Guam judge nixes effort to nullify cockfighting ban

Posted on Dec 23 2019


HAGATNA, Guam (AP)—A judge in the U.S. territory of Guam has ruled against a local businessman’s attempt to continue cockfighting despite a new American law banning it.

U.S. District Court of Guam Magistrate Judge Joaquin Manibusan Jr. denied Sefrey Linsangan’s motion for a preliminary injunction against the new prohibition, the Pacific Daily News reported Friday.

Linsangan, described in court papers as a business owner involved in “gamefowl raising and competition” for 40 years, argued the ban was unconstitutional.

“It is not only part of his culture, custom and tradition but also a hobby, pastime, exercise and sport,” the lawsuit said.

President Donald Trump last year signed a law banning all animal fighting in the U.S. territories. The law took effect on Friday. Prior to the law, cockfighting had been illegal in the 50 states but not U.S. territories.

The federal ban went into effect last Dec. 20 (Dec. 21 in the CNMI)

The judge wrote that Linsangan failed to show how the federal ban deprives him of “life, liberty, or property without due process of law.”

He said Linsangan didn’t show that enacting the cockfighting ban discriminated against him or any person on account of his race, language or religion. Manibusan said the law applies uniformly throughout the 50 states and territories.

He said he sympathized with the argument that the people of Guam have been disenfranchised because the territory’s residents aren’t allowed to vote for president, nor are they allowed to elect voting members of Congress.

“The remedy for such disenfranchisement lies within the political, not judicial, process,” he wrote.

PR to defy ban

On Wednesday, Gov. Wanda Vázquez of Puerto Rico, another U.S. territory, signed a bill authorizing cockfighting in defiance of the federal ban in a bid to protect a 400-year-old tradition practiced across the island.

The measure says it is legal for Puerto Rico to host cockfights as long as people don’t export or import cocks or any goods or services related to cockfighting.

The move brought cautious rejoicing in the cockfighting business.

“We are certainly challenging a federal law. We know what that implies,” Rep. Gabriel Rodríguez Aguiló, who co-authored the bill, told the AP.

He said that Vázquez was scheduled to sign the bill Wednesday morning and that he expected the fight to end up in federal court.

As word spread, those in the cockfighting industry cheered the news.

“There’s going to be work!” exclaimed Domingo Ruiz, who owns more than 30 cocks and has spent more than half a century in the business. “We’re going to keep the fight alive.”

Cockfighting generates an estimated $18 million a year and employs some 27,000 people, according to the bill approved by Puerto Rico’s House and Senate.

Puerto Rico has 71 cockfighting establishments in 45 municipalities licensed by the island’s Department of Sports and Recreation, said Secretary Adriana Sánchez. She defended the cockfighting tradition and contended the U.S. government banned fights for economic and not animal welfare reasons.

“Their instinct is to fight,” she said of people in the business. “The people who dedicate themselves care for them and train them.”

Animal rights activists have long pushed to end cockfights in U.S. territories, saying they are cruel and noting they are illegal in all 50 U.S. states.

Wayne Pacelle, founder of the Washington- based Animal Wellness Action, said he doesn’t believe the statistics on Puerto Rico cockfighting.

“They are widely exaggerating the economic value,” he said. “Watching animals slash each other just for human entertainment and gambling is not judged as a legitimate enterprise by mainstream people.”

The measure says it is legal for Puerto Rico to host cockfights as long as people don’t export or import cocks or any goods or services related to cockfighting. The latter actions would violate the federal law, based on how Puerto Rico officials interpret it.

“It remains to be seen whether that’s how federal authorities understand it,” said Rep. Luis Vega Ramos.

Vega sought unsuccessfully to amend the measure to add authorization for local officials to not cooperate with federal agents in prosecuting people for cockfighting. But several municipalities, including the capital of San Juan, have authorized municipal police not to crack down on cockfighting.

Associated Press
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