Tag Archives: illegal

Born to Kill: Underground Cock Fighting in Manila

A huge fighting cock in San Andres Bukit. Promising birds are fed well and grow to large sizes.

A huge fighting cock in San Andres Bukit. Promising birds are fed well and grow to large sizes.

In September 2012 I arrived in Manila with no idea of what I was doing there and no story ideas whatsoever. But through a series of random meetings and strange luck I was invited to pitch a tent in an empty patch of land in the working class neighbourhood of San Andres. Though living in a tent in the middle of metro Manila was strange enough, the piece of land I was living on also happened to be the site of an underground cock-fighting farm and training ground. I wrote a short article at the time talking a little about what it was like to live on the farm, but I neglected to post many photos for some reason or another. After digging around in my archives I realized that I had quite a few decent images and thought I’d post a more comprehensive visual story about these illegal death matches happening in the street outside my front door, so to speak.

From the cradle to the grave, these animals are raised only to fight, and most likely die. Large amounts of money can be won on these fights, so a champion bird will most probably fight again and again until he is no longer able to win. Since the blades used are 10cm long and razor sharp, not winning is probably synonymous with death – though there is a potential for the lucky to receive only a blinding or severe maiming.

The fights are illegal. Cock Fighting is one of the most popular sports in the Philippines and is even broadcast on TV, but those fights are regulated and licensed. The fights on the streets of San Andres were underground and subject to police raids. On more than one occasion the local police rushed into the area on motorcycles after a fight was over and admonished the watchers. Typically the losing bird (most likely dead), was given to the officers in payment, presumably to be grilled and eaten down the street at the local police station. Illegal or not, the fights are going to happen, and the police accept this as long as they get something out of it.

What I found particularly confusing about the whole spectacle is the bipolar nature of the affection for the birds. When alive, the proud owners would hold them up and stroke them lovingly. They display them and compare them to their friends birds. A champion is treated like a beloved pet. They obviously care about them greatly, yet the moment the cock loses a fight it is tossed into the gutter like a piece of trash. When I asked one of my local friends, an owner himself, how they can have such a dismissive attitude towards an animal they had spent so much time with, he replied simply “fighting cocks are for fighting.”

I should maybe mention that this story is perhaps not as comprehensive and exposing as I would have liked it to be because after a few days of shooting I realized that I was making enemies. Apparently many of the bird owners believed that it was bad luck to have their fighters photographed and legitimately blamed me for their loss. So out of a mixture of respect for their beliefs and fear of their anger, I stopped taking pictures of the fights themselves.

Note: Some of these images are bloody. This is not a case study in animal rights or ethics. I have my own opinions on cock-fighting and this story is neither condemning nor supporting the practice.

Chicks are raised in a small cage before they are mixed with the larger fighting cocks. These chicks will likely not leave the small plot of land in San Andres until it is time to fight, perhaps 1-2 years later.

Chicks are raised in a small cage before they are mixed with the larger fighting cocks. These chicks will likely not leave the small plot of land in San Andres until it is time to fight, perhaps 1-2 years later.

The fighting cocks are fed a high-energy mixture of corn and protiens to ensure they grow to a desirable size.

The fighting cocks are fed a high-energy mixture of corn and protiens to ensure they grow to a desirable size.

Floren is an underground veteranarian, known in cock fighting circles as a gaffer. He tends to injured birds when needed and allows cocks to be fed and raised on his property.

Floren is an underground veteranarian, known in cock fighting circles as a gaffer. He tends to injured birds when needed and allows cocks to be fed and raised on his property.

A cock has his crown surgically removed with scissors. The crown is susceptible to injury and can bleed into the cock's eyes during a fight, so they are removed before the birds reach fighting size.

A cock has his crown surgically removed with scissors. The crown is susceptible to injury and can bleed into the cock’s eyes during a fight, so they are removed before the birds reach fighting size.

Several tail feathers from a promising fighting cock are surgically removed and replaced with larger turkey feathers which help to improve balance and stability during a fight.

Several tail feathers from a promising fighting cock are surgically removed and replaced with larger turkey feathers which help to improve balance and stability during a fight.

A group of men look on eagerly at the appearance of a prospective challenger . There are no fixed fighting schedules and matchmakers like Jimmy (left) wander the neighbourhood arranging fights for a small comission.

A group of men look on eagerly at the appearance of a prospective challenger . There are no fixed fighting schedules and matchmakers like Jimmy (left) wander the neighbourhood arranging fights for a small comission.

Knives are passed between gaffers.

Knives are passed between gaffers so the cocks can be readied for fighting.

A 10 cm curved knife is attached to the cock's foot. The blades are sharp enough to shave with and have been responsible for human deaths in rare cases.

A 10 cm curved knife is attached to the cock’s foot. The blades are sharp enough to shave with and have been responsible for human deaths in rare cases.

An experienced gaffer checks that the blade is secure to the cock's foot before the fight begins.

An experienced gaffer checks that the blade is secure to the cock’s foot before the fight begins.

A crowd gathers to watch and to bet on the outcome of a cock fight

A crowd gathers to watch and to bet on the outcome of a cock fight

The cocks fight by jumping towards their oppoent and kicking out with long curved knives. A single direct hit is enough to kill.

The cocks fight by jumping towards their oppoent and kicking out with long curved knives. A single direct hit is enough to kill.

Blood stains a curb in San Andres Bukit.

Blood stains a curb in San Andres Bukit.

A crowd looks on as a fight ends, the loser dead.

A crowd looks on as a fight ends, the loser dead.

Luc_Forsyth_Manila_Philippines_illegal_cock_fighting_20120901-0502

A dead cock, kicked through the heart by one of the 10cm blades.

The exhausted and disoriented winner of a fight paces near the blood of his fatally wounded opponent.

An exhausted and disoriented winner of a fight paces near the blood of his fatally wounded opponent.

A cock is stitched up after sustaining a serious injury during a fight. Because of the cost involved in raising the birds, those that can be saved are given medical treatment.

A cock is stitched up after sustaining a serious injury during a fight. Because of the cost involved in raising the birds, those that can be saved are given medical treatment.

Blood drips on Floren's feet as he stiches up an injured fighting cock.

Blood drips on Floren’s feet as he stiches up an injured fighting cock.

The feet of a dead fighting cock are used as kindling for a cooking fire.

The feet of a dead fighting cock are used as kindling for a cooking fire.

An onsite incubator holds the next generation of fighting cocks.

An  incubator holds the next generation of fighting cocks.

A young fighting cock, to small yet to fight, is tethered to a fence in San Andres.

A young fighting cock, too small yet to fight.

 

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Leyte Gold: Small Scale Mining in the Philippines

From the earth to the market, gold is one of the most prized materials in existence. In Pinut-An, a small community on the island of Leyte, Philippines, gold is everything. Largely destroyed by a landslide in 2006, Pinot An relies heavily on gold to keep it alive.

Small-scale mining operations are everywhere, with tunnels carved both into the mountains and the sea floor. Workers labour with minimal safety precautions in conditions so dangerous that any accident would likely be fatal. For this work they are typically paid $180 per month, while the mine owner will earn ten times that amount.

This story documents southern Leyte’s small scale gold miners as they live and work in a mountain camp, extracting one of the world’s most valuable elements for far away markets.

Small Scale Gold Mining in The Philippines

Gold miners smoke cigarettes in their mountainside camp before heading into the mines.

 

Small Scale Gold Mining in The Philippines

Miners carry anvil stones from the beach to their mountain camp, which they will use as platforms to crush raw ore against. The stones wear out quickly from the heavy impacts of the miner’s hammers and must be replaced regularly.

 

Small Scale Gold Mining in The Philippines

A 14 year-old miner walks into the camp’s active tunnel where he will work hauling gold ore to the surface.

Small Scale Gold Mining in The Philippines

Miners inspect the wall of their active tunnel, looking for traces of gold.

Small Scale Gold Mining in The Philippines

A miner works to repair the rubber head strap of his LED flashlight, the only source of light available underground.

Small Scale Gold Mining in The Philippines

A miner looks to the tunnel ceiling as debris falls. Lacking modern safety regulations, the miners rely on their experience alone to avoid being caught in a cave-in.

Small Scale Gold Mining in The Philippines

Miners wash their hands under a trickle of water falling from the tunnel ceiling. The wet rainforest climate on the surface means the tunnels walls are constantly permeated with water.

Small Scale Gold Mining in The Philippines

Miners smoke cigarettes inside their tunnel. A group of five miners can consume up to 200 cigarettes in a day.

Small Scale Gold Mining in The Philippines

A miner tests the weight of a sack of raw ore, preparing to haul it to the surface.

Small Scale Gold Mining in The Philippines

Miners inspect a piece of harvested ore, suspecting they have struck a particularly lucrative seam.

Small Scale Gold Mining in The Philippines

Miners wash pieces of crushed rock. Pieces that might contain gold are put in a bag for transport to a nearby milling station, while valueless rocks are discarded.

Small Scale Gold Mining in The Philippines

Miners use small sledgehammers to crush large stones into more manageable pieces before taking them to a nearby milling station.

Small Scale Gold Mining in The Philippines

Clothes hang to dry in the mountainside camp. Since the tunnels are constantly dripping water, the miners are always wet and have to dry their clothes multiple times a day.

Small Scale Gold Mining in The Philippines

A miner checks his cell phone during a break from the tunnels.

Small Scale Gold Mining in The Philippines

A miner takes a nap during a midday break.

Small Scale Gold Mining in The Philippines

Miners gather around to watch their 14 year-old colleague get his hair cut.

Small Scale Gold Mining in The Philippines

Workers at a milling station inspect textured pads for traces of gold dust. Crushed rock is rinsed with water and runs down the ramp, while the heavier gold particles stick to the pads.

Small Scale Gold Mining in The Philippines

A mill worker hefts a bucket of crushed rock.

Small Scale Gold Mining in The Philippines

A worker at a milling station swirls crushed rock in a pan made from palm trees. When done correctly, the heavy gold dust will settle in the pan’s conical centre.

Small Scale Gold Mining in The Philippines

Gold particles are heated with a blow torch to remove water so the mine owner can accurately weigh the day’s harvest.

Small Scale Gold Mining in The Philippines

The mine owner prepares to weigh the day’s gold harvest. He will sell the gold on the neighbouring island of Mindanao, where it will then be exported to Manila or overseas.

Small Scale Gold Mining in The Philippines

Mine owner Gil Mercado uses a pocket calculator to determine the possible profit from the day’s harvest. He will not make the trip to Mindanao until he has enough to make the journey worthwhile.

Small Scale Gold Mining in The Philippines

Miners inspect themselves for mud after finishing a day in the tunnels.

Small Scale Gold Mining in The Philippines

A miner takes a bucket shower in the mountainside camp.

Small Scale Gold Mining in The Philippines

A 14 year-old miner throws his t-shirt towards the beach after washing himself in the Pacific Ocean.

Small Scale Gold Mining in The Philippines

A young miner styles his hair after a day of work.

Small Scale Gold Mining in The Philippines

Miners eat together in their mountainside camp. While some have homes in the nearby village of Pinut-An, they often elect to stay in the camp to be closer to the tunnels.

Small Scale Gold Mining in The Philippines

A miner heads home after a 12 hour day.

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