Filipino cock fighters who disappeared show the pitfalls of becoming addicted

RELATIVES has photos of some cockfighting aficionados (sabungeros) who disappeared from Manila and Laguna while seeking help in Malacañang on January 31. – PHILIPPINE STAR / MICHAEL VARCAS

By Patricia B. Mirasol, Journalist

DIANNE V. LOYOLA’s husband, whose job it was to attach hook-like blades to the legs of roosters who fight to the death, disappeared in January amid suspicions of game-fixing in the online version of a multi-billion peso industry that has since been banned.

The husband, Ferdinand, was one of about three dozen cockpit workers and players from the Philippines’ main island of Luzon who were allegedly kidnapped over a period of time when many Filipinos locked down by a pandemic of coronavirus have become addicted to gambling including e-sabong or online cockfighting.

“E-sabong has flourished in our village during the pandemic,” Ms. Loyola, a 32-year-old housewife from Tanay, Rizal, said over the phone in Filipino. “It’s easy to place a bet but it’s also easy to lose.”

Cockfighting had become an online craze in the Philippines before the government banned the blood sport amid workers and players disappearing under suspicious circumstances.

Online gambling broadcast on live streaming platforms has allowed Filipinos to place bets on their cellphones while locked at home.

An international study by David Hodgins in 2021 found that gambling has flourished during lockdown, especially among young men.

“As a gaffer (a person who puts blades on the legs of roosters), he came home with 500 pesos a win,” said Ms. Loyola, whose husband sold motorcycles at Motorlandia. “In e-sabong, he got up to 2,000 pesos. If the rooster lost, he got nothing from his boss.

Online cockfighting was bad for business, said Verman T. Reyes, owner of loan company Verman Loans, Inc.

“We have employees who have become addicted to it,” he said in a Facebook Messenger chat. “Some of our collectors have used company money to bet.”

He said some of those workers ended up borrowing money to pay off his business. “Others could no longer be found.”

Gambling destroys the family, said Randolf S. David, professor emeritus of sociology at the University of the Philippines.

“Trust is eroded, savings meant for emergencies are lost and worse, debts pile up,” he said in an email, noting how the game has been made easily accessible through technology. . “I’m glad the government finally decided to arrest him, but many have gone into hiding.”

IN JAIL OR DEAD
“Responsible governments who are aware of the effects of gambling on their citizens are thinking twice before allowing it under very strict regulations,” David said, noting that it could complement tourism and never as a source of exclusive income.

Gambling addiction has social costs, including domestic violence, child neglect and mental illnesses such as depression, Irene B. Dumlao, manager and director of the social welfare department, said in an email. .

Recovering addicts advise that it’s always best not to even start.

“Nothing can beat the first high,” said Reagan, 41, a recovering gambling addict who has been sober for 11 years. “You are constantly going to chase that top. I was caught up in the thrill of the chase. The more I lost, the stronger my motivation to play was.

He said a player usually ends up either in jail, in a medical facility, or dead.

Melbert John Santos, one of the 34 missing, was simply hired to lead a group of cock fighters to the AA Cobra Cockpit Arena in Sta. Cruz, Laguna earlier this year, partner Rowelyn S. Ebit said by phone. “His father’s van was rented and he was asked to drive it,” she said. “He was not a player.”

Gambling addiction is classified as a substance-related and addictive disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the first recognized non-substance behavioral addiction.

Under a local mental health law, people with addictions are eligible for psychosocial and neurological services.

Gambling disorders can run in families, said Beverly Denice T. Ongson, a licensed psychologist and board-certified administrator of Dear Future Self PH, a mental health services organization. Trauma and social inequality are risk factors, she said in an email.

“Counseling can help the person take control of their gambling habits, repair broken relationships, cope with gambling urges, and manage life or work stresses,” she said. “It can also help maintain recovery and avoid triggers.”

“Sometimes I thought about killing myself,” Reagan said. “Sad to say, the drug addict holds the stability of the family. If we don’t agree, everything falls apart.

Ms Loyola and the families of the missing Cockfighters still look forward to when they will see them again.

“Our wish is that they be released,” she said. “That’s what’s important, that we see our loved ones again.”

Everyone in the cockfighting arena in Sta. Cruz, is low key, Ms. Ebit said.

“I know those who took them have their own family,” she said. “A lot of children are waiting to be raised again by their father. I don’t wish that on anyone.”

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