Philippines, 02 Mar 2021
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Is Boxing Commission necessary?

A hearing was held to discuss the merits or otherwise of two Senate bills seeking to create a Philippine Boxing and Combat Sports Commission presided by Committee on Sports chairman Sen. Bong Go at the Recto Room on the second floor of the Senate building the other day. Sen. Manny Pacquiao, who preceded Go as Committee on Sports chairman, attended the two-hour hearing and shared his insights on how the proposed commission will impact on the growth and development of professional boxing and other combat sports.

Senator Bato dela Rosa, PSC chairman Butch Ramirez, Games and Amusements Board (GAB) chairman Abraham Mitra, Association of Philippine Professional Boxing Ring Officials president Architect Elmo Coloma and boxing promoters/managers Johnny and Liza Elorde were present to air their views. Opposing sides were heard as Go sought to bring out the issues in the open in determining what is best “to strengthen and develop the quality of professional boxing and combat sports in the country (and) ensure the protection and welfare of the athletes.”

Pacquiao’s attendance was critical not only because he authored the initial Senate bill to create the commission but also because he, more than anyone else should know about the issues that confront professional boxing. He’s been a pro boxer since 1995 and he continues to be an active competitor as the reigning super WBA welterweight champion. The first bill was just for professional boxing and the second bill included combat sports.

The discussion focused on how the proposed commission would relate to the GAB which at the moment, supervises and regulates professional boxing and combat sports in the country. GAB was created in 1950 to supervise professional sports and placed under the Office of the President. Through the years, GAB has expanded its coverage to association football, boxing, basketball, billiards, bowling, eSports, karate, mixed martial arts, tennis, table tennis, wrestling, cockfighting (in coordination with the Gamefowl Commission) and horse race betting (in coordination with the Philippine Racing Commission), among others. GAB has been reviewing the operations of rival volleyball leagues Super Liga and Premier Volleyball League to find out if they are in fact professional and therefore subject to GAB supervision.

No doubt, under current GAB chairman Baham Mitra, the agency has flourished. His leadership wasn’t in question during the hearing. The process of determining boxing ratings has become more transparent. Mitra also got the Department of Health involved in providing free medical services to professional boxers. Additionally, GAB is represented in major world boxing bodies.

But Pacquiao said his proposal is not an indictment on GAB. He said he’s not undermining GAB’s capability but as a boxer himself, he believes “it’s necessary to establish a commission to handle and focus on the sport.” Pacquiao pointed out that if there is a Philippine Racing Commission for horse racing, there should be also be a distinct commission for boxing “since it’s a more difficult sport.”

Mitra said with additional funding, GAB will be able to handle every concern that the proponents are raising in proposing a separate commission. “While we laud the initiative, feeling namin nagagawa na ang mga gustong gawin at ang mga gusto pang ipagawa sa amin,” said Mitra. “Maari naman namin gawin basta maalalayan lang kami ng konti.” The budget for the proposed commission is initially P150 million. Mitra said GAB’s yearly budget is that same amount.

"I showed the committee and Sen. Manny our accomplishments like the free medicals, soon-to-be-signed MOA with the AFP for free dental services, new sports since we came in (Ironman, eSports, kickboxing, muay Thai and several others)," said Mitra. "Sen. Manny had no complains with how GAB is being run. He was very cordial and listening intently to our side, especially our independence and no vested interest decisions and rules."

Elsa Rivera of the Department of Budget and Management mentioned there will be a redundancy with GAB if a separate commission were established. She said agencies with similar functions are either merged or placed under a single agency so there will be no duplication of functions.

Lakay MMA head Mark Sangiao said there are difficulties in his sport that could be addressed by a separate commission. Liza Elorde said GAB has successfully instituted reforms across the board but supported the proposal for a distinct commission to give more emphasis to professional boxing and combat sports.

Go assured that if the proposal becomes a reality, jobs won’t be compromised in GAB. It’s possible that those involved in professional boxing and combat sports supervision will be transferred to the commission. Mitra himself may retain his positions in the major world boxing bodies because of his solid reputation and participate in the commission as a member of the Board.

Mitra said there are now less boxers than before and surely, this should be addressed. Elorde said because less boxers are available, less promotions are held. There was some discussion on GAB’s rules on fighters seeing action abroad but the hearing was not the venue for a debate on such issues. The hearing should ventilate only views that enlighten the discussion on a higher level.

GAB’s opposition to the bills seemed to center on its loss of functions which it considers unfair. But the more important consideration isn’t whether or not the proposed commission is unfair to GAB but whether or not it’s fair to professional boxing and combat sports. GAB has more than enough on its plate supervising a slew of sports and clamping down on illegal gambling operations. Pacquiao is the best resource person for this discussion and his advice should be listened to closely and heeded.

Click here to view a list of other articles written by Joaquin Henson.

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