MANILA (AFP): Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has vowed to ban online cockfighting following outcry over the industry sparked by the disappearance of dozens of workers and concerns about the social costs of gambling.
Cockfighting is a popular sport in the South-East Asian nation, but the Covid-19 pandemic forced the closure of traditional arenas where spectators flock to watch roosters wearing bladed spurs fight to the death.
The government instead granted franchises to seven firms to show the bloody contests and take bets online -- known as "e-sabong" -- 24 hours a day.
Duterte had previously rejected calls to stop the practice, noting that the roughly 640 million pesos (US$12 million) in monthly taxes from the industry were helping to replenish government coffers depleted by the pandemic.
But in a recorded television address aired Tuesday (May 3), weeks before he leaves office, Duterte said "e-sabong will end by tonight".
Interior Secretary Eduardo Ano had advised Duterte to ban it due to its "social impact".
"This is his recommendation and I agree with it and it is good," Duterte said.
A presidential palace official told AFP Tuesday that a ban had not yet been issued.
Online cockfighting came under scrutiny this year after the alleged kidnapping and suspected murder of 34 people who had supplied roosters to a licensed e-sabong operator.
Senator Ronald dela Rosa, a Duterte ally who chaired a public hearing into the sport in March, said the victims were suspected of sabotaging the roosters so they would lose their fights. They would then bet on the other roosters.
Online cockfight operators told the hearing that about three billion pesos were bet on cockfights in the Philippines every day.
The easy availability of e-sabong platforms also fuelled unease as reports emerged of fans becoming addicted to gambling, neglecting their work and families, and pawning assets for bets.
In one extreme case, a young Manila mother was accused of selling her eight-month-old daughter for about 45,000 pesos to a buyer she contacted through social media in March to pay off e-sabong debts.
Police said the girl was later found and the buyer arrested.
Traditional cockfighting operators have also been wary of the online version, which they said had effectively cornered all the money generated by the sport.
"Most of the other cockpit operators were unable to earn anything for more than two years already," Alfredo Lamoste, a Manila-based pit manager, told AFP recently.
Spokespeople for e-sabong operators could not be reached for comment.