Tag Archives: San Andres

Born to Kill: Underground Cock Fighting in Manila

Cock Fighting is one of the most popular sports in the Philippines and is broadcast on national television, with some fights filling sports stadiums to capacity. But far from the cameras and regulations of the prime time events, underground fights occur daily in Manila’s working class neighbourhoods.

The fights are short and brutal, with the cocks fighting until either exhaustion or death. Though amateur veterinarians – referred to locally as gaffers – are on hand to treat injuries, the long curved knives attached to the bird’s feet often result in the death of the losing bird.

The fighting cocks live relatively pleasant lives when compared to the battery chickens which feed the world’s appetite for poultry, with owners caring for their birds with an affection bordering on love. Yet the animals live as gladiators, with their only purpose being to fight and possibly die for the enrichment and bragging rights of its owner.

This story was shot in Manila’s working class neighbourhoods of San Andres Bukid and Raymundo.

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Floren Castillio, a locally renowned cock fighting gaffer – a mix of trainer and amateur veterinarian – pulls a bird towards himself in order to perform surgery on it.

 

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A group of young men inspect the fighting cocks in Floren’s farm, looking for the right bird to buy or bet on.

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Floren removes a fighting cock’s wattle with a pair of scissors. The wattles and crowns are removed so that they cannot be cut during a fight and cause debilitating bleeding.

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The bloody body of Floren Castillio after a morning of surgery.

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Floren prepares to replace a broken feather of a wounded fighting cock. Each feather is important to the bird’s balance, and so damaged feathers must be replaced.

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A crowd gathers to watch as two fighting cocks are tested for aggressiveness before a fight. The results of this comparison will be used to determine which birds to place bets on.

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A practice match between two fighting cocks in which observers will decide which birds to bet on.

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A large crowd gathers on a public holiday to watch a morning of fights.

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A fight organizer calls on spectators to place their bets before a fight begins.

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An elderly man prepares to place a bet before the start of a fight. It is not uncommon for a month’s wages to be won or lost on a single match.

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Long curved knives are attached to the feet of the fighting cocks before a fight. The blades are sharp enough to shave with and have been known to cause human fatalities on rare occasions.

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Crowds watch a fight in the working class neighbourhood of Raymundo.

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Multiple gaffers are on hand to treat injured fighting cocks during a morning of underground fights in Raymundo.

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Bloody gauze is dropped on the ground as gaffers tend to wounded fighting cocks. The gaffers carry comprehensive medical kits and can treat nearly any non-fatal injury a bird might sustain during a fight.

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The bloody hands of a gaffer after a morning of treating injured fighting cocks.

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A man watches as money is exchanged after losing a bet.

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Feathers and blood are swept from the floor of the outdoor fighting pit in Raymundo.

 

 

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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.

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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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Farewell to Manila

It’s been exceptionally tough to find a decent internet connection since arriving in Burma, but now that I’ve found one I wanted to add a few final images from Manila that I especially like. A great city with a million stories to tell.

Look for new stuff from Burma to start popping up in the next few weeks.

A newly born baby with his mother in a community built under an overpass in Quiapo

The San Andres Bukit skyline. A lower class neighbourhood, San Andres is a mixture of familial compounds and squatter communities. In the background is Makati, one of Manila’s most affluent areas.

M.J., 15, is addicted to sniffing solvents. She lives under a ledge behind a commercial complex in Quaipo.

 

A man in his house in San Andres the day before he prepares to depart for Qatar for work. Many Filipinos work overseas since local wages are often not enough to support their families.

 

The hand of a young girl in San Andres.

 

A cross hangs in Quiapo. The Philippines is overwhelmingly a catholic country.

Two girls in a squatter house, San Andres.

Men passing a bottle of rum in San Andres. Excessive drinking is common in Manila’s lower class neighbourhoods, as the price of alcohol is extremely low in the Philippines.

A woman runs a small cigarette shop under an overpass in Quiapo.

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Leo’s House: Escaping Poverty in the Philippines

Leo Castellero is a 49-year-old carpenter from Mindanao Island in the Philippines. When his wife left him for another man, he moved to Manila with his five children looking to start a new life.

Initially he found work on one of the cities large construction sites, but when the project ended he was unable to find a new job. Very quickly the savings he had were used up to feed his family, and within a few weeks he was broke. Several months later his criminal and medical clearance certificates expired. These have to be renewed on a yearly basis in order to be legally employed in the Philippines, and he could not afford the $30 fee.

Two years later, Leo is living in a 6 square meter shack along the train tracks near the Osmena highway in Manila. He has been unemployed since 2010 and is only able to feed his children through the charity of the community.

Made possible with the support of a few private donors, this story documents Leo’s life as he tries to break out of the poverty cycle – a hopeless feat for someone without financial backing.

Leo Castallero, 49, is a carpenter who lost his job and his wife in 2010. He moved to Manila with his five children in the same year.

Leo Castallero, 49, is a carpenter who lost his job and his wife in 2010. He moved to Manila with his five children in the same year.

Leo’s house in perched on the side of a government tenement block in San Andres, Manila. Directly underneath is the power station for the building; when it rains, Leo and his children cannot touch the walls of their house or they receive a strong electric shock.

Leo’s house in perched on the side of a government tenement block in San Andres, Manila. Directly underneath is the power station for the building; when it rains, Leo and his children cannot touch the walls of their house or they receive a strong electric shock.

Leo sits with three of his five children in their house near the Osmena highway in Manila. The youngest child is 3 and the oldest is 17.

Leo sits with three of his five children in their house near the Osmena highway in Manila. The youngest child is 3 and the oldest is 17.

Leo holds a photograph of his commando unit in the Filipino army. His time as a soldier was the most secure point in his life, since the government had provided everything he needed to survive.

Leo holds a photograph of his commando unit in the Filipino army. His time as a soldier was the most secure point in his life, since the government had provided everything he needed to survive.

Leo’s daughter Angelica, 5, plays with some found toys in their shack above the train tracks.

Leo’s daughter Angelica, 5, plays with some found toys in their shack above the train tracks.

The toothbrushes of Leo’s children. The financial burden of supporting five underage children means that Leo’s savings were immediately spent on food when he lost his job.

The toothbrushes of Leo’s children. The financial burden of supporting five underage children means that Leo’s savings were immediately spent on food when he lost his job.

Leo’s youngest son, 3, watches as a commuter train speeds past their house. The trains pass roughly every 15 minutes.

Leo’s youngest son, 3, watches as a commuter train speeds past their house. The trains pass roughly every 15 minutes.

The secondary entrance to Leo’s house leads to a stairwell of the government housing project on the side of which he built his house. The dark space is where the building’s electrical power station is situated and the children must brush against it each time they use this entrance.

The secondary entrance to Leo’s house leads to a stairwell of the government housing project on the side of which he built his house. The dark space is where the building’s electrical power station is situated and the children must brush against it each time they use this entrance.

Leo’s house is roughly 6 square meters and sleeps six people.

Leo’s house is roughly 6 square meters and sleeps six people.

The walls and ceiling of Leo’s house are waterlogged and moldy. Though an experienced carpenter, he lacks the appropriate materials to build a proper house. When it rains the water drips from the ceiling, meaning that Leo and his children must sleep sitting up to avoid the water.

The walls and ceiling of Leo’s house are waterlogged and moldy. Though an experienced carpenter, he lacks the appropriate materials to build a proper house. When it rains the water drips from the ceiling, meaning that Leo and his children must sleep sitting up to avoid the water.

Leo’s middle son, 11, waits for a train to pass so he can re-enter the house.

Leo’s middle son, 11, waits for a train to pass so he can re-enter the house.

Leo makes figurines out of clay for his children to play with. A loving father, his first priority is to enroll his kids in school once he can find a new job.

Leo makes figurines out of clay for his children to play with. A loving father, his first priority is to enroll his kids in school once he can find a new job.

A clay figurine Leo made for one of his kids. The children name this Manny Pacquiao after the Philippines most famous boxer.

A clay figurine Leo made for one of his kids. The children name it Manny Pacquiao after the Philippines most famous boxer.

Leo is photographed in the police headquarters in Manila. With the help of some private donors, Leo is able to take steps towards getting a new job.

Leo is photographed in the police headquarters in Manila. With the help of some private donors, Leo is able to take steps towards getting a new job.

Leo fills out forms in the police headquarters in Manila. A police clearance is a necessary document for a construction job in the Philippines.

Leo fills out forms in the police headquarters in Manila. A police clearance is a necessary document for a construction job in the Philippines.

Leo is examined by a doctor in Manila Hospital. A “fit to work” certificate is required for a job on a construction site in the Philippines.

Leo is examined by a doctor in Manila Hospital. A “fit to work” certificate is required for a job on a construction site in the Philippines.

Leo is x-rayed in a private clinic in San Andres.

Leo is x-rayed in a private clinic in San Andres.

The results of Leo’s x-ray shows that he has no respiratory problems and is fit to work.

The results of Leo’s x-ray shows that he has no respiratory problems and is fit to work.

With his medical and police clearances obtained, Leo prepares to search for a new job. The certification process cost less than $30, but without the help of private donors this sum would have been impossible for Leo to accumulate.

With his medical and police clearances obtained, Leo prepares to search for a new job. The certification process cost less than $30, but without the help of private donors this sum would have been impossible for Leo to accumulate.

 

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Family in San Andres

Only four years old, this boy has been left in the care of his 85-year-old grandmother.

I’ve been working on a project documenting the squatters communities around Manila, and came across this boy and his family in San Andres. This boy, four years old, and his sister, 5 years old, have been left in the care of their 85-year-old grandmother. Their father is currently in jail and in desperation the mother dropped the kids with their grandmother and returned to the provinces. No one knows where she is now.

Though a caring woman, the grandmother is getting too old to properly look after the children, often leaving them on their own for hours at a time while she wanders the neighbourhood. They rely on the charity of the San Andres community to eat, and some church groups who provide vitamins for the kids.

If anyone is interested in contributing $5 to help these kids, use the paypal “donate” button on the right-hand column of this blog page, and add the note “for San Andres family”. I will give whatever money is raised to the local community representative to organize a support program.

 

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Life on a Fighting Cock Farm

An illegal cock fight in San Andres, Manila. The fights usually last around a minute and all evidence is quickly carried away to avoid problems with the police.

In an odd twist of fate I now find myself living on a fighting-cock farm in the lower class neighbourhood of San Andres, Manila. In an empty lot between two houses, Floren, the caretaker of the farm, allowed me to pitch a small tent. I share the space with around 15 fighting cocks, a pair of Chinese chickens, and two turkeys. The cocks and turkeys are in a constant state of feud, harassing each other and skirmishing endlessly in the small space. I can’t help but feel sorry for the turkeys. Despite their larger size, they are vastly outnumbered by an opponent that is born and bred to fight to the death. They stick close together and pace the yard cautiously.

The sound of 15 roosters is deafening, and they usually get me up by around 5am. There is nothing much to do but drink coffee with the large posse of elderly women who sit on plastic chairs on the street outside the farm’s front gate. By 9a.m. the first of the day’s cock-fights have usually started, and continue until there are no more competitors.

Fast and violent, one of the fighters is generally dead within two minutes. Sometimes the winner will also bleed out minutes later.

10cm curved knives are attached to the feet of the roosters before the fight. They are sharp enough to shave with and have resulted in human deaths when the cocks are not carefully controlled.

The loser of the fight is given to the winner’s owner to be eaten.

It looks like I’ll be staying on the farm for the next month or so, so expect a more comprehensive story on the underground cock-fights soon. Animal rights activists be warned: there is very little sympathy for these animals, and the images will be gruesome.

 

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