What is Sabong?

Animals fighting against one another has long been a spectacle sport in human history, with bullfighting and cockfighting as the most popular ones. Cockfighting has been present for more than 6,000 years and even with its longevity, more and more regions around the world have condemned and outlawed the blood sport. However, in the Philippines, cockfighting is on an entirely different level compared to other nations across the globe. 

Cockfighting in the Philippines

Cockfighting, or sabong, in the Philippines is a popular pastime. A thriving billion-dollar industry, cockfighting has even been nicknamed a “national sport”. In the Philippines, this blood sport traces its roots back to pre-colonial times. Cock fights were deemed to date back to the Indus Valley and the first civilizations in the world.

Records also show that cockfighting was also a popular sport in ancient times in China, Persia, India, and other Eastern countries. During Magellan’s voyage of discovery of the Philippines in 1521, Antonio Pigafetta, Magellan’s chronicler, witnessed and documented their first cockfight for Westerners. 

Sabong has both an illegal and legal status in the Philippines. Legal cockfighting games happen in designated licensed cockpits where the matches are known to the Local Government Units (LGUs). As for illegal activities, these sabong games are hosted in makeshift halls or even on the streets, especially in the rural areas of the country. While sabong may be considered illegal due to their arrangements, the authorities are not strict in apprehending the cockfighters involved. In both sabong games, attaching knives or gaffs to the gamecocks’ legs is considered legal. 

Cockfighting Law in the Philippines

Former President Ferdinand E. Marcos signed Presidential Decree No. 449, creating the “Cockfighting Law of 1974” which governs the establishment and operations of cockpits in the country. The law states that “Cockfighting is a vehicle for the preservation of Filipino culture which may enhance national identity.” 

Since 1984, sabong is prohibited every Rizal Day on December 30. Violators can be fined or imprisoned due to the Republic Act No. 229. 

Is Sabong a Filipino Culture?

Sabong is not only a popular form of recreational activity in the Philippines, but it is also a sporting event and a gambling instance rolled into one. Above all, sabong is considered an activity that helps define Philippine culture. 

Sabong highlights how Filipinos value money and resources. A lot of Filipinos would rather put their luck in bets than buy necessities. According to the video “Assignment Asia: Cocks in Battle,” Filipino cockfighters see that the entertainment provided by sabong is more important than their deteriorating health. Filipinos are persistent, and sabong showcases how Filipinos keep coming back to push their luck even if they lose more often than not.

Class lines blur in cockfighting as it is a game enjoyed with equal fervor by both the rich and the masses. However, even if sabong is an activity that brings individuals of different demographics together, it also reflects the difference in classes in Philippine society.

According to Dr. Ricardo Abad, a sociologist from Ateneo de Manila University, the gambling rules of sabong favor the wealthy more than the less fortunate. Richer enthusiasts usually have more expensive cocks with a pedigree lineage and participate in big derby events while rural-provincial individuals train and condition their low-pedigree roosters for hack fights. 

Moreover, as a male-oriented activity, many Filipino men see sabong as an enhancer of their status in society. When men join and win a cockfighting event, they see it as something to be proud of. It also gives them a sense of strength and privilege over their unfortunate counterparts. 

Why is Sabong Important?

Sabong is more than just entertainment and gambling. The sport is considered a very important part of the culture in the Philippines. Sabong has spawned an industry that generates not only tens of thousands but billions in revenue. For rich people, sabong is a royal pastime, but for many Filipinos who live ordinary lives, sabong is a means to make a living. Joining a fight, placing bets, taking bets, winning wagers, selling cocks, peddling gaffs, becoming a bookie, and more are just some of the ways that individuals earn money in sabong. 

Aside from sabong being a way of life for numerous Filipinos, the revenue that the industry generates has also become a source of income for the government, especially when e-sabong or online cockfighting became widespread at the height of the pandemic.

How are Sabong Games Played?

In sabong, two roosters fight against each other with the intent to stop, weaken, or kill the other. Some fights end with one of the birds alive but severely injured, while other fights end in the death of a bird. Gambling is often tied with sabong as spectators place bets on their favored rooster. 

On sabong day or cockfighting day, cockfighters are to stay in a designated area outside of the cockpit arena called ulutan. At the ulutan, cocks are paired based on their height, weight, and wingspan. There are two types of sabong matches: gaffed and ungaffed. 

A gaffed matched means that cocks will have a gaff, locally known as ‘tari’, attached to their left leg. Gaffed fights are the most common type of sabong nationwide. Two kinds of knives are used in sabong: single-edged blades, which are often used in popular derbies, and double-edged blades. The length of the blades depends on the rooster owner, the host of the derby, or based on the agreement between participants before the start of a sabong derby.

On the other hand, implied in its name, the ungaffed fight is one where no gaffs are attached to the leg of the rooster. This type of fight is appealing as no cock will die. Ungaffed fights are more of a way for cockfighters to test the mettle of their cocks.

After roosters are matched at the ulutan, competing cocks would then be taken to an area where they could be equipped with a tari. Gaffers are individuals who attach the blades to the legs of the roosters. Per gamecock, a gaffer can earn PHP 1,000. A master gaffer earns PHP 3,000, and if the fighter bags the championship prize money, they can earn up to PHP 300,000 and more. 

Inside the cockpit arena, owners and their cocks are assigned to a specific side: meron or wala. A cock that is favored to win or has the higher odds of winning is assigned to the meron side. However, the betting multiplier on the meron side is much lower compared to the wala side. The wala side is assigned to the less popular cock or the underdog and has a higher betting multiplier. A cock can be placed in the meron side of the arena if it has survived past fights or if its owner may have a huge influence on the cockfighting community. 

Before each match begins, the owners hold both cocks close to each other, allowing them to start pecking at one another, provoking aggressiveness and competition between the two cocks. The roosters are also given some time to walk around the fighting pit for the betting spectators to observe their stance, movement, and boldness.

The moment the announcer, locally termed casador, gives the cue, spectators can begin yelling their bets out to each other. Because of the deafening noise inside the arena, betting managers called kristos rely on hand signs to accept bets and to communicate with both the spectators and their fellow kristos. The kristos are named after Jesus Christ due to their outstretched hands when calling out bets. These hand signals are what make sabong betting unique in the Philippines. 

If a finger is pointed upward, it means that the bet is in the denominations of “tens”, while pointing fingers downward means the bets are in the denomination of “thousands”. If a finger is pointed horizontally, this means bets are accepted in “hundreds”. For instance, four fingers upward mean PHP 40, while three fingers horizontally is a bet for PHP 300. 

A judge or referee is called sentensyador or koyme. The sentensyador begins each fight and his verdict on the winning cock of each match is final and not subject to an appeal. Most fights take approximately 15 minutes. Bets are exchanged at the end of a fight.

Fighting Cocks in the Philippines

In Philippine cockfighting games, the roosters used in fights are either native breeds or imported ones. Just like any other cockfight in other countries, roosters used in sabong go through proper training and have a specialized diet that can help increase their build, strength, stamina, agility, and aggressiveness. 

Sabong as an International Competition

The Philippines often hosts several World Slasher Cup derbies, which are usually held at the Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City, Metro Manila. The World Slasher Cup is considered the “Olympics of Cockfighting” due to the nature of the derby and its participants coming from all corners of the world. 

Top breeders and cockfighters from other nations participate in these international derbies, traveling all the way to the Philippines with their prized roosters. Most international derbies are a 5 to 7-day series of nearly 700 cockfighting matches and welcome about 20,000 spectators. Fights in international derbies can last up to midnight hours.

What is Online Sabong or e-Sabong?

A form of mass gathering, actual cockfights inside a cockfighting arena are prohibited due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Due to this, online cockfighting, also known as online sabong or e-sabong gained massive popularity in the Philippines. While the LGUs regulate regular in-person cockfights, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) regulates online sabong. 

Online sabong or e-sabong is defined as remote or off-site wagering/betting on live cockfighting matches, events, or activities streamed or broadcasted live from licensed cockfighting arenas. Pagcor’s E-Sabong regulation is primarily undertaken by the E-Sabong Licensing Department (ESLD). This includes the development of the regulatory framework, processing of applications, issuance of licenses to conduct e-sabong operations, and other tasks related to e-sabong.

How does Online Sabong Work?

E-sabong/online sabong is a more accessible and convenient version of cockfighting as it only requires the use of a mobile phone and an internet connection. With any e-sabong app, anyone can participate from anywhere. Aside from apps, interested individuals can also watch through a browser. E-sabong fights are streamed live online and bettors can place their bets through different agents under different platforms. 

Online sabong isn’t that much different from watching an actual sabong fight inside an arena. The fights being live-streamed are executed by operators licensed by Pagcor. Perhaps, the most distinct quality of online sabong, aside from accessibility and convenience, is that everything is being done remotely.

Online sabong matches offer numerous angles for viewing to entertain viewers and allow them to have a closer look at the fights unlike in actual games where it’s a little difficult to see the cocks fighting, especially when you’re seated far from the pit.

How does Online Betting Work?

While numerous people have become interested in e-sabong, there are also some individuals who may be a little confused with the process and rules. The first step in playing e-sabong is to register on a platform. Once registered, you will need to deposit money into your account to view and participate in online sabong matches.

Similar to in-person sabong matches, online sabong fights have two roosters assigned to two sides: meron or wala. The meron side is for the favored cock, while the wala side is for the underdog. You can place bets before each match.

Betting works a little different in online sabong as there are no kristos using hand signs to manage bets. Instead, there are a number of betting terms used in online sabong:

  • Parehas” means a draw
  • Lo dies” means that your bet will be multiplied by 1.25
  • Walo-anim” means that your bet of PHP 400 will win you PHP 550
  • Tres” will have your PHP 1,000 bet turn into PHP 1,500 if you win
  • Sampu-anim” means that your bet of PHP 600 can become PHP 1,000
  • Doblado” means that your bet of PHP 1,000 will win you PHP 2,000

The amount of bets made and won in online sabong depends on a number of factors, mainly bets by the owners and bets done by viewers. You’ll also have to take note of the time that the online sabong fight is happening. Online sabong fights in the morning seem to have fewer viewers, resulting in lower bets compared to fights made from afternoon to nighttime. 

Your winnings in online sabong can be withdrawn anytime that you want through various e-wallets or other processors like money transfers. 

Online Sabong Agents

If your primary purpose in participating in e-sabong is to make money, then yes, you have to place a bet. However, if you’re not accustomed to gambling but still want to make money through online sabong, you can do so by becoming an agent.

An online sabong agent fulfills several duties to an online sabong platform, including attracting and recruiting clients with the use of their referral codes, encouraging more players to join, screening online sabong players, approving applications, load transactions, and deactivating accounts, and monitoring inside operations. 

If all duties and responsibilities are diligently fulfilled by the agent, they would be granted a fair share of e-sabong commission. There are many e-sabong agents who are not into gambling but are making more money in e-sabong commissions than the gamblers.

Final Note

The Philippine sabong experience is truly a unique one. While many countries in Asia have outlawed the blood sport, cockfighting remains legal in the Philippines, widely regarded as a part of the culture. It is also an industry that earns thousands, even millions and billions, in revenue as gambling is a huge part of sabong.

Kristos, the local term for betting managers, have their own form of language to communicate with spectators, making betting in sabong distinct from others. 

The Coronavirus shut down in-person sabong fights due to restrictions and health protocols, but also, it gave rise to a more convenient form of cockfighting called online sabong or e-sabong. Fights are live-streamed through e-sabong apps or via an e-sabong website, and betting is done through the apps or website as well. 

Sabong shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon, and millions of Filipinos will continue to participate in sabong matches every day. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Is online sabong legal?

E-sabong or online sabong was initially approved by the Philippine government due to it being an industry that generates billions in revenue. However, because of the rise of countless crimes connected to online sabong and gambling, outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the immediate termination of all online sabong operations in the country. It has also been reported that the incoming Marcos administration may abolish e-sabong/online sabong in the Philippines completely.