Shocking Things I Didn’t Know About Cockfighting in the Philippines.
I was clueless about cockfighting in the Philippines.
In Malaysia, we often refer to someone who is “quarrelsome” who just quarrel just for the sake of quarrelling – as a Fighting Cock.
We have encountered some people who just quarrel just for the sake of quarrelling.
I was at this peaceful “barangay” or village about 50 km away from Metro Manila.
Calumpit is where the action takes place.
The riverside resort where I was stayed in at Calumpit was right next door to a sprawling rural property -A cockfighting arena.
Cockfighting plays a vital role in the life of many Filipino men.
Calumpit is a predominantly Tagalog-speaking town, with about 96.3% of its people being fluent speakers.
Other residents speak Kapampangan, with a minority speaking other Philippine languages.
A cockfight, in the simplest sense, is a fight between two roosters in a caged ring.
During a cockfight, the birds are likely fought to their deaths during “coliseum-style gladiator fights” in the arena building.
Who introduced cockfighting in the Philippines?
Cockfighting has a long history in the Philippines.
National hero José Rizal, martyred by the Spanish in 1896, once pointed out that the average Filipino loves his rooster more than he does his children.
What is a Cockfighting game?
A cockfight is a blood sport between two cocks, or gamecocks.
Cocks generally possess congenital aggression toward all males of the same species.
However, these are roosters specifically bred for their aggression.
During a cockfight, they equip the birds with either metal spurs (called gaffs) or knives tied to the leg.
To agitate the birds, the Cockers place them beak to beak in a small ring and encouraged to fight to the death.
To many outside observers, cockfighting is an extremely brutal and bloody form of sport.
Cockfighting in the Philippines
In the Philippines, Cockfighting Is a Billion Dollar Industry.
The 6,000-year-old sport of cockfighting known locally as “sabong” takes place in over 2,500 dedicated stadiums across the country.
To many outside observers, “sabong” or cockfighting is a brutal and bloody form of sport.
Compared to cockfighting in most Asian countries, by large, Filipino roosters only live to fight one or two matches before death or injuries retire them from the sport.
And as luck would have it, I stayed next door–to the Cockfighting Arena.
Sabong is one of the Philippines’ national obsessions.
It also kills about 30 million roosters a year.
Cockfighting Arena in the Philippines
The arena is a large structure with a roof over.
There are no walls but wire mesh and metal partitions and a gate a barrier.
Outside there is a bar where you can find many crates of the local brew, San Miguel Beer.
This Filipino pale lager, San Miguel Pale Pilsen is produced by San Miguel Brewery in 1890 and is the most extensive selling beer in the Philippines and Hong Kong.
We saw some men set up a small stove BBQ, grilling meat on bamboo skewers over hot charcoal.
I gingerly stepped into the arena, pulling shut the metal gate without latching it.
Daisy led the way; spoke briefly in Tagalog with some of the men.
She gestured that we should take the higher-level seats, away from the punters.
I looked around, half expecting to find some police officer coming in to raid the place.
Daisy reassured me, “It’s normal here. Everything is fine.”
The fights occur in the cockpit (ruweda) on a raised glass platform in the middle of the arena.
Superstitions during Cockfighting in the Philippines
Many rural sabong devotees take these superstitions seriously.
I found out later why there are no women at ringside. It was the no. 1 taboo.
Luckily for us, the villagers took kindly to us as we were tourists.
We left immediately after the first match.
(1) A female visitor on the day of the cockfight is inauspicious.
(2) Do not sweep the floor of the house on sabong day.
(3) Avoid cockfighting on Fridays.
(4) Avoid going to the cockfight with a hole in one of the pants’ pockets.
(5) Don’t look back when walking to the cockpit arena.
(6) Bet on the “mayahin” and white cocks on days with moonlit nights.
(7) It is an unlucky day if one runs into a funeral procession on the way to the cockfight.
(8) Shaving is avoided on sabong day because it might cause the game cock’s blade to break.
(9) Avoid having sex the night before.
Godofredo U. Stuart Jr., in his blog, the Philippines for the Intrepid Traveler, writes in graphic detail of the sport from start to finish.
Cockfighting – A BloodSport
It forces Cockfighting roosters to fight to the death. This is illegal throughout the United States.
However, in the Philippines, this is widespread and not illegal.
They place the birds in a ring and forced to fight as punters and bookies made their bets.
Cockfighting in the Philippines is a billion-dollar business.
Why do men enjoy Cockfights?
The Filipino men are macho.
They have always been “fighting” the fight.
They fight for their beliefs.
They fight for the land, and they fight for women.
Naturally, this is reflected in cockfighting.
For the Breeders and Punters, cockfights are all about courage and bravery.
It is like no other sport in the entire world.
How are these Roosters raised?
Owners or Breeders are called “Cockers.” Roosters are born, raised, and trained to fight on “game farms.”
It is a selection and survival of the fittest; Cockers will kill inferior birds and only keep those who are “game” and willing to fight.
They also breed the roosters for aggression.
The fighting cocks are a source of revenue.
What are the Roosters fed?
They treat the Roosters like boxers.
They must weigh about five pounds and must consider within two ounces of one another to fight.
So their diet is essential, and the Breeders feed the cocks a combination of oats, wheat, split peas, long grain rice, corn, popcorn, and barley.
Grooming the Roosters
Roosters are game birds. The Breeder doesn’t think it is cruel to animals because it breeds them to fight.
Most of the birds are well taken care of by the top Breeders.
The cocks are pampered and treated like boxers.
Breeders often pluck the birds’ feathers.
Adult gamecocks have their wattles and combs trimmed tight to their heads.
This is to prevent injuries when they fight and other roosters from tearing them off in the ring.
The trimming is done first to the wattles to let them heal before trimming the comb.
As the comb and wattles have blood vessels, trimming them causes some bleeding and pain to the roosters.
Since roosters do not have sweat glands, losing these body parts deprives them of the ability to cool themselves.
Some “cockers” cut off the birds’ spurs, which are the natural bony protrusions on the legs so that more deadly, artificial weapons can be strapped to their legs.
The grooming routine includes a massage of mustard seed oil to keep the rooster’s claws and beak moistened and in good shape.
Law enforcement officials have found performance-enhancing drugs during raids.
The young roosters are groomed.
They train the cock Fighters to Fly
Breeders “condition” the birds to fight through physical work.
Weights or blades to their legs for “practice fights” with other roosters.
This process is what cockfights call being “tested with steel.” A friend of ours was distraught to know that these birds spend most of their lives tethered by one leg.
Their shelter is a small cage or even a plastic barrel.
They train the cocks to fly to develop their muscles and the wings because that’s where they get their speed and their prowess.
The Breeders do this by putting a female on the other side of their cage so the roosters can’t see her.
So the roosters will need to fly up to take a glance at the female.
There is a narrow perch to rest, so the cocks learn to exercise their wings and target the opponent.
The young roosters are trained to fly.
What Happens at Cockfights?
Cockfights are usually held in round or square enclosures called “cockpits” or only “pits.”
The one I went to was in a covered building built like an arena with raised seating.
The fight takes place in the central enclosed glass caged platform raised from the floor.
Punters are seated right upfront or on the elevated seating.
The Bookies and Punters
The handler introduces the birds.
The bookies will go around waving their fingers to take bets.
As Daisy gallantly whispered sharply, “This is not a high five-time, Dory!”
The person, a bookmaker called the Casador announces, “Larga no!” the Kristos take over.
The “Kristos” are betting managers sacrilegiously named for their Christ-like crucified stance; arms stretched out beckoning the spectators.
The arena erupts into a deafening din of Kristos calling out and beckoning bets, their hands and fingers in a frenzy of motions and signals.
Hand Signs are made because of distance and the loud noise; Kristos relies on hand signs to communicate their bets with other Kristos.
The Cazador has a remarkable memory for faces; bets are taken in a split second.
The cockfight is over in minutes, and the ‘doctors’ perform skilled surgery on the injured birds.
It is a fascinating display of memory, as some Kristos, with their mnemonics system, are known to take in as much as 8 to 10 or more bets.
On the sidelines, there is a fast and furious buying-and-selling bet.
Reading the Language of Fingers
The arithmetic language of fingers facilitates communication with your Kristo and adds a fascinating facet to the sabong experience.
I saw fingers furiously flying without understanding the quantum of the math.
According to the Philippines, for the Intrepid Traveler writer, the meaning is this.
In the small arenas, especially in the rural and boondock hack fights where small bets are not uncommon, each finger signals 10 pesos; five fingers, 50 pesos.
In big cockpits or derby events, an upward finger could mean 10,000 or 100,000 pesos.
Each finger is equivalent to a 1000-peso bet; 7 fingers, 7,000 pesos.
Caution is given in pointing the fingers downward twice, which will be interpreted as a 14,000-peso bet.
Each sideward finger is equivalent to 100 pesos. In the figure, the four fingers denote 400 pesos.
It’s just as well that I didn’t raise all ten fingers upwards in a High ten gesture.
That would have cost me an upward of 100 pesos (10 pesos per finger).
In the derby events, that would translate to 1,000,000 pesos! YIKES!
The handler agitates the rooster in an attempt to work the birds into a frenzy.
Both roosters are armed.
With neck feathers fanned and wing whirring, the birds jump and parry at each other.
They kick and duel in mid-air, striking at each other with feet and beak.
Whenever the fighting wanes, handlers pick up the birds to agitate them. They will
- Blow on their backs
- Yank at their beaks
- Hold them beak-to-beak
The birds are then put back in the pits, and the fight continues.
Clawing at each other with a razor-sharp steel blade attached to their leg.
It doesn’t end until one rooster is dead or nearly dead.
I didn’t realize this at first.
I had naively thought that the losing bird just crouched down and hung its head in shame.
“The cocks try to kill each other with a bladed spur. It’s over. It’s dead,” Daisy said flatly to my stunned look.
The handlers picked up the dead bird to discard in a trashcan and take it out of the game pit.
I was shocked.
“What happens if it’s still alive?”
“A freak accident?” I asked again.
“No. It’s like that. Just dead. I don’t know, throw or maybe they cook it in a pot?” Daisy continued.
I hung my head in shame.
I was too naive.
“Cook. Eat.” One of the men next to us said in halting English before he conversed in rapid dialect with Daisy – to translate.
“Stew for a long time as the bird is very muscular, and the flesh is very tough,” Daisy explained before quickly leading me away.
The other men were eyeing us.
We didn’t know that we were considered “bad luck.”
I figured that it was as good a time as any to make a run for it.
The Criminal Connection
In addition to cruelty to animals, cockfighting is often linked to other crimes.
Although the set up looks pretty decent, and no one looked tough or drunk – we knew that such activities with exposure to violence might promote insensitivity to suffering and enthusiasm for bloodshed – no matter the version of cockfighting.
Where some money is involved, it’s generally a men’s sport.
We were lucky that most ignored us and let us sit in to watch and take some photos.
The Gruesome and Cruel Facts of Cockfighting
Cocks naturally fight with each other in the wild to establish territory or mating rights.
In these instances, the loser backs away and leave the area when they accept defeat. Severe injuries are rare.
At an illegal cockfighting event, the cocks are routinely armed with blades or spikes attached to their feet.
We were told that the birds that died had serious injuries to their extremities – they had been sliced by these razor knives that are put on their claws.
Cocks are mutilated in preparation for fighting
As part of the training and preparation process, cockerels usually have their combs and waddles (skin under their beaks and atop their heads) cut off to avoid being injured during a fight.
Some also have the spurs cut off their legs so that sharp gaffs can be attached.
Cocking means only the “toughest” survive.
The life of a fighting cockerel is tough, from the moment they hatch until they die.
The birds endure a lengthy training program that is designed to weed out the weaker ones.
Only the strongest, most ferocious birds survive and make it to the fights to endure a painful and cruel death in the ring.
Those who do not cut are killed.
Other illegal activities often surround cockfightings.
One of the major reasons people attend cockfights is to gamble on the outcome.
Yet there is evidence that shows that underground cockfights are a common occurrence and that there is a large-scale illegal circuit of trainers and fight organizers.
According to Philippines Travel Guide, compared to cockfighting in most Asian countries, by large, Filipino roosters only live to fight one or two matches.
The cocks normally succumb to their injuries or die fighting.
Cockfighting is not illegal in the Philippines.
There is no nationwide ban on cockfighting in the Philippines, but since 1948, cockfighting is prohibited every Rizal Day on December 30.
Violators can be fined or imprisoned because of the Republic Act No. 229.
While cockfighting is now illegal in the U.S, although the activity is against the law, they do not consider it a serious crime.
This doesn’t offer adequate deterrence or protection for the animals involved.
The Injury to the Birds Birds that do not die during the fight is very often so severely injured and exhausted that they are killed, anyway.
There is no way for the cocks to escape when they are hurt and want to back down from the other cockerel.
They have no choice except to fight to the death.
Some common injuries that the cockerels receive include
- Punctured lungs
- Pierced eyes
- Broken bones
- Deep cuts
Cockfighting in the Philippines is almost an everyday event.
Exposure to highly lethal bird flu virus
According to the World Health Organization, they have linked cockfighting to the spread of the highly lethal bird flu virus from birds to humans through contact with blood and feces.
I haven’t noticed it, but I remember seeing the owners scrubbed the blood off their birds with bare hands.
According to the Washington Post report, sometimes the birds’ injuries are so severe that owners relieve the swelling by sucking out the blood by mouth.
At an illegal cockfighting event, there are no winners.
The men don’t just lose, don’t lose money.
They lose their faith and, in many solutions, their manhood.
You lost your cock. You lose your manhood.
Cockfighting in the Philippines Last Thoughts
The Sabong is one incredible window to the Filipino culture.
For an intrepid traveler with the stomach to venture into one, go to a rural cockpit.
Cockfighting in the Philippines is not the pretty sanitized ambience of the big urban-suburban venues for rich Filipinos.
I had a numinous experience at Calumpit, fearful yet fascinated, being overwhelmed by cockfighting.
The noise absorbed me. Shocked by the brutality.
Astonished by everything that Filipinos accept as normalcy.
The “ruweda”, everything- by this raw larger-than-life slice of fringe Filipiniana.
The image of the dead and discarded cock seared in my memory.
I read up later before writing this blog post article.
Cockfighting is “one of the cruellest blood-sports,” where roosters were likely given performance-enhancing drugs.
I will never go back to find out.