SOMEONE ELSE’S WINDOWS: A sabungero’s tale: Vice and virus

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews / 15 April) – A columnist once called cockfighting “the fairest of all sports.” That may have been the case when this cruel spectacle of fowls fighting to the death still thrived on the level of superstition, that is, when sabungeros divined the fate of their feathered gladiators from omens around them.

For instance, sabungeros would consider it bad luck if they encounter a funeral procession on the way to the cockpit. Another bad sign is when a female family member has a menstruation, something which feminists would surely take as an insult against women.

Sabungeros of old also believed that the shape of the moon determines a cock’s performance (no allusion to human anatomy) depending on the color of its feet. Cocks with white or yellow feet fight well during or shortly before a full moon. Those with dark feet have the odds in their favor when much of the moon’s surface is covered with black.

Things changed however after cockfighting morphed from being the poor man’s diversion from his wretchedness (as the Spanish colonizers had intended) into a rich man’s game. The image of a Mang Kepweng blowing cheap cigar smoke into his rooster has long been gone from the sabungero consciousness. Credit – or maybe blame – goes to the sugar barons of Negros for importing hybrid fighting cocks from Hawaii, Texas and other American states and propagating them in their haciendas. Bigger, taller, faster and more aggressive, these foreign breeds displaced their native counterparts especially in high-stake contests called derbies.

From Mang Kepweng’s cigar smoke and superstition, science has become the dictum of cockfighting. Sabungeros – rich, poor and those in between – now talk about breeding practices, physical conditioning and proper feeding. Some breeders even keep track of and experiment with breeding pairs and observe which of them produce the winningest offspring, consciously or unconsciously applying genetics to their costly leisure.

Only the affluent sabungeros can afford to follow these standards to the letter. Those with meager resources can only do catch-up and wish themselves luck come fight time. Besides, during big-time derbies rich entrants are known to inject steroids into their fowls, a practice not explicitly allowed in the sport but not banned either. Now, steroids cost thousands. So there goes “fairness”.

Moreover, only a few can afford a pair of brood cock and hen from breeders with popular bloodlines. In the 1990s, one such pair already cost around P35,000. The rationale is this: Only those who have more than enough money can keep up with the demands of scientific breeding and conditioning. As such, limiting the market to the really wealthy gives the original breeders the assurance that the buyers can maintain the reputation of their bloodlines, which is spread around by word of mouth.

But what drives men (and, on rare occasions, women) crazy about cockfighting? Culture and tradition is the ready justification. In fact, no fiesta in honor of a patron saint is complete without a cockfight or derby, a bizarre mix of vice and virtue implanted by colonialism. In rural areas where the parish priests ban the holding of cockfights during fiestas, menfolk who can’t resist the urge would resort to tari-tari (illegal cockfights), sometimes in collusion with village officials and law enforcers.

The whole thing could also be rooted in machismo, as sociologists would suggest. “If my cock (again, no allusion to human anatomy) wins against yours, then I’m superior to you as a man.”

To the dismay though of many sabungeros who went to the derby in Matina, Davao City last month, they found out too late that their machismo is no match against COVID-19. And sadly enough, it’s possibly the same macho attitude, the feeling of invulnerability, that keeps many of them from submitting themselves to health authorities. But it’s one rare instance where fairness might have assumed its true form if it’s the case that the virus had infected sabungeros from both sides of the economic divide.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at