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.
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.