Traditional sabong: A reflection of Filipino culture

Published March 17, 2022, 12:05 AM

by Senator Francis Tolentino

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Senator Francis N. Tolentino

What do the Backstreet Boys, Kobe Bryant, Taylor Swift, the Binibining Pilipinas beauty pageant, and traditional sabong have in common?

 Their events were held at the Araneta Coliseum.

This coliseum is one of the largest indoor arenas in Asia. Sabong aficionados are very well familiar with the yearly World Slasher Cup, regarded as the “Olympics of Cockfighting,” to be held later this March 2022 at the Araneta Coliseum.

The prestige that comes with holding events at this venue is reflected in those who have previously stood the coliseum’s center grounds. So, what made sabong the billion-dollar industry that it is today?
Sabong is considered a popular past-time in the Philippines, dating back to pre-colonial times. The game has, thus, been firmly embedded in Filipino culture for thousands of years to the extent of being considered as a culture and tradition.

In 1974, the Cockfighting Law was passed. It acknowledged sabong as “a popular, traditional, and customary form of recreation and entertainment among Filipinos” that should be “a vehicle for the preservation and perpetuation of native Filipino heritage and, thereby, enhance our national identity.”

This reflection of sabong in Filipino culture can be seen in the manner by which the game is conducted.

As a game of chance usually with monetary wagers – it is a test of luck and faith in fate and miracles, with devout Christians offering prayers under their breath before a match. Since the emerging victor and its lucky bettors win the pot, sabong is, thus, seen as a means to improve one’s standing in society.

As a game played in one’s localities with neighbors – it is a test of “pakikisama” in the midst of heightened emotions, whether of joy, grief, or anger.

Maintaining rapport with your kumpare or kumare could be a challenge after losing to them in a cockfight. Women, though, are not exactly much of a welcome sight in cockpit arenas.

According to sabong superstitions, the presence of women would bring misfortune to a cockfighting match – showing a patriarchal culture in the Philippines. Reports attributed the birth of this patriarchal culture to the influence of colonization.

As a blood sport where game fowls fight to the death or inflict physical trauma – sabong emphasizes the Filipino culture of survival of the fittest. With 23.7 percent of Filipinos reported by the Philippine Statistics Authority to be living under poverty, survival of the fittest is indeed a present mindset of the many.

As a popular pastime – sabong brings together Filipinos from different social classes. However, despite the representation of the cockpit arena as a melting pot, Dr. Ricardo Abad, a sociologist from Ateneo de Manila University, stated that cockfighting is still skewed in favor of the wealthy. Cockfighting arenas require an entrance fee and a minimum bet prior to entry. In addition, some arenas were reported to have air conditioned VIP areas, while so-called “low ballers” stand outside in the heat.

Sabong, indeed, brings together different social classes, but their treatment within and admissibility into the arena differ depending on their social class as well.

For cockers, sabong reflects the Filipino’s democratic culture. A poor man’s gamecock may be pit against that of the wealthiest, thus, adhering to the idea of equal opportunity.

Clearly a tradition, arguably part of our national identity, sabong is deeply ingrained in the Filipino culture and would seem to continue to do so for thousands of years to come.