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6 more charged with kidnapping of sabungeros

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Six more persons have been charged with kidnapping after a spate of mysterious disappearances in the country’s massive cockfighting industry, authorities said Friday, with dozens of victims feared dead.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) said in a statement that apart from the six—all cockpit security personnel—prosecutors had found probable cause to file charges against three former police officers, Police Staff Sgt. Daryl Panghangaan and patrolmen Roy Navarete and Rigel Brosas, for allegedly robbing and abducting a man from his house.

Police said the victim—Ricardo Lasco, accused of operating a fake betting website—was taken from his home in August last year.

Last week, the Justice Department said it found sufficient basis to indict the three police officers for robbery and kidnapping following the disappearance of the “sabungero” in Laguna in August 2021.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) said five officers were dismissed over the case, including the three being charged.

The cockpit security personnel are also being charged with kidnapping after witnesses saw them bundle six players into a van against their will during a cockfight in January.

Prosecutors said they found sufficient basis to indict farm manager Julie Patidongan, Gleer Codilla, Mark Carlo Zabala, Virgilio Bayog, Johnry Consolacion, and Roberto Matillano Jr.

The DOJ prosecutors said the six conspired in the kidnapping of John Claude Inonog, James Baccay, Marlon Baccay, Rondel Cristorum, Mark Joseph Velasco, and Rowel Gomez on Jan. 13.

The cockfighting enthusiasts left Tanay, Rizal at 1 p.m. to go to the Manila Arena but were forced to board a gray van at around 7:30 p.m.

Venancio Inonog, the father of one of the victims, told the DOJ that his son had told him on the phone that they were forced to board a van. Venancio said he also heard screaming before the call was cut off.

The six cockfighting enthusiasts were never seen again, and their vehicle was found abandoned in Brgy. Sampaloc, Tanay, Rizal.

Prosecutors said the respondents were the last persons positively identified by a witness to have forcibly taken the victims.

A Senate investigation found the players were suspected of sabotaging their roosters so they would lose, while secretly betting on their opponents.

There are at least 27 people still missing in other suspected kidnappings linked to cockfighting around Metro Manila. State prosecutors are investigating some of the other cases but have yet to file charges.

Police have said that many of the victims were last seen alive inside the cockpits.

Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla has said all 34 people missing in the cases are likely dead.

Prosecutors decided to press charges against the police officers and the cockpit security guards “in light of the positive identification (of the suspects) and credible testimonies of the complainants’ witnesses,” the Justice Department said in its statement.

Authorities said they expected to bring charges in the other missing persons cases but hopes of finding the victims alive were fading.

“I wouldn’t even want to call them missing cockfighters, but probably dead cockfighters,” Remulla told reporters this week.

“The probability of them coming out (alive) is not very high.”

Filipinos from all walks of life wager millions of pesos on matches every week between roosters who fight to the death with razor-sharp metal spurs tied to their legs.

The sport, banned in many other countries, survived coronavirus pandemic restrictions by going online, drawing many more bettors who use their mobile phones to place wagers.

The abductions shone a spotlight on the seedy underbelly of the online cockfighting industry, in which fights were held in empty arenas and livestreamed to millions of bettors.

Taxes from the fights helped to replenish government coffers depleted by the pandemic, but then-president Rodrigo Duterte banned the livestreaming shortly before he left office on June 30, while allowing traditional cockfighting to resume. With AFP

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