Death in the arena – of fighting cocks and president Rodrigo Duterte

Published : 05/21/2016 20:51:37
Categories : Hardy on Philippines

A specjał thank you to my sister Beata Wolczuk Pietkiewicz for being my support group,

for proofreading and translating my scribblings from Polish into English.

You can get in touch with her in your hour of need at this address beatkapietkiewicz@gmail.com

All rights reserved. Pictures Tom Bufeq.

Different seasons. Day and night. 24/7. In small villages, in ad hoc arranged backyards as well as in professionally built halls, only for this purpose. Usually three times a week on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday or Saturday. From short contests to end-of-the-week pageants of the champions. One thing is constant - great emotions, temperatures skyrocketing, madness ruling all present status notwithstanding. You can meet clerks and local elite rubbing elbows with beggars.

Yeah! Talking about cockfighting

Roosters on the leash. Future kings of the arena.

Last week Rodrigo Duterte became the president of the Philippines. Now that is a very interesting figure. A colorful nonconformist dude, well known for brisk and tough decisions. All in all very efficient. He describes himself as an ordinary guy, doesn't care for wealth, doesn't have money and doesn't even dream of social benefits. His campaign didn't have financial support, costly ads,banners or gadgets.

Duterte admitted on TV interview that fundraising for commercial billboards was unethical in face of extreme poverty in his country. It resulted in a handmade production. Thousands of citizens began creating manually, too often very industriously logos, banners, and billboards on pieces of linoleum and cardboard, putting together campaign and soon private properties, fences and houses were covered with free ads.

Roosters bred for arena have bloodlust in their veins.

Exactly like cockfighting.efect doesn't depend on size of the opponent, doesn't have anything in common with practice or training. Recklessness, courage and luck mixed with fate are main factors. Character is of utmost importance. In a way roosters have bloodlust in their veins. As soon as they are set free by their seconds, without any additional incentive they go for the jugular. Roosters are bred here by almost everyone with an acre of land and some crops. What's more interesting because of the demand there are more roosters than hens.

Lord of the manor-a typical rooster shed made of palm leaves.

Sometimes one specimen sometimes a bigger  herd. A rooster is always shackled by a leg. The length of a rope doesn't let him reach another bird. The enemy is always within his eyesight. The whole time he feels danger, but confrontation is delayed for weeks. Every rooster has got its own roof, shed and shade. In extreme heat, and let me tell you- here most days are hot and steamy- with no shade at all the little birdie wouldn't last a day.  

And here the whole army- bachelors only.

Ingenuity of breeders is unimaginable. Sheds are woven with palm leaves, built of welded empty olive oil tins, corrugated iron or old tires.

Sometimes there's a water container, sometimes not. Roosters aren't pampered. They must learn to do without in order to survive. Only then they can be successful in fight.

You can watch,but you never touch.

Duterte is just like a rooster. For many years a mayor of Davao-a large town in the south of Mindanao, an infamous region avoided at all costs by the Philippos. But Davao is one of the safest and quietest towns in the whole country. An oasis for the retired Japanese, warm sea climate, low living costs and SAFETY. And all due to Daurte's nonconformist fight with any signs of aggression. During his rule in Davao smoking and obscenity in public places got banned. Swearing, profanities and thrash talk in the streets are forbidden. In case you forget,you're reminded by big billboards in every corner in the town. Mr mayor has been a large presence in many events. As he witnessed an unseemly behavior of a certain cabdriver who tried to extort some extra money from a passenger, he pulled the driver from the cab, thrashed him soundly and creamed him there and then. As he later commented, such behavior is totally unacceptable but as justice is slow, the crook might escape punishment altogether.

Another story is as good. A celebrity has been forbidden to put his foot in this town. The hotshot laughed on the national TV at women in Davao, describing them as shrimp-faced broads. So he was banned for life from the town, without tar and wheelbarrow as yet.

I can only add the little shit got what he deserved. Women in Davao as in the Philippines are very sexy,beautiful and sensual.

Growing up in poverty builds character. Further in Mindanao, more to the south there is a dock town General Santos, called GenSan. The place where another famous Philippos, a hero and pride of all good people of Mindanao and the Philippines generally, grew up and honed his skills. A man, a symbol, an institution, a living proof that you can become a hero, a millionaire and a star overcoming obstacles of birth and childhood on the wrong side of tracks. A world champion in boxing Manny Pacquiao.

I'm going to write more about GenSan and Pacquiao at a later date, but now only a few words about his great charity work in the Philippines; financing and supporting help programs for underprivileged people. He became a congressman,possibly a senator at the moment. Although criticized constantly for his lack of manners and not bowing to the rules in the living rooms of high and mighty he is doing his job.

What does the future hold for Duterte?

But talking about roosters... I spent one memorable evening at cockfighting. did I place a bet? Yeah....Did I win? Yeah....and for the Philippines a great sum of money. It may seem an empty boast,but I swear I kept winning and I bet a lot.

What can I say? The winner takes it all...

Introducing the champions.

Just before a fight there is presentation of champions; I.e.the weight of every birdie, chickens are brought within touching distance, they're set upon each other. Cocks are marked with colorful tapes, usually green or yellow. You name your chosen champion by the color of the ribbon. Sometimes it's unnecessary, cause birds' plummage is sufficiently different, so there's no doubt which is your favorite. But sometimes they happen to be very similar and ribbons are helpful when it comes to collecting money.

The blades tied to their legs are very effective.

Their legs have blades- rooster claws. Next in a nervous atmosphere bets are placed and taken by bookies. Guys, waving and fluttering their arms take bids from all over the hall. They confirm sums, types and colors with fists and fingers thus communicating with someone sitting dozens yards away from them.bokies confirm all to memory. Looks like Wall Street.

I was in company of my guy Benji. We sat behind a bookie taking bets and then I didn't need to collect my winnings far away. What's interesting bookies never collect money before a fight. Guys- and I mean guys as I have never seen a woman in role of a bookmaker- remember exactly who, how much and which bet. Payments follow the scores

It's not Wall Street, although emotions are equally primal.

A few gestures and a bet is placed.

Quick response guarantees a nightly commission for a bookie.

Last minute for a bet.

And then the final countdown and the charge of the light brigade....the audience is in throes of madness , all stand up,screaming and yelling and waving hands. Totally rocks. The fight lasts only a moment, sometimes only a few seconds up to half a minute. Usually they aim for the jugular and within a moment the opponent is dead. 

The fight is short. A few seconds, half a minute and the arena is soaked with blood.

The fight is won if one rooster is definitely dead. Sometimes both are unable to continue the fight and it means the tie-down. And only bookies are winners. Most of the times the winner is also badly injured and then he deserves "medical care ". After a few finals he gets the title of the champion and its breeder gets a label. The seconds check the earthly remains laying on the arena and pronounce the verdict. Then bets are accounted for. Bank notes are crumbled in balls and thrown over the arena between players and bookies. Suddenly the air is thick with money rolls flying here and there. A mistake? No way no how,no chance in hell to avoid paying. Besides bookie dudes look like a hell of dudes who would never let a debtor disappear without paying their due.

The one and only source of emotions...gambling.

Euphoric winners, poor losers, dramas of bankrupts. It's easy to spot a real gambler. There are many of them, sitting in the first row, frozen in their seats. many of them go to work by day only to return here at night with hopes to change the wheel of fortune.

Sometimes joy sometimes drama.

Rodrigo Duterte or Manny Pacquiao can be compared to champions of the fights. Similar to the best of fighters in the arena. Good instincts,quick and effective. Born dirt poor, surmounting great obstacles with hard work and effort give example how to get to the top. Duterte becoming the president confirms only that it is worth being true to yourself;incorruptible, nonconformist and against all odds people can notice and appreciate his efforts.

Pacquiao is another über man, but it's not his über career that makes impression. It's what happened next. A guy coming from the bottom, from thrash,from the wrong side of the tracks doesn't wallow in money (although hard and painfully earned). He consequently moves on, shares experience, success and money. His vision encompasses changing their world he knows best and he comes from for the better.

What's so striking is that both personalities aren't aware that outside the arena there are many overlapping connections, interests and smooching. What brought them to the top starts to restrict them.

Duterte seems to be unaware that life isn't the arena only. His successful election might be spectacular but it's only one element out of many in political life in the Philippines and only one of factors influencing situation of an average citizen in thousands of islands.

It's clearly seen in his moves and interviews how he tries to continue his role as the sheriff of Devao. In particular steps it might be successful. But more than not it feeds only the media.

Duterte is so like this champion rooster, trying to win in close combat with another cock. He doesn't notice however the ultimate prize because even the greatest champion of the ring cannot change the rules of the game.

So has Duterte got any chance to change the Philippines? To break the spiral of poverty, marasmus, give any prospects? I cross my fingers and applaud people like him or Manny. But I am very doubtful. I guess in greater scope they have no chance. If as a president, Duterte will take to mangling corrupt cabdrivers, then a cabbie might repent after being punished. But great corporations sponging off the country,capital consolidated in hands of a few families, legal system working in favor of interested parties, corporate investments bordering on corruption and financed by some offshore financial groups with roots in China or Korea controlling most resources in the Philippines like banks,pawnshops, industry, real estate, will only appreciate such a president even more. Duterte on the other hand isn't prepared without think tanks for a gambit with such powerful players. Only time can tell if he can choose his battles. Or he can be tamed and become a local weirdo to be laughed at.one can only hope he'll not become another victim to some vicious plotting or intrigues, or what is more-typical of the Philippines- another victim of shooting.

And the outcome of my night at cockfights? Well...interesting .

A bookie sitting in front of us turned round once and again, paying our winnings 

They sum grew larger and larger and our luck didn't go unnoticed by other gamblers. Benji was holding the dough and he showed the bookie which cock and how much we bet. He was so excited that he didn't notice the thickening atmosphere around us. At last I decided to give up and stop tempting fate. As we were leaving our bookie turned to us and asked to keep in touch, because just for the future- he has got a very beautiful sister and he would not mind us married. I have been to the Philippines since then. I never called but his business card is still in my possession.

Next to the arena were passing a small square occupied by many rooster breeders, all waiting to be chosen by jurors and hoping their rooster will be the next champion. I guess there were many possible future kings of the arena.

In the backstage the breeders wait for a chance for their pets to become a champion.

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