By Oliver Samson | Correspondent
THE Philippine gamefowl industry’s worth stands at around P50 billion today and is exhibiting behaviors of growing more in the coming years, the government believes.
The gamefowl-feed market alone is currently valued at P15 billion; and veterinary products for game chickens, like medicine and vitamins and minerals, at P2 billion, Abraham Khalil Mitra, Games and Amusements Board (GAB) chairman, said in an exclusive interview on February 7.
According to Mitra, the industry covers production of gamefowl feed and veterinary products, manufacturing of related equipment and tools—incubators, knives (tari), cords (tali), wing and leg bands, feeders and waterers—retail, farm lands, facilities and number of chickens produced. The industry also covers cockpits and operations and other related undertakings.
The industry is overseen by the GAB, an agency under the Office of the President that “regulates and supervises professional sports and allied activities to combat and prevent the existence and proliferation of illegal bookie joints and other forms of organized illegal gambling connected with all play-for-pay sports and amusement games.”
The feed companies pay 35 percent corporate income tax, Mitra told the BusinessMirror. Local governments are also collecting their share in the revenues the industry generates.
THE industry also generates opportunity to earn for individuals who are directly or indirectly engaged in the sport, according to Nick Crisostomo, president of the Luzon Gamefowl Breeders Association (LGBA).
It provides hundreds of sentenciador (individuals who officiate the fight), gaffer (mananari), kristo (bet-takers), informal cock doctors (manggagamot) and cockpit vendors across the country an opportunity to make a living, he said.
Gaffers can also make a fortune, Crisostomo added.
The top gaffers could make no less than P100,000 in a month, Noli Estrellado said in an earlier interview. Estrellado is known as one of the most successful gaffers today.
“If the gaffer does his job professionally, he can make money,” he said. “It takes a good reputation for the bosses to trust you.”
The gaffer gets paid P1, 000 for each rooster he arms that wins and takes a share in the prize when the entry wins as champion in the big derbies, Estrellado explained.
Professional gaffers tie the knife (long knife), sometimes even on a Sunday, in Manila and other cockfighting hubs outside the metropolitan, he added. Estrellado said an excellent gaffer—if he has the skills and the discipline—can hop from one cocker to another.
Estrellado’s properties in Laguna and Makati and financial ability to fund his children’s education bare witness to his success as a gaffer.
Another top gaffer is Albert Margen.
Like Estrellado, Margen believes that most gaffers are as competent as they are. But success takes more than simply that.
“It’s not only the skill, but also the discipline and honesty,” he said. “The bosses will look for you if you have a good reputation.”
And, like Estrellado, Margen was also able to acquire properties and ensure his children receive good education.
AT the La Loma Cockpit, seven people from two generations are huddled together on a table. They are furiously working to suture a rooster wounded from a fight.
Looking at their faces alone, one could tell these people evolved from one gene. One of them is a widow who took the place of her husband who passed away years ago, the cockpit operator said. Had they worn white, many can mistake them for physicians in an operating room.
No one dared disturb the manggagamot crew as a cacophony of sounds signal the start of another fight.
Aside from Manila, the major cockfighting hubs in the Philippines include Davao, Cebu and Bacolod.
According to Crisostomo, indicators point to the industry continuing to get bigger in the coming years.
“The gamefowl industry is still growing and will grow bigger in the next few years,” Crisostomo said.
He pointed to the increasing number of gamefowl breeders—small and big alike—across the country as suggesting the entry of new players in the manufacturing of feeds. This also suggests an expanding market.
ACCORDING to Crisostomo, every province in the country hosts at least an association of breeders.
“Some provinces have even more.”
He cited as example the LGBA. Founded by former Tarlac Rep Jose Cojuangco, Biboy Enriquez and Boy Diaz in the 2000, the LGBA has over 250 active members today.
Crisostomo said the LGBA promotes about 20 derbies annually. It admits into membership any breeder who produces at least a hundred cockerels in a season. The candidate member should breed and raise the chickens on at least 1.5 hectares of land and be endorsed by at least two bona fide association members.
Gamefowl farms across the country provide a living to hundreds of people, Crisostomo noted. The more chickens means more farmhands are required.
“As a rule of thumb, a farm should employ one for every 100 roosters in cord,” Crisostomo said.
If a breeder cords 1,000 roosters, he employs 10 people, he explained.
THE mounting volume of eggs in incubators denotes a climb not only in the number of chickens but also in the number of breeders, an owner of a hatchery in Los Baños, Laguna, explained.
“I can see the industry is getting bigger,” said Boy Ang, who is an incubation technology specialist and also manufactures incubators. “More breeders are coming in.”
Currently, Ang incubates about 40,000 eggs from breeders across Laguna alone.
The demand for new incubators and demand for repairs are rising, which is suggestive of industry growth, he noted.
In fact, the production muscle of one of the major players in the gamefowl feed and medicine subsector may not even meet the current demand as a result of the growing number of enthusiasts nationwide, Mitra said.
Currently, breeders and cockfighters in the country coalesce around two big umbrella organizations.
We have two major associations, according to Mitra. He cited the Federation of Gamefowl Breeders Association (Figba) headed by Ricoy Palmares and the Digmaan, which is headed by Wilson Ong.
The Figba holds the “Bakbakan,” a prestigious national annual stag derby. Multitime cock derby champions have said they find the Bakbakan” title so close to Ong’s “Digmaan”. The latter is also a national annual stag derby that is younger than Figba’s.
COCKFIGHTING is both a sport and gambling, pointed out Mitra, who is a cocker himself.
Some big-time breeder brand endorsers are into gambling, but the majority who gamble are backyard breeders, he explained.
“There are two kinds of cocker. One is a gambler, the other is a breeder,” Mitra said. “But, I think, the number of breeders outnumbers the gamblers.”
A class A battle-stag cost today P12,000, while a class A battle-cock cost from P15,000 to P20,000, according to Mitra. A trio may cost P45,000, he added.
“But for Nene Abello, it’s P60,000; for Gen-Gen Arayata, it’s P150,000; and for Lance dela Torre, it’s about P0.2 million,” he said. “Their theory is, if you want the best, you really have to pay for it.”
An imported trio may cost $1,500, Mitra said.
Producing caliber, breeding materials undergoes a number of years of experimentations and infusions of several bloodlines, said Mitra, who is a gamefowl breeder himself.
ACCORDING to Crisostomo, the media helped the industry take leaps and bounds in the past two decades. The sport gained more popularity and breadth, drawing the interest of thousands of new and uninitiated enthusiasts, after a national television program dedicated to it went on air in the late 1990s.
Tukaan (now the All New Tukaan), aired on IBC 13, which was hosted by the late Emoy Gorgonia from 1998 until his death in 2007, was instrumental in revolutionizing the sport and in setting the industry on its course toward growth, he explained.
Media practitioners specializing in cockfighting also grew in number. Magazines, television and radio shows dedicated to cockfighting are generating jobs. Rolando Luzong, for one, who leads All Angles Media Inc., goes print, radio and television.
The competition among them to hit more viewers is seen to result in more mature and dynamic cockfighting media, to the benefit of the industry as a whole.
The policy on importation of chickens, mostly from the United States, also helped the industry to grow in a rapid pace, Crisostomo said.
THE increasing number of breeders would also create new earning opportunities.
Some breeders allow their farmhands to bring their family with them in the farm.
One of them is Biboy Enriquez, a retired hotelier, who houses his farmhands and their respective families at his 20-hectare farm in Tanay, Rizal. Their children go to the nearest schools.
Some American breeders even partner with Filipino counterparts to breed and raise gamefowl in the Philippines, since the sport was outlawed in the US. Others wish to breed and raise gamefowl in the country without a local partner.
The growth in the number of gamefowl enthusiasts across the country was giving one of the biggest feed and veterinary product manufacturers a volume of demand its current production muscle could not deliver.
In 2008 the number of gamefowl, which include the breeding materials, chicks, cockerels, pullets and roosters for pit action nationwide, was estimated to have reached 40 million, Mitra said. The number rose to 44 million today.
“We are the center of cockfighting in the world,” Mitra said. “Outside of the Philippines, of course, there is Mexico, Puerto Rico and several others. But cockfighting is in no other country that big.”
According to Mitra, the GAB oversees international derbies.
We have the National Cockers Alliance, the Pit Masters Cup and the World Slasher Cup, he said.
Promoters pay GAB a fee of P18,500 for every derby, and P300 for every match, Mitra said.
Some people, however, attach the term “international” to their derbies, despite the fact that those are local derbies only and charge the audience an international derby admission fee, Mitra said.
“An international derby should have a minimum of eight foreign participants,” he explained. “We understand some people in the Visayas, and Mindanao, as well as Luzon, who use the term international to their local derbies.”
Starting March 1 this year, derby promoters should secure authorization from the board before holding a derby, Mitra said.
As of today, only three leagues secure permission from GAB, which include the World Slasher Cup, NCA and Pit Masters Cup, he added.
The major derbies draw from 1,000 to 3,000 audience, according to Mitra.
DESPITE moves to outlaw the sport in the country, enthusiasts and industry leaders are not worried.
“I don’t think that would happen to the Philippines,” he said. “[The gamefowl industry is] a very strong industry. There are cockpits in almost all of the municipalities and cities.”
About 75 percent of municipalities across the country have cockpits, he added. A municipality can operate one cockpit for every 150,000 people of its population. If a town has 300,000 people, it can operate two.
“In the city of Puerto Princesa, Palawan, there will be two cockpits, since its population has over 300,000 people,” Mitra said. “One [cockpit could be] inside the poblacion [downtown], another outside it.”
In Davao two cockpits operate in the poblacion and about five others outside it, since the city has a big population, he added.
“We feel that the chicken has a better chance in the ring with a knife compared to in the kitchen without a knife and a housewife with a big knife,” Mitra said. “That’s how we look at it. So, animal rights, go somewhere else.”
Any initiative to outlaw cockfighting in the Philippines would fail, he said.
The main drivers of the gamefowl industry growth are competition, the Internet and social media, Mitra said.
“If the economy is good, the industry is strong,” he said. “Enthusiasts would have more power to purchase gamefowl, and the products and services they need.”
The growing competition among players in the industry is seen to result in higher quality of products and services, Mitra added.
“Five years from now the population of gamefowl in the country may rise to a total of 50 million and even higher.”
The international derbies World Slasher Cup, NCA and Pit Masters Cup may have one or more competitor rivals, Mitra added. Mindanao had already secured permit to promote an international derby. Visayas might take a similar initiative.
Recently, GAB conducted trainings, dubbed as Sabong Standardization Seminars, for upgrading the skills and licensing of a gaffer, sentenciador and manggagamot in Palawan, in cooperation with cockpit owners and the two big local associations in the province, Mitra said.
The board issued a P1,020 two-year license to the participants, he noted.
GAB saw standardization of gaffing, officiating and post-battle care would upgrade these occupations and is good for the industry as a whole, Mitra added. We have 149 new licensees.
The Philippines also hosts the annual International Gamefowl Festival, which was held in January at the SMX Mall of Asia, and its rival World Gamefowl Expo, held in the same month at the World Trade Center.