Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Different Strokes, Different Folks

In the wake of the brutal dogfighting scandal that has imperiled the career of Atlanta Falcons’ Michael Vick, the following story on illegal cockfighting somewhere in rural Polk County in Florida came out, this time highlighting the illegal and shady underground world of professional cockfighting here in the US. Aside from the brutality of the sport, this activity has been judged illegal in all states, except in Louisiana.

With this high-profile case about dogfighting, the good likelihood is that it will push legal initiatives addressing all forms of cruelty to animals in arranged encounters masquerading as sports. The concomitant monetary dimensions may also likely provide the needed inertia to slow the process down because these activities also partake of big-time gambling. So let’s wait and see, after all cruelty to humans as we see in many of those extreme fighting events is going the other way – on the rise and gaining more participants/viewership.

But now across this big pond we call the Pacific lies the archipelago nation of the Philippines that has very deep cultural ties (and monetary, too) with precisely this “sport” of cockfighting, so deeply ingrained that all strata of society willingly and with no qualms, participate in this legal activity. Even before Magellan in the 1500s discovered the islands, its indigenous peoples were already steeply engaged in it, placing it as a central part of their social recreation. In the big cities down to the lowliest towns, the presence of the unmistakable cockpit is ubiquitous and during Sundays, pious attendance to religious ceremonies in the largely Catholic country competes with the boisterous sessions at the cockpit.

And its popularity appears to be at inverse proportion to the country’s economic conditions. The poorer it gets, the more cockfighting is being done. As I recall growing up in that milieu, cockfighting was legal only during Sundays, or on rare occasions sanctioned by the local authorities, either as a celebratory dispensation like during fiestas, or to commemorate special occasions that bring more people (and money) to the locality. And these were held exclusively in a sanctioned cockpit under “regulatory supervision”. But even then, there were illegal and clandestine cockfighting sessions called tupadas, sprouting in remote and inaccessible areas.

But now as I understand it, the market holds sway, meaning it is held as often as the market can bear. Which could be daily. And as an undeniable measure of its popularity and acceptance, the same coliseum where the Ali-Frazier fight was seen by the entire world, the same place where the last pope said the Mass that echoed across the globe, is the same place where cockfighting “derbies” are regularly held and where the richest aficionados match the skills of their cocks with their bloated pocketbooks, and as reported with wagers as high as $400,000 per day.

As reported by LA Times, this “sport”, or call it game or industry, economically benefits the entire country annually to the tune of US$1 billion. As many as 5 million gladiator cocks are used each year for this.

One wrinkle that may separate the Philippines from the rest as reported is the manner of disposition of the “loser” cocks, or locally called bihag, which in most instances are not either thrown away or buried, but brought home and eaten. I recall as a kid that one could go to the cockpit and savor menu derived from their carcasses, rich and nutritious soup or stew dishes since cocks are not only fed and treated well but they regularly ingest vitamin pills to prepare them for battle. Or one could buy them dressed and brought home to be cooked as desired.

It is interesting to note also that during that time the much preferred breed was called Texas, primarily because they were imported from the US. And local breeders since then have been exerting their best to produce the best fighting cocks from that mix. I was told of late that in Stockton one could purchase breeders for export to other countries. However it has also been reported by the LA Times, that the president has signed a law making it a felony to transport across state lines, or export, chickens used in fights.

Like the sport itself, cockfighting lingo is also rich and colorful – inilog and biya, masyador or kristo, quatro diez, siete ocho, llamado and dejado, sunoy and sabungero, tari for razors or knives, etc.