Every Wednesday, dozens of people gather in Manila to watch two roosters battle almost to the death.
Cockfighting is a national sport in the Philippines – even some politicians own pits – but it is not just a game. Betting is so popular that prizes can run to millions of pesos. There is even an international fixture, the World Slasher Cup. Prizes hover thousands of pesos – even millions – which meets participants from around the World.
The sport, known as “sabong” in the Cebuano language, was introduced in the 16th century by Spanish colonizers.
In the Philippines we find over 1.700 registered cockpits, and around 3000 if we consider also the unregistered. One of the most well-known clubs of Manila, the Pasig Square Garden, hosts a new cock-fight event, the Gran Derby. Such event is one of the most awaited event, since it meets “sabongeros” (cock’s trainer) from the entire province of City of Manila, and not just from the capital.
Prior to the fights, the “sabongeros” should prepare their roosters to be ready for the battle. The roosters are fitted in a razor-sharp blades tied to their legs; surgical instruments as a weapon, many of them made in Sheffield, England. Before that, the roosters shall be weighed and examined by the doctor. The doctor has to check if the cocks are healthy. Strange idea because after the fight some of them will die out.
In the dirty and bloody ring, a bladed rooster has just been bloodily bested by a double-bladed chicken. “My cock was bigger and stronger”, said the man who is next to me. “You have to teach them as much as you can if you want to win”, he adds. The breeders prepare them with boosters, such as costly special feeds and vitamin supplements. “The competition is very hard and they have to be ready to fight”, explain Rogie Sansó, a Manila-based breeder.
The fight must go on. Two brave rooster are face off ready to struggle. Feathers fly around because the furious attacks of the rooster. The blood spreads inevitably over the ring. If one bird lies on the ground, he is picked up by the referee, also knows as a “sentenciador”. He must determine if the cock can continue or not. “I really enjoy my job because I have the final decision to determinate which cock won”, explain one “sentenciador”. And if the rooster can carry on, the fight continue. If not, a winner is declared.
A draw is declared after 5 minuts of a fight. Both roosters are highly injured. “They just fight once in a day. They are too bad for a second round”, said Camilo Guatno, a Quezon City-based breeder. “They are usually ready to fight again in two or three weeks”, he adds.
Usually we have to expect up to a hundred battles, where some of the cocks will pass away. But no time for sentimentality: even prize-roosters will be eaten once they can’t fight anymore. Losers cocks will be boiled in order to remove their feathers. “They are brave, but at the end almost all of them finish at the pot”, one spectator told me.