Traditional cockfighting arenas in the Philippines are now getting back to total capacity after being closed for two years due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Restrictions in the country have started easing up in the past year, leading to businesses and venues opening up once more.
Cockfighting is hugely popular in the Philippines. Millions upon millions of dollars are bet on matches every week. According to Chester Cabalza, an anthropologist from the University of the Philippines, “In a country plagued by inequality, cockfighting is a unique “neutral zone” where rich and poor mingle and play by the same rules.”
Many supporters defend the blood sport as part of the Filipino identity. However, opponents maintain that cockfighting is cruel and should be banned, as it is in many other countries.
In the Philippines, it is common for a single fight to draw PHP 300,000 to 400,000 in bets. Generally, there are 15 fights per hour and after each fight, crumpled banknotes are flung toward the winning bettor.
As the cockpits reopened, regulators have devised a way for cockfight enthusiasts to still bet while containing the spread of the coronavirus through excessive crowd interaction. Operators were ordered to install betting machines that allow winners to collect their money from the cashier instead.
“If your cock wins, you stride out of the ring like a tough guy — you exude a macho image. But if you lose, you hang your head and shuffle out like somebody whose manhood is suspect,” stated Edwin Lumbres, a gamefowl breeder.
Katine Del Espiritu Santo of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is pushing for cockfighting to be banned in the country as the birds are “forced to fight to the death.” However, the activist’s efforts have failed to gain traction in the Philippines.
Fighting roosters across the country are treated as prized possessions. A gamefowl can cost between PHP 3,000 to 15,000 depending on the win record of its heritage. When cockpits were shut down at the start of the pandemic, many small gamefowl breeders could not afford to feed their birds and were forced to sell roosters at a very low price or cook them for food instead. Others admitted to staging illegal fights.
Then-president Rodrigo Duterte issued permits to operate online cockfighting. Also known as e-sabong, fights were held in empty cockpit arenas and were live-streamed 24 hours a day. Individuals were allowed to place bets and watch fights via mobile phone apps or through websites.
The popularity of cockfighting rose to great heights, as did the earnings. It was reported that the government was raking in PHP 640 million in fees.
Charlie Ang, the owner of Lucky 8 Star Quest, stated that Filipinos wagered between PHP 1 to 2 billion on his platform every day. Despite the revenue e-sabong generated, many called for it to be shut down as crimes related to online cockfighting also rose in number. Most notably, the disappearance of 34 cockfighters, who are feared to be dead, prompted the government to take action against e-sabong.
Due to growing pressure from the public and lawmakers, Duterte shut down online cockfighting shortly before his term ended in June 2022.
As the pandemic restriction eased in the past year, local governments have started giving traditional cockpit operators permission to resume fights. Dondon Clanor, a cockfighting enthusiast, said, “People were angry because their favorite pastime was taken away. Now everyone is happy.”