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The Philippines - The Cockfight,Sabong Arena (Sabong Arena)

Sabong Arena
Genre Sabong Arena
Keywords Sabong Arena
Article ID 00000291
Similar Articles Online Sabong Philippines
I hadn’t known cock fighting was a thing in the Philippines until we passed a cockfighting area on the way to work one day. I remarked “ah there’s a basketball stadium” to which my colleague replied “it’s for cockfighting” - I was shocked. I can easily understand cockfighting (or sabong in Tagalog) taking place small scale in villages off the radar but this was a sophisticated arena with ticket booths and stands. Interestingly, after doing some research I found it is actually the small cockfights in the villages which are not allowed. The government regulates cockfighting here and limits the number of official cockfighting arenas a town is allowed based on its population size. It is a multibillion-peso industry with the big cock fights in manila being streamed live on TV. This arena was small scale in comparison to the big ones in the capital but it was still bustling. I knew I had to go. My colleague and guide for the time we were there agreed to take us, he was familiar with the set up and how it worked so was a good guy to go with.

We got some time off work and cruised over to the arena. The sides of the road were packed with cars and parking was hard. As we approached the ticket booth just to the right of the main entrance the noise of the speaker system grew louder, the roar from the audience was also deafening. As we paid for entrance I noticed a man squatting in the main doorway clutching a chicken, blood all over his hands and drops on the floor. The bird was still alive but must be only just. It was an intimidating place to be. My camera stayed in my bag for now.

When we entered the arena, it was no less intimidating. Masses of people yelling, screaming and pointing at one another, the ring contained a number of people holding cockerels. We shimmied around the side of the ring to some seats that were free by the commentator’s box. After a while everyone quietened down and it started. The cockerels were released upon one another. Watching this was really difficult. The first fight lasted a long time but both birds were struggling form the start and both got terribly injured in the first few seconds. The end just got dragged out. One bird wins when the others stops pecking back. If they both peck the fight goes on, even if it can’t walk. I nearly walked out but I wanted to get these images and I wanted to experience this part of Filipino culture.
Bets being taken pre-match with he cockerels warming up in the ring - Leyte, Philippines Bets being taken pre-match with he cockerels warming up in the ring - Leyte, Philippines

The second fight was over in a second, the first contact between the two chickens killed one instantly.

I got my camera out in the 3rd round and started taking photos. I’ve tried to get as representative photos of the situation as possible. I didn’t want to offend, I was merely there to take photos of what happened. I didn’t go to judge, I didn’t go to paint the people conducting these in a bad light.

In-between bouts people would place bets on one of two sides, Wala or Meron (‘None’ or ‘To have’). Vast amount of money would be tosses across the room as scrunched up balls of 1000peso notes (1000peso is equivalent to £15). You would see blokes, and it was nearly exclusively men here, placing bets for in excess of 10,000 pesos – the daily wage in this area is in the region of 300 peso. While bets were taking place the fighting birds would be worked up, they would be pitched against smaller training birds but without actually being allowed to touch each other, their tails would be held they their trainer. They would then be allowed to be pecked by the training bird to aggravate them and then finally put face to face against their rival to test their aggression while still be held back. Bets would then finish and their birds put against each other to fight. Large 2-3 inch blades tied to their feet which cut on the backwards stroke of the foot. It is gruesome to watch but this happens and it is what it is for now.
There are organisations against it. The Philippines Animal Welfare Society, or PAWS, is strongly against it. But the majority of animal welfare in the Philippines acts towards dogs, chickens aren’t such a focus. The Ormoc City Mayor, one of the major cities on Leyte where I saw the cock fighting, wants to curtail illegal cockfighting with the suggestion that it isn’t necessarily about the brutality of the sport but the impact on marriage if a husband loses his wages in the gambling pits. As previously stated it is a multibillion-peso industry so it is unlikely to be stopped any time soon but there are laws controlling it and it does appear that people are beginning to crack down on it.

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