Call it cruel, call it barbaric. I wouldn’t disagree. But cockfighting is a way of life in the Philippines, has been for epochs of time, and will not be going anywhere.
The term “opiate of the masses” has long been dragged through the proverbial mud. Misquoted and misunderstood to the point of irrelevance. But a drive past the shanty homes and piles of garbage on the way to your first cockfight will perhaps make you understand this Marxist utterance of yore on a deeper level.
In Cebu City, where I was on this sunny Sunday in March for a tour with GNT, a quarter of people live on less than 300 dollars per month. They live under a systemic of chronic corruption and inequality evidenced by the crooked wooden structures that people call home sandwiched between luxury residential complexes. S
igns extolling the various candidates up for the imminent national elections litter the road and fly in the wind; the people here know that the results bear no relevance to their own lives.
Around a corner, down an alley is the cockfighting arena. The rows of motorbikes and men carrying their prized roosters give it away; this is the cockpit. There’s a small cover to get in, 100 pesos – but my local friend got in free for “bringing tourists”.
The first thing you hear is the roar of the crowd, there is certainly a level of engagement here that I hadn’t previously witnessed anywhere else in the Philippines. As I climbed the steps, giving myself a view of the cockpit, my heart sank, how can I possibly be attending such an event? I was a man conflicted.
We situated ourselves at the top, giving us a panoramic view of the hundreds of people descending on this ring to eek some joy out of their lives. The audience was 99.9 per cent men and were all of the working class.
The hardship of their own personal lives are not relevant here, but I think about it nonetheless. How many have daughters, wives or sisters working in Hong Kong, Canada, Britain or Saudi Arabia, sending half of their already meagre wages back home in remittances as their families grow up without them?
The two teams; Wala and Meron, face off. The cocks, bloviating with Enertone and other such steroidal concoctions flap, claw and dance a deadly dance around the ring until one relents. The mangled body of the loser is pulled off and the mirth of the victor’s supporters ripples about the cockfighting arena.
The minimum bet was 500 pesos, meaning that a successful day at the cockpit could spell fortune that working for a week may very well be unable to.
Our stay there is short. I stop at the Ayala shopping complex to pick something up on the way back. I hate malls. But the flavour is honestly worst than most. Single mothers with their gaggle of children gorging on imported sugary drinks and designer stores selling things that people two city blocks away would have work for ten years to afford. It seems perverse.
The Philippines may have been saved from the perils of collectivisation imposed on their counterparts in Vietnam, Cambodia and China, but the price they pay is the creation of a parallel society; the haves and the have-nots.
Next time you’re in the Philippines, see a cockfight. You’ll see something doing more to improve the lives of the locals than an entire economic system has.
Adrian Dee is a deputy tour manager with travel firm GNT.