Baham Mitra—On GAB, Sabong Rules Standardization and Politics

Was it a chance encounter?

One Monday afternoon, I had a scheduled meeting with an executive from a leading company that caters to the game fowl industry. When we were about to wrap up what we have discussed, he mentioned that right after our meeting he will be having another one lined up next.

I had no idea who the next person the said executive will be meeting, until when I left the room and descended the stairs going to the exit door where I would surrender my Visitor’s ID as part of the company’s security protocol.

As I was about to handover the Visitor’s ID and slip to the guard on duty, I noticed a man pass by and overheard him asking another guard the way to the restroom.

I was starstrucked at that time. He looked familiar. I knew I know him. I have seen him in TV guestings. Until I came to my senses and whispered to myself, “Si Chairman Baham Mitra ‘yun ah. Si Baham ‘yun.”

Without having second thoughts, I asked the guard who handed back the ID I deposited if the man who just entered the building was Games and Amusements Board (GAB) Chairman Abraham Khalil “Baham” Mitra. “Opo, si Chairman Baham po ‘yun.”
“Hihintayin ko lang po siya saglit ha para magpapicture,” I told the guard. “Yes po, no problem,” he replied.

I waited for a while and when he was about the enter the hall where he will be meeting the company executive I also spoke with, I approached Chairman Baham and greeted him.

We exchanged pleasantries and I introduced myself as the editor-in-chief of Teksas Libre! Magazine and founder of The Sabong Chronicles. I also told him that I already received from him through email his answers to the questionnaires I sent him since he will be on the cover story of the second issue of Teksas Libre! Magazine.

While waiting for the host-executive to enter the meeting hall, I took the opportunity to ask some short follow up questions to Chairman Baham.

Based on what I have researched about Chairman Baham from the internet, no doubt all the good things they said about him were true. No wonder that as early as 2017, a certain group wanted Chairman Baham in the PDP senate line up for the upcoming 2019 National and Local Elections.

As I was pressed for time since I don’t want to be the cause of the delay of his meeting, I started a supposedly short interview. Fortunately, when the company executive arrived, he allowed us to take our time in continuing the interview. But I set in my mind that I’ll make it quick like full-fledged journalists do during ambush interviews. And I was ready to play the role.

Without further ado, I started asking questions to Chairman Baham and he answered everything I asked, quick-witted, and straight to the point as what you would expect from a former Palawan provincial governor and congressman for three terms. I asked Chairman Baham what were the projects he spearheaded since he assumed office and he said they had already launched the sabong standardization seminars and gone around the country to the different cockpits.

According to him, “The main objective of the sabong rules standardization seminar is to make sabong fair and to set the integrity right.” And he added, “We feel very strongly that once we get rid of the common complaints on sentensyadors, gaffers and manggagamots, then our industry will continue to grow.” We know that biased refereeing and misalignment of the gaff to favor one of the contenders are among the common problems in cockfights, regardless of whether these are hackfights or derbies.

To make things happen, GAB reassured that while they uplift the morale of sabong officials, they are also making sure of their capabilities. “We invite industry experts to do seminars to train them as well as help us assist improve their skills,” the chairman said.

Aside from the sabong standardization seminars being conducted all throughout the country, Chairman Baham assembled an anti-illegal gambling unit that goes after illegal gambling including illegal cockfighting or commonly known as tupadas.

Asked on the current status of the Philippine game fowl industry, he said that it’s a ₱60 billion-industry where there are 30 million birds fought each year, about 120 game fowl-related associations, and about 30,000 game fowl farms including the smaller ones nationwide. “Once the sabong rules are standardized and officials are trained and licensed, I’m confident that the (game fowl) industry will experience growth,” Chairman Baham said without qualms.

“How does local governments benefit from the revenues the game fowl industry generates?” I asked. The chairman answered, “I understand that cockpit officials are asked to apply for occupational permits. The cockfighters themselves pay at least ₱200.00 per fight which is supposed to be remitted to the local governments as well as the amusement taxes that are being imposed by LGUs.”

Guess what he answered when I asked whether or not cockfighting will be outlawed in the Philippines?

“There are a number of political patrons in government that will not allow cockfighting to be outlawed,” he answered with confidence. And that’s good news. Of course, we are all aware of the popularity of this sport in the country. It would be a difficult, uphill battle for anyone to push for its banning.

That Monday afternoon was indeed a chance encounter. Two separate meetings, turned into one, with two of the notable personalities in the game fowl industry. A few weeks after our unplanned meeting, I was able to watch live the Thunderbird Manila Challenge 6-Cock All-Star Invitational Derby 2018 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

And guess what? One of the co-champions of the said derby is no other than Chairman Abraham Kahlil “Baham” Mitra himself using the entry name, MITRA 56.

*This article was originally published in Teksas Libre Magazine Issue No. 2.

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