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Sabong: Its more than a national obsession (Sabong Arena)

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Sabong Online Talks
Genre Sabong Arena
Keywords Sabong Online Talks
Article ID 00000411
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Cockfighting or sabong in the Philippines has been called the country’s national pastime, an obsession even. It’s a male-oriented blood sport that is as wild as men can be – loud, boisterous, and testosterone-driven. Aficionados can spend hours on end in the arena; others even give more loving attention to their gamecocks than to their wives. Animal rights activists are against it. But millions of Filipinos – rich or poor – love it because for them, sabong is insanely entertaining, a diversion from everyday stressors and a source of easy money – if one gets lucky, that is. In the Philippines, this bloody and brutal pastime is as old as time, dating back to the pre-Spanish era. In 1565, the natives of Butuan were already watching cockfights when the Spaniards came. It’s even more ancient in other parts of the world. Julius Caesar led Rome in enjoying the sport, while King Henry VIII allowed cockfights to flourish in England. Ancient Syrians considered the fighting cock as a deity. In the United States, famous presidents were aficionados – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln. Here, kings and kingmakers alike are also into the blood sport – Joseph Estrada, Chavit Singson, and the late Danding Cojuangco. For the rich, sabong is a royal pastime; bets run into millions and breeding is expensive. But for millions of ordinary folks, sabong is a means to eke out a living. When the pandemic struck and the lockdowns started last year, people dependent on sabong for their livelihood were adversely affected, some of them tell me in an interview on the sidelines of a three-day e-sabong derby in a licensed cockpit in Laguna. This particular arena is operated by the United Association of Cockpit Owners & Operators of the Philippines, a group of around 2,000 cockpit operators led by gambling tycoon Charlie “Atong” Ang. But because of e-sabong, these informal workers now have their jobs back. Indeed, every fight, virtual though as it is, fuels a local economy that benefits a long line of individuals and their families. Gaffers, for instance, are gods. They are high up in this livelihood chain because it is literally in their hands if a fighting cock wins or loses. They are the ones who attach the deadly blades to the legs of the fighting cocks. While the job looks easy, gaffers say otherwise. “It is a skill mastered through time and each gaffer has his own unique way of doing it. That’s his trade secret,” says 61-year old Alvin Delgado, who has been in the trade for 40 years now. Here in Laguna, gaffers are in an air-conditioned room, waiting for their clients, each has his corner for his stuff, usually sleek leather attache cases, including Louis Vuitton bootlegs for some and all filled with those shiny lethal blades. There’s a lone lady gaffer in this man’s world. She’s feminine, feisty, and just as skilled, say her male peers. A gaffer gets P1,000 per gamecock, P3,000 for a master gaffer, and up to P300,000 more if the fighter bags the championship. On a good day, a gaffer services up to 40 cock fighters. That’s easily P40,000 a day. One gaffer, who used to be a farmer in Negros, earned a whopping P2.5 million in just one derby when the gamecocks he serviced bagged the championship. “I bought a house with that money,” he tells me. Equally crucial are the fighting cock doctors. They are not doctors and veterinarians by profession, but are licensed by the Games and Amusements Board to treat injured gamecocks. They stitch, patch, and treat the bloodied fighting cocks soon after a fight, guided by instinct and years of experience. Fighting Cock doctors earn P500 per gamecock. Here in Laguna, there are about 30 of them waiting to tend to injured fighters. On any given day, each attends to at least four gamecocks. That’s P2,000 a day or P60,000 a month. Bryan Fuentes, 32, is a cock doctor. He grew up in the arena because his father, a gaffer, took him to the fights. “My father was able to send me to school because of sabong. I am also able to feed my family because of sabong,” says Bryan, father of two kids. Handlers, employees, trainors The employees of the sabongeros, or those who train and bring the cocks to the arena earn extra cash, too when the cock emerges champion. The sentensyadors or referees are, likewise, crucial especially in e-sabong. They earn P50,000 a month or more. Here in Laguna, the once sleepy town where the arena sits it is now a bustling barangay. Residents lease their bedrooms to sabong stakeholders from faraway cities during long-running derbies. Indeed, the essence of sabong is starkly different for different people, depending on which side in life they are sitting on. The two sides of a cockfight – meron o wala (the favored cock or the underdog) – make for the perfect metaphor to this disparity. Bryan, the cock doctor, summed it well: “For the rich, it’s a pastime but for us, it’s our livelihood.”

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