Cockfighting Is a Way of Life in the Philippines

In the Philippines, cockfighting, locally called sabong, is a way of life.

In Cabuyao City, Laguna, an old arena painted turquoise stands. In the middle of the arena is a pit, with two men standing in it, each holding a rooster. One rooster is white, the other red. When the buzzer sounds, both roosters are released, and both head straight for each other. There’s a tousle of wings and feathers, and one of the roosters starts to hobble.

The referee picks up both roosters by the scruffs of their necks, trying to see if there is still any fight left in them. He releases them and after another flurry of feathers, the white one deals a fatal hit to the red rooster. The fight lasted for 24 seconds.

Borick Alcazar owns the white rooster. He grins from ear to ear, doubly satisfied with winning the fight and winning it as the underdog.

Cockfighting has been around for hundreds of years, and it is deeply entrenched in Philippine life. In the provinces, cockfighting is a part of the daily scrabble for income.

In the Philippines, cockfights are held year-round, but Sundays are the best day to go. Many towns and cities have cockpits. Most fights start in the morning and last until early afternoon.

Once outside the arena, Alcazar gently hands off his rooster to the arena’s chicken surgeon. The surgeon examines the rooster, thoroughly searching for injuries. The rooster is docile, stunned with pain as its injuries are revealed: a small puncture wound at its thigh and a three-inch long gash over the thick breast.

The surgeon plucks off the feathers surrounding the puncture wound and closes it up using a long curved needle, then moves to close the long gash.

“This job is all based on reputation,” the chicken surgeon says while he trims the loose ends of the suture. He first practiced on his own chickens for a number of years before working his way up to charging for it. He has enough clients now that he’s situated at the arena five days a week, patching up six to then chickens a day and charging 200 PHP (or 4.50 USD) for each chicken. If the rooster dies, there is no charge.

Dead roosters get sent away to the butcher. They are then de-feathered, gutted, and put inside a plastic bag, ready to be stewed.

Back inside the arena, there is an intermission and spectators are throwing bills inside the ring. It’s a collection for a fellow cockfighter or sabongero who is sick and needs his hospital bills paid.

Cockfights are also held for funerals where a percentage of the money that changes hands is given to the family of the deceased. This is because burials are typically very expensive in the Philippines, so much so that some people can only afford to rent a coffee for the duration of a wake.

Once the money in the pit is collected, another round of cockfights begins. The arena is filled with determined yells of both spectators and small-time bookies which are also known as kristos. They flash complicated hand signals across the area, making bets large and small.

In the last row of the arena sits Teody, who primarily works as a driver. While he doesn’t have the money to bet on the match at the moment, he’s still in the arena to have fun, chat with fellow sabongeros, and have a few laughs. He also hopes that a friend wins so that he can hopefully have a beer and eat one of the losing roosters.

When asked about his biggest win, Teody sighs with nostalgia, “It was a long time ago. 12,000 pesos (PHP).” He recalls buying a washing machine and keeping a little of the money to buy beer. 12,000 PHP, which is about 280 USD, is a huge win for someone like Teody as it’s more than what he makes in a month.

Teody says that a lot of guys in the arena find that they’re better off showing up at the cockpit that working overseas in Saudi Arabia or other places where there are strict rules, low pay, and the constant stream of news reporting horrific treatment.

Alcazar, when asked why he fights cocks, says, “Hanap buhay lang,” which translates to “I’m just making a living.”