Philippines

When Only Cock Fights Wake Up the Philippines


Combat
Referee drops two opposing roosters and starts another fight.
behind bars
Gambling public contained by the bars.
Fact Sheet
Specialist puts a blade in the leg of another rooster.
Betting
Bettors urge others to bet and accept or reject bets with shouts of "meron" and "wala".
The Owner of the Blades
Slide holder holds the folder in which you keep your valuable work tools.
Cabinets
Craft experts place blades on fighting cocks.
first confrontation
Rooster owners entice them to propitiate combat.
death Punch
Rooster corpse wounded to death after plucking.
Boss
Rocky Balboa, the fight organizer in the Philippines, expelled from Canada for doing it in this country.
rooster & owner
Rooster owner in one of the blade placement cabinets.
service plucker
The one in charge of processing the roosters killed in the fighting, already plucked and hung with great fatal blows.
fatal weapon
Specialist puts a sharp blade on a rooster's leg.
betting board
Man fills the board of participants and bets in a Philippine arena.
Small Rescue Surgery
Veterinarian cuts and sews a rooster hit by another during combat to prevent the owner from losing it.
The End of Fighting
Participants and spectators prepare to leave the Mogpog cockfighting arena on the island of Marinduque
Banned in much of the First World, cockfighting thrives in the Philippines where they move millions of people and pesos. Despite its eternal problems, it is the sabong that most stimulates the nation.

We enter the room of the small Manila hotel tired from a recent adventure in Indonesia.

To relax, we turn on the TV. We give ourselves, for a moment, to a zapping uncommitted and curious. Dismissing countless trivial programs, we are faced with a tight shot of two hesitant birds in a small arena. The unusual catches our attention.

In the neighbor Japan, it would be the heavy exoticism of the juice that would attract us, United States, the masochistic challenge of trying to understand the charm of baseball. At Thailand, maybe the muai thai (Thai boxing). We just arrived in the Philippines. The national sport is cockfighting (sabong).

To prove it, there is a dedicated channel that broadcasts them for hours on end, enriched by enthusiastic analysis and comments on Tagalog, the national dialect.

We develop an unexpected interest in the cruel eccentricity of this tradition introduced centuries ago by Spanish colonists. We took advantage of the discovery of the Philippines and decided to investigate and photograph some tournaments held in galleries from different islands.

participants and spectators, cockfighting, Philippines

Participants and spectators prepare to leave the Mogpog cockfighting arena on the island of Marinduque

Leading Cock Fights in the Philippines

This rooster fight tour began in Bohol, went through the unlikely Marinduque. ended in Camiguin, already almost in the back of the Philippines.

It is a scorching day that we enter the precinct of Dauis, in Bohol. He is plagued by the crowing of hundreds of cocks with raised crests.

blades, cockfighting, philippines

Craft experts place blades on fighting cocks.

Inside, the fights are already taking place, but abroad, in cabins built for the purpose, well paid specialists tie up tares (spur-shaped blades) on the paws of fighting birds using small suitcases to keep them tidy.

In spite of its abundance and diversity, a notice posted on a plywood warns: “Double blades are not allowed”.

fatal blade, cockfighting, philippines

Specialist puts a blade in the leg of another rooster.

Next door, breeders/trainers pit their competitors against each other to excite and exercise them. A veterinarian on duty cleans and sews wounds from already affected cocks, with the task of recovering them for future combat.

cockfighting, cockfighting, philippines

Veterinarian cuts and sews a rooster hit by another during combat to prevent the owner from losing it.

A few meters ahead, the competitors that followed from the derby are weighed, on a tiny scale that establishes their categories.

Despite the frenzy and intensity of the event, the unexpected presence of foreign photographers attracts attention. It provokes a series of extemporaneous reactions.

They call us to the proximity of a strong man in a baggy tank top and inform us with enthusiasm and reverence: “He is one of the great champions! Have you noticed the arm? Only those who have many victories can do one like this!”

By this time, the targeted hero already sees himself in the praise. He turns his right bicep and exposes the fighting cock he's tattooed with black ink.

We continue to tour the exterior of the gallera The mission is becoming more and more complicated due to the agglomeration of people near the ticket office. When we finally got in, sabungan (arena), the atmosphere is dense.

The roar already audible outside becomes deafening.

The Crazy Interior of the Galleras

The terms meron e wala shouted over and over again, they announce a new fight. The exclusively male crowd combines them with handbag-like gestures. In this way, it is defined who wants to bet a high amount (thousands of pesos) or a low amount (hundreds of pesos).

betting, cockfighting, philippines

Bettors urge others to bet and accept or reject bets with shouts of “meron” and “wala”.

As soon as the confrontation starts, the hysterical screams start to encourage the competing roosters.

Em Coron, in the south of the vast Philippine archipelago, introduce us to the dubious Ricky Balboa, a derbie promoter who confesses, with barely disguised pride, gangster, having been expelled from Canada for organizing fighting there.

combat organizer, cockfighting, philippines

Rocky Balboa, the fight organizer in the Philippines, expelled from Canada for doing it in this country.

Now cockfighting is illegal in Canada, as it is in most of the so-called civilized world.

As he counts the peso bills he received from the punters, Ricky describes another of his fringe adventures. Seduced by a marketing ploy, let us go inside the cockpit and to you. The closest spectators assure us that it was a privilege of a few.

The Unexpected Access to the Coron Arena Moat

We take advantage of the kindness and find ourselves in a surreal situation, surrounded by bars and an ecstatic crowd.

public behind bars, cockfights, philippines

Gambling public contained by the bars.

A bolder Filipino tries his luck with foreigners. Even unintentionally, it encourages others to challenge us, which we are forced to refuse with as much humor as possible, whether as a matter of principle or because we do not know how to assess the difference between the called (the favorite) and the left (the aspirant).

This is how the fighting roosters are differentiated in local terminology.

cock owner, cockfighting, philippines

Rooster owner in one of the blade placement cabinets.

Competition resumes. By releasing their roosters, the coaches unleash immediate and violent attacks that make feathers fly and force us to run around the arena.

As a rule, rooster attacks start out energetic, with great leaps with raised paws. As they suffer damage, birds lose their glow.

cockfighting, cockfighting, philippines

Rooster owners entice them to propitiate combat.

Blow after blow, the intervention of the referee is necessary to revive them. The fight only ends when one or both of the roosters come to a standstill.

combat arbiter, cockfighting, philippines

Referee drops two opposing roosters and starts another fight.

The Sacred Decision of the Sentensifier of Cock Fights

At that time, the verdict of the sensory (judge) is unappealable.

For the avoidance of doubt, its determining power is well explained in red, in English, on a panel with four sides that crowns the arena: "Judge decision is final. "

After that fight, there is a twenty-minute break. Soon, the bets are resumed. They prolong a cycle that lasts all afternoon and thickens an increasingly smoky atmosphere.

Ricky's employees take the beaten or badly injured losing roosters outside. Outside, they are immediately plucked and cooked. The nakedness of the birds reveals atrocious blows. At the same time, the defeated creators face the wounds of their disillusionment.

dead cock, cockfight, philippines

Rooster corpse wounded to death after plucking.

Lucky breeders, for their part, are easily identifiable around the gallery. They ride their cocks with extra care, exchange easy jokes with other satisfied gamblers. And they display the paws that they cut, like trophies, to the birds that theirs took their lives.

The Financial Facet of Philippine Cock Fights

Whenever they pass the knockout, the triumphant roosters enrich their owners. They recover and multiply the money spent on them, invested in special rations, medicines, other treatments and the expensive tournament registration.

In small towns, each registration is around 100 euros. It can cost infinitely more at the big TV-broadcast tournaments, competitions that involve both the Filipino middle class and the country's wealthy VIPs, including influential actors and politicians.

The ultimate happiness belongs to the supreme winners of each derby. Among all the events we attended, the triumphant creators collected a minimum of almost 2000 euros (120.000 pesos).

That's a lot of money for the poor standard of living in the Philippines. Still, a tiny fraction of what is at stake in competitions at national and international level.

betting board, cockfighting, philippines

Man fills the board of participants and bets in a Philippine arena.

Cockfighting is not native to or exclusive to the Philippines, far from it. Several other nations in Asia, the Pacific, the Caribbean, from Central and South America and to the Spanish archipelago of Canary Islands (where, by contrast, bullfighting is prohibited) share the fervor for sport.

In the Philippines, however, the phenomenon reaches unique proportions. The gigantic Araneta Coliseum in Quezon (near Manila) hosts the World Slasher Derby twice a year.

In this multimillion-dollar competition that enjoys direct and indirect government support, the best roosters in the world face off.

And Filipinos are thrilled with their cockfights more than ever.

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