not a separate and distinct activity from actual cockfighting in the cockpits.” He further argued that “Pagcor’s authority does not extend to games of chance that are already authorized by LGUs and licensed by GAB, pursuant to the Local Government Code of 1991 and Executive Order 149 dated Dec. 28, 1993, creating the GAB.” Mitra ratiocinated that “the SolGen’s assertion that Pagcor may have authority to regulate e-sabong may not be deemed as a categorical pronouncement that e-sabong is indeed under the jurisdiction of Pagcor. It can be easily gleaned from the Aug. 1, 2017 and May 31, 2018 opinions of the SolGen that despite the variance of opinions on the aspect of the viewing and betting on e-sabong, the SolGen is consistent that e-sabong is still governed by P.D. 449, otherwise known as the Cockfighting Law of 1974.” Unfortunately, these new developments raise more questions. What happens now to the Department of Justice (DOJ) Opinion No. 25 dated March 22, 2006, s. 2006, which states that: “[T]hus, until the enactment of such a law by Congress granting franchise to tele-sabong, to rule on the question propounded by Pagcor on its authority over tele-sabong is premature or without legal basis as it should be the legislature which should confer such authority.” Has the DOJ opinion been superseded by the SolGen’s reappraised opinion? Which government entity now regulates e-sabong and betting? The municipality of Carmona which gave permits to MCCI and the other LGUs who allowed the operation of off-cockpit betting stations in areas under their jurisdiction? What about Pagcor which now argues that it has authority over e-sabong? Or is it GAB which has jurisdiction to authorize any form of betting in cockfighting nationwide after it absorbed the Philippine Gamefowl Commission? Who should regulate the livestreaming/live broadcasts of sabong on cable and satellite TV? Is live sabong and betting allowed by the Kapisanan ng Broadkaster ng Pilipinas and National Telecommunications Commission? Too many questions indeed. But as indicated in DOJ Opinion No. 25, a “legislative franchise” is now needed to address these issues on e-sabong.

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