While considered by many to be inexcusably cruel, the sport of cockfighting remains wildly popular throughout the Philippines. Here Benjamin Johnson takes a non-judgemental look at this controversial aspect of Filipino culture:
The Philippines is a fantastic place, albeit weird, but nonetheless fantastic.
Some of the best nightlife in the world topped with amazing natural beauty, this place is a true slice of paradise. However, every paradise has its dark side — and in the case of the Philippines it’s a dark side that’s openly flaunted and celebrated.
I am not talking about crucifixions in Pampanga, but rather the nationwide obsession with cockfighting.
That’s right, the practice that has been banned across the world due to concerns about animal cruelty is still openly practiced in this glorious and strange archipelago.
‘Sabong’ (Cebuano for cockfighting) is a billion-dollar industry in the Philippines despite outrage from animal rights activists. This showy display of bloody feathery madness attracts huge crowds and huge bets.
Fights are between two beautiful and quite large male chickens or cocks, each with a small razor blade attached to the feet. The end aim, kill the other chicken.
Is this cruel, absolutely! Is this going to stop, hell no! This sport has been going on for eons and there is too much culture and money invested to stop it.
There are even stadiums built for such events, that can attract crowds of thousands who come from far and wide to bet. What happens to the winners of this fury feathered fight? Well, the loser gets nothing and the winner gets a cash prize while also getting to keep the loser. The losing rooster of course doesn’t go to waste, he is eaten by the winning rooster’s owner, pure satisfaction.
Roosters who win multiple matches are well cared for (I mean if you discount the fact that they are forced to fight to the death). After matches, winning roosters are taken to be healed where a makeshift vet sews up the lucky bird for about 200 pesos or $5.
Winners are then put into “chicken rehab” where they are fed special diets of eggs and protein to get them back to full fighting fury.
Special feed for chickens is a huge industry in the Philippines, with people making millions from selling high grade protein-infused chicken feeds. The advertisements for such products are also spectacular similar to opening fight scenes in blockbuster movies, complete with intense staring and loud explosive action.
In addition to chicken feed, training of the chickens is taken extremely seriously and just like boxers practicing for an upcoming match birds are made to spar. Wearing a protective rubber covering on their naturally occurring spurs, the birds fight each other inflicting minimal damage as an attempt to prepare them for upcoming fights, farmers say angry birds are good birds.
In the ring, large sharpened metal blades are attached to the foot of the cock with a covering placed over the top prior to game time. Once in the ring, the birds are let loose with the sharpened blade exposed, ready to slash the other rooster to its doom.
The clock only starts for these birds as soon as they begin to slash and sometimes this can be a few minutes in as they aimlessly peck around and keep an eye on the opponent. After all these are not the brightest animals and in the Philippines they serve two purposes, food and fighting machines.
There are only ever two cocks in the cockpit at one time, with competition sometimes consisting of matches between over 100 different roosters. The way the winner is determined is by the quickest kill time, which can be a few seconds or a few minutes, regardless it makes for great gory action as blood is flung up on the protective plastic enclosure amongst a mix of squabbles and torn feathers.
Breeding these prized birds can be decent money and with nearly 30 million roosters killed every year in competitions it is serious business.
Farmers take this job very seriously with both their personal pride and the reputation of the farms’ prized fighters. As well as celebrity cock trainers, money is also huge in betting and it’s not just the locals that are involved, even the government has its hands stained with chicken blood.
The government of the Philippines helps build stadiums and has tax people attend matches to ensure that those precious tax dollars are collected from the bets placed on the fights. This is one of the reasons we won’t be seeing cockfighting leaving the Philippines anytime soon, both the people and the government would likely riot if you tried to take away their age-old tradition.
We recommend quenching your guilty curiosity and coming over to the Philippines to check out this age-old tradition. If you’re interested in coming to the Philippines to gander at some chickens killing each other, then contact GNTours to organise your tailor-made Filipino adventure.