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Sabong: A Microcosm of the Contemporary World (Sabong Arena)

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Sabong History
Genre Sabong Arena
Keywords Sabong History
Article ID 00000294
History of Cockfighting Cockfighting has a rich history that traces back to more than 3,000 years ago and can even be seen during the time of Christ. Though it began in Asia, during the middle ages the Persians were the ones who brought cockfighting to Greece which then was popularized by ancient Greeks (Hans, 2014). The Greeks used to practice it before every battle to encourage their warriors to act courageously in every fight. In the Roman context, Julius Caesar led Rome into enjoying such a sport. Caesar, then, introduced cockfighting to England allowing it to flourish. After four centuries, under the rule of King Henry VIII, cockfighting became a national sport and the games were held in important places such as the Whitehall palace and churches. Cockfighting became known around Europe as a game of gambling where social classes don’t matter that from nobles even commoners play this activity. With the rise of cockfighting in Europe, this led to the colonizers bringing the sport to the United States. Famous presidents like Andrew Jackson, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln accepted the sport and allowed it to flourish so much that men were encouraged to train in the sport. Due to the inclusion of cockfighting in the American identity, the rooster is said to have almost become the national emblem of the United States over the eagle. The History of Cockfighting in the Philippines Cockfighting has been around in the Philippines for quite a while. Even before the Spaniards arrived, Sabong was already a part of the natives’ culture. Shortly after the death of Ferdinand Magellan, the Spaniards landed on the island of Palawan where they discovered that the native Filipinos have already been raising native roosters to fight, putting them in shared cages to fight for scraps of food. According to Antonio Pigafetta, a Spanish scholar and explorer, “[The natives] have large and very tame cocks, which they do not eat because of a certain veneration that they have for them. Sometimes, they make them fight with one another, and each one puts up a certain amount on his cock, and the prize goes to him whose cock is the victor” (Jocano, 1975). In the forty-sixth chapter of Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere, entitled “Ang Sabungan,” Rizal describes what a Sabungan was, and he named the people whom he found in the place like Capitan Paul, Capitan Basilio and Lucas–most of them were high ranked, rich, and respectable individuals who go there to gamble. He also notes how the fighting cocks wore sharp razor blades that were fixed on their legs. The duel will only end by the death or a bloody flight of one of the cocks. Through the novel which dates back centuries, we can see how cockfighting is ingrained into the Filipino culture. With the rise of its popularity, cockfighting became a staple past time in the Philippines. It has been integrated as part of the Philippine culture that Filipinos from all social classes take part in this gambling sport. For the past years, cockfighting became a billion-dollar industry, there is an estimate of thousands of arenas in the Philippines and over a million cocks killed across the country. In 1974, Ferdinand Marcos signed Presidential Decree No. 449 (Cockfighting Law, 1974). This law will govern the operations and different establishments around the country. It is stated in the law that cockfighting is a means of preservation of Filipino culture which can then enhance one’s cultural identity. In addition to this, it is stated that cockfights are only allowed to happen in the licensed arena and anywhere else aside that is considered illegal. The Sabong Process On November 24, 2019, our group made our way to the Texas Cockpit Arena on Sumulong Highway in Marikina City where the cockfighting took place in the building. The group observed that the building looked old based on the faded paint color and broken glass windows. Outside the building, there was no orderly way of parking and there was only one pathway that served for the entrance and exit of the place. The parking space was mostly occupied by motorcycles and barely any cars, this shows that most individuals were from the working class and non-working class. In the area, there were two entrances for guests, one for regular attendees and the other for VIP guests. The group was able to gain entrance into the arena, free of the Php150 admission fee, through a friend’s contact within the management. When the group entered the building we noticed how the area smelled like sweat, cigarettes, and blood. The building also seemed poorly maintained based on the paint discoloration, chips on the wall and broken pieces of furniture seen within the area. The arena where the cocks were fighting had two separate areas one for the regular guest the other for VIP guest. Upon admission, we were brought to the VIP section of the arena: an enclosed air-conditioned room with a glass wall, through which we could have an unobstructed and up-close view of the cockfights. On the other hand, the regular guests were seated on the larger space where it was elevated cemented seats. Our informant told us that access for VIP area was only given to people who help the sabungan in one way or another–the benefactors of the arena, in other words. The group was able to observe five rounds of sabong in the VIP area and one fight from the regular seats. After observing a few fights from the VIP room, our informant brought us around the arena, showing us the various stages that the cocks and their owners have to go through before making it to the ring, called “Gradas.” The first stage of Sabong happens in the Ulutan, which is where the cocks are assessed and then matched up according to their weight and age divisions. This is one of the most crucial steps because the cocks are tested if they are suitable to fight each other. Once the cocks have been listed for a fight, they then proceed to the Gaffing Room. The Mananahi is situated in the Gaffing Room. They are the ones who attach the blades, called “Tari,” to the left leg of the competing cocks. The tari is important to the sabong because if they weren’t tied to the legs of the cocks, then the sabungan would last for hours or even days. The Tari vary in length and are directly proportional to the length of the cock’s leg. It is tied to the leg at a 45-degree angle so as to ensure that the blade has a chance to properly bury itself into the opposing cock during the match. The mananahi gets paid Php300, or sometimes even more if the cock to which they attached the Tari wins. Otherwise, they do not get paid; in that sense, it really takes skill to make a living off of being a mananahi, and that is why they get paid even more sometimes. Right off the bat, it took him, along with us, a few seconds to register what his hand signs, signifying what the meron and wala meant. On top of that, it took a few more seconds to recall which hand sign stood for the amount we were going to bet. Finally, we were at a complete loss at what our odds were with the logro that the kasador told us because there are a lot of logro to keep in mind. As first-timers in a sabungan, it was a real trial trying to bet for the first time–especially since all the rules and signals for betting were given to us only a few minutes prior, as we sat in a corner of the sabungan. Sabong is not just a game of chance: it is a game of quick and critical thinking in a very fast-paced setting that leaves one with the slight aftertaste of wanting to participate even more. Such a realization would not have been reached if our group had not actually taken part of betting. The panicky experience of computing the logro in one’s head, to bet on a cock one has no clue on how to physically assess on top of being in no close proximity to it, and to watch the fate of one’s money go down in a matter of seconds is also a thrilling experience that one cannot merely acquire secondhand. Having a Key Informant Although it was previously mentioned that we were at a loss during the betting process, we would have been more confounded had we not had our key informant with us, feeding us all the knowledge that he held on sabong and guiding us through its intricacies during our immersion into its unfamiliar territory. In addition to the rules and guidelines that our informant discussed intricately, however, the biggest takeaways that our group got from him were the dangers of sabong and its actual purpose which is often overshadowed by the facade of gambling: to make a living, or to put it in better terms, paghahanapbuhay. The dangers of sabong are attributed to the cocks themselves and also to the aforementioned gambling. According to our informant, many sabungeros have died because of the tari. There have been times when the cocks get too riled up and jump at the sabungeros, and with the latter either too nervous or too flustered, they end up getting stabbed by the sharp blade of the tari. Sometimes, the tari cuts right at the vein of the sabungero. With the gambling-related dangers, sometimes these also end with death. Some sabungeros become one-day millionaires and get too enthralled with the luxury that the money brings that they get in too deep with the lifestyle–they become womanizers and extend their gambling reach into the casinos. They develop such a great thirst for money that sometimes they resort to cheating in order to win. Cheating in the sabong could mean having an accomplice weaken his bata by not feeding it for days. Then they go to an arena where neither of the two is known and go straight to the ulutan to pair up for a match. The owner of the stronger cock gives a bigger parada, and since both sabungeros are associates, it doesn’t really matter which cock wins because if the stronger cock wins, they split the money won, and if the weaker cock wins in the unlikely event, they do not end up losing a lot of money. However, if these sabungeros were found out to be cheating by the crowd or by the management, they could either be arrested, beat up, or killed. Probably one of the worst-case sabong-related incidents that our informant mentioned was the 2017 Resorts World Manila Attack. According to PAGCOR chair Andrea Domingo in an interview with ABS-CBN News (2017), Jessie Javier Carlos, the gunman who attacked Resorts World, “started gambling in the cockpits of Pasay City, and ended up heavily indebted” around 2015, after losing his job. He resorted to gambling in casinos so that he can raise his bets in the sabungan. After Carlos “lost his senses,” as Dodong Ablao, the village chairman of the barangay where Carlos kept a farm for fighting cocks, puts it in an Inquirer interview (Cinco & Rabe, 2017), he fired shots and set fire to the casino, killing thirty-seven people, before setting fire to himself in a hotel room and shooting himself. Given these immense threats that the gambling side of sabong poses, if one really wanted to steadily earn from the sabungan, it is all in the paghahanapbuhay. Our informant could not have stressed the paghahanapbuhay aspect of the sabong enough. He told us that he was able to get his child through college not by gambling but by working as the kasador in the arena. He pointed out that paghahanapbuhay is present from without to within the arena: from the parking lot boys who earn money from donations given by the sabungeros for watching over their motorcycles and cars; to the vendors who sell clothes, food, and refreshments inside the arena; to the mananahi, the manggagamot, the nambabalahibo; to the sentinsidor, the llamador, the kasador; all of these people are making an earnest and steady living because of the sabungan. Our group would not have gained any of these insights had we merely observed the proceedings of the sabungan. If not for the key informant and in-depth discussion that we held with him, we would not have left the arena with this quote from him that is a warning to those who wish to attempt gambling in the sabungan: “Kapag galit ka sa kapwa, turuan mo ng sabong.”

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