I just do it for entertainment,” Martin Alipis says in Filipino, while holding his victorious fighter. ‘It’ refers to cockfighting.

By Norman Isaac

Martin, 27 years old has been a cockfight aficionado since age 15. “My father and grandfather have over twenty gamecocks, and I guess it runs in the family,” he says with pride. The bachelor from Antique used to be a factory worker but now works as a cook in a restaurant, just a few blocks from the mini-cockpit where the fights are held. “It’s just a small-time cockfight, a tupada, a far cry from other arenas,” Martin explains.

According to Wikipedia, cockfighting is a blood sport between two roosters (cocks), or more accurately gamecocks, held in a ring called a cockpit. The first documented use of the word gamecock, denoting use of the cock as to a “game”, a sport, pastime or entertainment, was recorded in 1646, after the term “cock of the game” used by George Wilson, in the earliest known book on the sport of cockfighting in The Commendation of Cocks and Cock Fighting in 1607. But it was during Magellan’s voyage of discovery of the Philippines in 1521 when modern cockfighting was first witnessed and documented by Antonio Pigafetta, Magellan’s chronicler, in the kingdom of Taytay.

The combatants, referred to as gamecocks, are specially bred birds, conditioned for increased stamina and strength. The comb and wattle are cut off in order to meet show standards of the American Gamefowl Society and the Old English Game Club and to prevent freezing in colder climates (the standard emerged from the older practice of severing the comb, wattles, and earlobes of the bird in order to remove anatomical vulnerabilities, similar to the practice of docking a dog’s tail and ears).

Cockfighting was already flourishing in pre-colonial Philippines, as recorded by Antonio Pigafetta, the Italian diarist aboard Ferdinand Magellan’s 1521 expedition. Cockfighting in the Philippines is derived from the fact that it shares elements of Indian and other Southeast Asian cultures, where the jungle fowl (bankivoid) and Oriental type of chicken are endemic.Sabong is a popular pastime in the Philippines where both illegal and legal cockfights occur. Legal cockfights are held in cockpits every week, whilst illegal ones called tupada or tigbakay, are held in secluded cockpits where authorities cannot raid them. In both types, knives or gaffs are used. There are two kinds of knives used in Philippine cockfighting. The single edge blade (use in derbies) and double edged blades, lengths of knives also vary. All knives are attached on the left leg of the bird, but depending on agreement between owners, blades can be attached on the right or even on both legs.

Sabong and illegal tupada, are judged by a referee called sentensyador or koyme, whose verdict is final and not subject to any appeal. Bets are usually taken by the kristo, so named because of his outstretched hands when calling out wagers from the audience and skillfully doing so purely from memory.“

I won R2, 200 in today’s fight,” Martin says as he nurses the bloodied left leg of his prized-rooster. “It’s hard when the gamecocks are sick or injured,” he adds. This cheerful cockfight fan still dreams of becoming an automotive mechanic and hopefully to work abroad, and to earn a decent pay worth crowing about.

(Editor’s note: This is a profile by the author for an ongoing series; it is not an endorsement of cockfighting by Animal Scene.)

This appeared in Animal Scene’s June 2015 issue.