Yough Pioneer Tours

Culture or Cruelty? Cock Fighting in the Philippines

I know that what I’m about to say will disgust and anger some of my friends, but I’m going to say it anyway — I love cock fighting.

My first experience of this frantic, fascinating and sometimes fatal spectacle was during my first visit to the Philippines, when I went with some lads to Puerto Galera, an island resort not too far from Manila. We had a free week and open minds. One night, after a number of refreshing cold drinks, one of the boys returned from a mysterious errand, and casually announced that he’d arranged “a spit roast” for us all to enjoy the next day. I choked on my beer until he explained that he meant a proper, actual spit roast — a pig rotating over a fire. “And we get a special discount if one of us kills it,” he added cheerfully. “So I’ve volunteered you for the job.”

Pigs take quite some time to roast, so it was at 8am the next morning that I found myself deeply hungover with a knife shaking in my hand. Before me were three Filipino dudes holding down a rather disgruntled looking pig. I had been quite proud of my unblemished record of never stabbing animals, but that was about to change. My inexperience and reluctance to commit piggicide was immediately obvious — my first half-hearted jab bounced harmlessly off the porker’s thick skin. The Filipinos laughed, and told me to stab like a man. My second attempt was only marginally more successful — the pig squealed, I shrieked like a girl and we were both soon covered in blood. But I’d missed the fatal spot and only wounded the poor creature.

Fortunately, the local lads immediately finished the job and the pig was suddenly transformed into pork. Of course, the Filipinos found my piss-poor performance absolutely hilarious. Later, as my victim was being enjoyed by dozens of hungry people, they suggested that I take another step outside my comfort zone, and go with them to the cock fight. From their sideways smiles and amused glances, they clearly thought I’d refuse — “not thanks guys, that’s enough blood for one day” — but, hey, a change is as good as a holiday.

Before I start describing my first experience of cock fighting, it’s worth noting just what a big deal the “sport” is to Filipinos. Every town and village has its own arena, and there is even a television station devoted to it. Owners and trainers can earn vast fortunes, and it’s so deeply ingrained in their culture that accusations of cruelty simply don’t register with the average Filipino.

The arena in Puerto Galera is far below any premiere league standard, being pretty rough and ready, with only space for a few hundred people. Despite these surroundings, the atmosphere was building from excitement to frenzy as the first fight approached. Punters were swarming around the bookies throwing down their bets — there are no betting slips, I guess the system relies on a bit of honesty and a lot of memory.

Suddenly, the fight begins… and, yes, I’ve got to admit, it is brutal. There’s no way round the fact that it’s two cockerels with razor sharp blades strapped to their legs pecking each other with relentless testosterone-fuelled rage.

Having said that, I had expected it to be even worse carnage. In most cases the birds aren’t allowed fight to the death, and fatalities are actually quite rare. Outside the cockpit (yes, it’s where the word comes from) there are medical areas where the birds can be patched up to fight another day. But, again, it can’t be denied, it’s brutal.

Part of me wanted to hate it, but I can’t deny that I got a rush from watching the gladiatorial combat — and, if I backed the right bird, I could turn a profit on the evening. Like so many other things we enjoy, there is always a mental compromise, an internal conflict. Those cheap trainers you love that were made in a Bangladeshi sweat shop? That tax you saved that could have benefited the common good? Or the pig you killed being enjoyed by a happy crowd of habitual meat eaters…

Plenty of time has passed since, and the Philippines remains one of our favourite places in the world. The grisly aspects of the country are absent, and our years of experience are the basis for one of the most fun (and vegetarian-friendly) dates on YPT’s calendar; the Palawan Party Island Hopping Tour

4 days in the most remote and beautiful area of the Philippines

Secret lagoons, hidden beaches, a private boat & one hell of a party

Palawan Party Island Hopping Tour

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