Underground Cock Fighting in Manila Revisited

Last month my editor at Getty Images gave me the rare opportunity to revisit some of my old stories from the Philippines: Small scale gold mining in southern Leyte, and the underground cock fighting scene in Manila.

I was first introduced to the world of cock fighting when I decided to move out of my guest house in Manila and onto a fighting cock training farm in the working class neighbourhood of San Andres Bukid. In metro Manila, where space is in short supply, the “farm” was really just an empty lot between two houses. But shaded by tall bamboo thickets and closed off from the hustle of the streets by a tall iron gate – ominously topped in concertina wire – the training centre proved to be one of the most relaxing places I’ve yet to find in a city of nearly 12 million.

Floren Castillio, whose house in little more than a tarped bed he shares with his wife and granddaughter, is the farm’s caretaker and a well respected “gaffer” – a combination of fighting cock trainer and amateur veterinarian. Two years ago, when I first met Floren, he unhesitatingly agreed to allow me to set up a tent on his property within the first hour of meeting him. During the month or so I stayed there, he greeted me each morning with a cup of coffee and recoiled whenever I tried to pay him rent. Even though I hadn’t had any contact with the man since 2012, when I showed up again out of the blue he immediately went to his small storage closet, pulled out my old tent, and asked me how long I wanted to stay.

Though a tight work schedule limited my time in Manila and I couldn’t spend as much time with Floren as I would have liked, he was instrumental in getting me access to the underground cock fighting scene once again. Animal ethics aside, cock fighting is one of the most popular national sports in the Philippines, and it takes place nearly every day in the country, from Manila’s backstreets to massive government sanctioned arenas.

This story was shot over a day and a half in the neighbourhoods of San Andres Bukid and Raymundo. All images are the exclusive property of Getty Images.

Floren Castillio, a respected gaffer, pulls a young fighting cock towards him before giving it minor surgery.

Floren Castillio, a respected gaffer, pulls a young fighting cock towards him before giving it minor surgery. ©Luc Forsyth/Getty Images

Floren Castillio uses a metal pin to clear an area for a feather transplant. When fighting cocks suffer damaged feathers, they are replaced - sometimes with heavier turkey feathers - to give the birds increased balance and stability.

Floren Castillio uses a metal pin to clear an area for a feather transplant. When fighting cocks suffer damaged feathers, they are replaced – sometimes with heavier turkey feathers – to give the birds increased balance and stability. ©Luc Forsyth/Getty Images

Floren's bloody body after a morning of giving surgery.

Floren’s bloody body after a morning of giving surgery. ©Luc Forsyth/Getty Images

Young men inspect the cocks on Floren's property, looking for a potential bird to buy.

Young men inspect the cocks on Floren’s property, looking for a potential bird to buy. ©Luc Forsyth/Getty Images

A group gathers on Floren's farm to test the aggression of fighting cocks in advance of a large fight. This pre-fight test will influence what birds are bet on the following morning.

A group gathers on Floren’s farm to test the aggression of fighting cocks in advance of a large fight. This pre-fight test will influence what birds are bet on the following morning. ©Luc Forsyth/Getty Images

A non-lethal test fight to test the aggressiveness and stamina of the birds.

A non-lethal test fight to test the aggressiveness and stamina of the birds. ©Luc Forsyth/Getty Images

The morning of a fight, men gather in the working class neighbourhood of Raymundo to place bets.

The morning of a fight, men gather in the working class neighbourhood of Raymundo to place bets. ©Luc Forsyth/Getty Images

An old man contemplates which bird to bet on before a fight. People have been known to wager a month's pay on a single fight.

An old man contemplates which bird to bet on before a fight. People have been known to wager a month’s pay on a single fight. ©Luc Forsyth/Getty Images

Crowds gather to watch one of many fights for the day.

Crowds gather to watch one of many fights for the day. ©Luc Forsyth/Getty Images

Multiple gaffers, or fighting cock doctors, are on hand to treat injured birds after each fight.

Multiple gaffers, or fighting cock doctors, are on hand to treat injured birds after each fight. ©Luc Forsyth/Getty Images

The bloody hands of a gaffer at the end of the day's fighting. Gaffers act as amateur veterinarians, and can treat almost any wound a fighting cock might suffer.

The bloody hands of a gaffer at the end of the day’s fighting. Gaffers act as amateur veterinarians, and can treat almost any wound a fighting cock might suffer. ©Luc Forsyth/Getty Images

A man watches money being exchanged after losing a bet.

A man watches money being exchanged after losing a bet. ©Luc Forsyth/Getty Images

Feathers are swept out of the fighting pit at the end of  each fight.

Feathers are swept out of the fighting pit at the end of each fight. ©Luc Forsyth/Getty Images

Versions of this story appeared in The Wall Street Journal and Yahoo! News.  These photos are the exclusive property of Getty Images and may not be used without consent – all images are available for purchase here.

 

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