- Jyllands posten
- Luzon, Philippines
Cockfighting, a bloody billion dollar industry.
A couple of big black Toyota Land Cruisers are parked next to a number of motorcycles cramped against the wall outside the Roligon Mega Cockpit in Paranaque City, Metro Manila. A smoking taxi driver with the car door open points towards the arenas entrance with a grim grin to enter. At the entrance a one legged beggar sitting with his begging bowl hoping that people passing by will be generous in exchange for good luck. From the stadium one can hear the roar from the exited crowd and I cannot help thinking about the cult movie “Bloodsport” with Jean-Claude Van Damme from the late 1980’s. Roligon Mega Cockpit is one of the few arenas with free entry on Sundays and it is packed with people like sardines.
"Cockfighting, or locally known as “Sabong” is an industry that generates billions of dollars in the Philippines."
Cockfighting, or locally known as “Sabong” is an industry that generates billions of dollars in the Philippines. After basketball, it is considered to be the national sport of the Philippines with over 2500 legitimate arenas spread across the country. It is estimated 30 million cocks are killed annually in the arenas. So when I step in to the Roligon Mega Cockpit, the security guards looking at my camera equipment with troubled faces.
– Are you from an animal rights group?
It is not all arenas that allow photography and it is not only animal rights organizations that is the issue some breeders are from other countries where cockfighting is strictly forbidden and they tend not to be happy being caught on camera. I assure the security guards that I’m a photojournalist who is making a story about Cockfighting and they let me in.
The Philippines is one of the few countries that have legalized cockfighting with betting. Although it is legal, it is not uncommon with illegal venues in shantytowns around metro manila. The big money however is in the legal arenas with its “preferencia” VIP area at the ring side where the high rollers sit and wager everything from one hundred to several thousand US dollars per fight.
On the way to the weigh-ins where you match different cocks based on weight and wing span, I meet 57 year old Albin with his fighting cock. Albin’s cock is from the province of Bacold City, an area known for its persistent and strong cocks. Albin has been breeding fighting cocks for about ten years but been a cockfight enthusiast since he was a teenager. At present he has 6 cocks ready for the arena. After weighing, a “blade fixer” or “manari” attach a razor sharp blade, designed like a small sail on the left leg. The casadore whom organizing the fight goes between the ringside and the waiting room where twenty men of different ages sit with their fighting cocks, concentrated and expectant.
– I think this will be a winner, says Albin with anxiety in his voice.
Several months of preparation, diet and exercises puts everything at stake for just a short period of time in the “Ruweda” arena. The casadoer announces the match, the owners have a minute to
prepare, and during this time the cocks walking around freely, the spectators watch and tries to analyze which seems most aggressive and combatable. The referee “sentenciador” looks at his watch, nods to the Casador which shouts out.
– Larga na! Let’s start!
The whole arena becomes crazy and everyone is shouting in excitement. It is now the betting starts. The players put their bets through persons called “Kristos” or through there companions. In order to be able to make a bet, one must first get an eye contact with a “Kristos” then point on the cock you want to bet on, the “llamado” favorite or the so-called “dejado” underdog. The next step hand signs are used because of the high noise in the arena. Fingers “up” means 10 pesos, fingers in “sideways” indicate 100 pesos and fingers “downwards” means 1000 pesos. So 3 fingers down means a bet of 3000 pesos. After 3-4 minutes, the Casador announces that the betting is over. The stadium then becomes ghostly silent awaiting the match to start.
The cocks are released and for a few seconds they seem to stumble around obnoxiously then to jump towards each other in a great force, feathers fly, blood spills. In 45 seconds the “sentenciador” referee declares Albin’s cock as winner. The judge’s decision is final and cannot be appealed. In this fight there is no room for any speculation because the other cock is very much dead on the cold dirt floor. Albin blows his fist demonstratively in a winning gesture and sighs in relieve.
Around the arena the facial features differ as night and day on those who won a hand full of cash and those who lost a week’s salary on a cock that seemed so promised but did not go all the way. A cleaner sweeps away feathers and blood, and the dead cock is carried out in a plastic bucket. Often the winner is offered the losing cock as food. Behind the arena one can get his dead cock plucked and ready for the pot in no time just for a few pesos.
Albin’s cock has got a fair amount of cuts on the wings and chest, and therefore Albin turns to the so called cock doctor who sews together the wounds for a few hundred pesos. If the cock dies Albin doesn’t need to pay.
In the past, people used to put chili peppers in the ass of the cock, so it would be angry and fight fiercely, but today, breeding is based on so-called science. Vitamins, vaccines, steroids and other forms of drugs are given to the cock to make it a true winner. It is not uncommon for a cock to get a syringe of testosterone before a fight, drugs to increase the heartbeat and vitamin K to make the wounds heal faster. But some old sayings are still alive, for example that a cock should not have sex before a match, and that a woman who menstruates under no circumstances may touch the cock. Neither a widower, because it could bring bad luck and death in the arena. Instead, it is recommended for good luck that the cock touch a virgin’s underwear after she been visiting the church. Another old tradition of getting an aggressive cock is to leave it in a dark cage and blow cigarette smoke in his eyes.
The arenas are almost exclusively visited by men, the few women at the arenas often work, selling fruits, nuts and soft drinks.
The cockfighting has a long tradition in the Philippines. It is considered to be the world’s oldest sport after boxing. The Philippine National Hero and author José Rizal said that the average Pilipino loves his cock more than he loves his children.
Former president and Dictator Marco considered cockfighting to be so important that he created a law 1974 to protect and promote it as a national heritage.
Biological evidence indicates that thousands of years ago in southern Asia, cocks and chicken only existed in a very small numbers. In other words, they did not have chickens to produce meat and eggs. There were not enough for that purpose, instead they must have had a specialized use, and some researchers believe that the use was cockfighting. The sport may have begun just like bullfighting, a religious ritual. A clan, or a village that tested its holy bird against another village bird. In northern Thailand, for example, the spirits of ancestors are honored with a cockfight and in Indonesia’s Bali few religious rituals occur without a cockfight that spills the blood in the earth to saturate its demons. When the cock and chicken increased, it also made use of it in different rituals and gambling. Cockfighting can actually be the sport that is the source of creating the bird that is today the world’s single most important source of protein.
For millions of people who live packed in Manila’s slum area, cockfighting offers a fast way to climb the socio-economic steps. A good cock can both give wealth and fame to its owner, but for most cocks, this dream ends with death inside the “Ruweda” arena.
Photo & Text Olof Jarlbro