Sabong: Frenzy over Fowls
by Alaina Therese L. Amilanto
Manila Bulletin Publishing Corp
Nothing beats the loud and exciting atmosphere inside the cockfighting arena! Bettors inside and outside the stadium are in a frenzy from the excitement created by two pecking Cockerels with razor-sharp blades strapped to their legs. But is the frenzy worth it? MONEY TALKS Sabong or cockfighting, established under Spanish colonial rule to achieve their political goals, became extremely popular among Filipinos, as detailed by several sources, including a 2015 article by Congressman Earl Blumenauer. Currently, it is a multi-billion dollar industry with PHP 26.70 billion total income in the first half of 2022, an overwhelming increase of 68.11% compared to the first half of 2021 from all its operating licensees, according to PAGCOR. It has become an increasingly occult, fugitive, and covert hobby, with 18 regions and over 2,500 stadiums operating, as documented by Vice International in their 2015 Youtube video. According to a 2022 write-up by Jacob Smith for casino.org, internetbased technologies have created a trend (e-sabong) within the industry wherein the networks that sold Birds, supplies, and equipment of the trade have scattered and become much more circumspect and have gone underground. Moreover, Media Commoner claimed in a 2021 report that e-sabong has flourished amid the COVID-19 pandemic, having over 5 million players in December 2021. LEGAL MATTERS Cockfighting has always been a controversial subject matter as the welfare of the fighting Cockerels has been continually raised and argued by animal advocates. In 1998, the Philippines established a national legislation that protects animals from abuse and maltreatment (Republic Act No. 8485 or the Animal Welfare Act of the Philippines) and specifically enshrined the Five Freedoms of animals: freedom from pain, from hunger and thirst, from discomfort, from fear and distress, and to be able to express their normal behavior. The amendment specified that “it is unlawful for any person to torture any animal or to neglect to provide adequate care, sustenance or shelter, or maltreat any animal or to subject Dogs and Horses to fights.” In this regard, it is logical to assume that the cruelty that exists in Dog fights or Horse fights is similar to that in cockfighting. So, how come it is still not banned in the country? INHERENT CRUELTY The industry argues that fighting Cockerels raised and housed for at least 30 months are given special diets, medicines, and vaccines to attain healthy and favorable conformation. However, this take does not align with the physical and mental conditioning of the Cockerels before the derbies or local festivities. Rigorous exercises (called “spars”) are usually done during their maintenance period to accustom them to fighting, and this aggressive behavior is mainly the result of the administration of hormones like testosterone. Lastly, what can be said of actual derbies where Cockerels peck each other until one cannot move? A LIFE OF TRAUMA Although Cockerels are not allowed to die during the fight, the injuries may cause severe trauma and lesions and, worse, death. Furthermore, raising Cockerels does not require humane procedures. Sabong is then extremely painful, stressful, and torturous to the animal, and it neglects several freedoms, including the freedom to express their normal behavior and freedom from pain, distress, and discomfort. MAKING PROGRESS Cockfighting has been illegal in Europe and much of the country for many years. However, it is still legal in parts of Asia, with enormous commercial venues still operating in and around Manila, Philippines. Additionally, sabong is a form of gambling. It is very addicting despite the possibility of losing large sums, and has been one of the major problems in a relationship between couples or families, wrote Ericson H. Penalba in 2021. A survey with 62% of the 8,463 respondents conducted online by the Department of the Interior and Local Government in April 2022 concluded that it would be bests to put a stop to this operation as this promotes negative effects, such as gambling addiction, bankruptcy, indebtedness, other costs to the family, neglect of work and studies, and even crimes like robberies, abductions, and suspected murders. Immediately, it was banned, with websites taking bets being shut down as of May 3, 2022. WAY BEHIND Why is cockfighting in general still not banned in the country, considering how it already is in many developed countries? Why is it not being given attention as a form of animal abuse, and why are many Filipinos tolerating this activity? How is it any different from violent ways of using animals for entertainment, such as dog and horse fights? Is it all for the revenue that it allegedly gives to building a nation? Are the lawmakers involved? The Philippines still lacks the recognition of animal sentience — we are still accustomed to a brute and bloody hobby. The well-being of animals has constantly been undermined under the premise of tradition and heritage. It is also frustrating that there was once a bill in 2010 that wanted sabong as part of our national cultural heritage. Much to our disappointment, the operation of this activity is regulated and controlled by the Cockfighting Law of 1974. Additionally, the Animal Welfare Act of the Philippines’ legal provisions are broad and have not been updated for decades. COMMUNITY EFFORT Cockerels also want to live their lives to the fullest like other animals. All animals, whether wild or domestic, deserve to be defended against any form of human exploitation. Animal advocates have been fighting hard to raise awareness but there have been limitations in knowledge and failure in demanding legal institutions and other concerned organizations to defend animals. This is a call for everyone to not leave out cockfighting as a legitimate concern. It might help to put pressure on lawmakers and sabong operators to put an end to this practice.