Cockfighting
LIFE

The Shocking Truth Behind The Nationally Televised Phenomenon Of Cock Fighting In The Philippines

Over in the Philippines, people flock to arenas to witness the ‘sport’.

LIFE

The Shocking Truth Behind The Nationally Televised Phenomenon Of Cock Fighting In The Philippines


Now, before I dive in to what I suppose could be described as quite a controversial topic, let me make my position clear. I am bringing to light a cultural observation I have made during my time in The Philippines. I am not debating the rights and wrongs. I am questioning the underlying social factors that can make something so unforgivably terrible in one part of the world, yet so normal and accepted in another. I am commenting the way a (supposedly) unbiased journalist reports the news, the way an animal videographer is there to capture the true savageness of mother nature without intervening. Just to watch, observe and learn.

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My brother had semi-relocated to The Philippines and had been there for about 5 months before I arrived. We had the usual conversations beforehand: Where are you staying? How far’s the beach? How much for a drink?

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And eventually he mentioned cock fighting. Not that he had seen it, nor that some shady looking guy at an even shadier looking bar had mentioned it. No. He told me that they show cock fighting on national television. That’s right. Apparently the championships are shown on TV for everybody to watch and cheer for their favourite rooster. I, of course, did not believe him.

Upon arrival the signs that cock fighting existed here started to become apparent. The first sign being the local ‘pit’ that was a 5-minute walk from my brothers’ apartment. It was a fenced off area in the centre of a small patch of barren land. It wasn’t anything worth picking up on at first glance, a shoddy fence barely standing. This was where the locals would meet early Sunday mornings for the fight, apparently.

I was still unsure whether to believe him or not. Maybe that’s where they held cock fights, maybe it’s just a broken fence on a patch of dirt. Then the signs started to become more clear. And when I say signs, I mean billboards. A large billboard advertisement for ‘WarHawk – Gamecock Power Series Feeds’. It’s the protein powder of the poultry world. Chicken creatine. Roids for roosters. This company distributed chicken feed that was designed for bulking the birds: building strength, power and getting them fight ready.

“Great Things Start Small” is their website slogan.

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This was undeniable validation that cock fighting was not only happening, but it was there in broad daylight on a 20ft billboard in the centre of Peurto Princessa; Palawan (voted ‘The Best Island in the World’ by readers of Travel and Leisure Magazine… for a second year running). The location of the billboard is not what surprised me, the location is prime advertising real estate and is exactly where I would market my chicken feed – if I had to chose. What surprised me is the unapologetic juxtaposition between the two differing sides of Palawan and as I later found out, all of The Philippines.

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A few weeks later and we are in Cebu, another of The Philippines endless supply of paradise islands. We rent a car and decide to road trip down the east coast to the most southerly tip of the island. During the drive we glanced our first cock-fighting arena. It was a purpose built, concrete structure with walls, a roof and tiered seating in the centre of town. The pit we had seen previously had nothing on this. This was the big leagues. This must have been where the gladiators came to do battle. I could only imagine the carnage that must have taken place inside this colosseum.

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The following day we started the drive back up the west coast. We headed off relatively early as the rental car had to be back before 3 p.m. As we drove we started to notice a lot of people walking around holding roosters. This wasn’t a rare sight. We had seen roosters at the roadside all over the place, standing guard with one leg tethered to a post proudly surveying from their watch towers. What was weird was the quantity. People everywhere seemed to be moving roosters from one place to another. That’s when we realised it was Sunday. And as we turned the corner, on the grass bank between the road and a boundary wall, we glimpsed our first real life cock-fight. On a tiny patch of land stood two men slightly apart, with two roosters flapping and scratching and ripping feathers in between them. There was no crowd, no body else watching. Just these two guys on the side on the road watching the flurry of feathers and dust.

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We didn’t stick around to see who won, a shared sigh of “what the fuck?” was enough.

Later that day we made it to our next hotel. It was the first one that had a TV. I had been away from television for a while so we grabbed a couple beers and started flicking through the channels, not expecting to find much. News, news, sport, crappy Tom Cruise movie, game shows. But then we found it. Flickering out of the screen on the wall in front of me, piercing into my retinas: cock-fighting. On national television. It’s unbelievable. Even seeing it on the screen in front of me I still couldn’t believe it was real. But it’s happening and I can’t change channel. A mixed feeling of amazement, shock and curiosity meant we had to watch.

Before the bout, each fighter is brought forward and ‘touches gloves’ with the opponent. They go back to their corners. The referee comes forward and blows his whistle to signal the start of the first round. The coaches step back and start shouting in support, the crowd is going mental and the television commentator is speaking in Tagalog, which I don’t understand, but it sounds exciting and I can only assume is some highly technical information about the complex strategy and psychological mind games involved between two fighters of this calibre. I could be describing McGregor vs Diaz. The crowd roars as feathers and dust circulate the air, only to be silenced by a piercing screech. A rooster goes down and the ref steps in. He picks it up 6 inches above the floor and drops it. Strike one. He picks it back up then drops it again. Strike two. This happens a third time and the fight is over.

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There is animal fighting all over the world. Dog fighting, bull fighting, cock fighting. People love to watch things fight. Most places in the world it is regarded as a shady enterprise. In The Philippines it’s like football at the weekend. This is what I find so fascinating. What has led cultures to develop with so many similarities except one humongous stand-out difference? The people of The Philippines are some of the friendliest, happiest and most welcoming people I have ever met. The country holds strict Catholic beliefs and the people are generally easy going islanders. So what has led to the acceptance of such a violent and bloodthirsty sport?

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For some more Filipino craziness, check out this snake massage. 

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