Saturday, May 30, 2009

Benny and the Bolos

FAME, the Filipino-American Memorial Endowment, is an affiliate of the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines. It works to preserve and maintain World War II monuments and memorials in the Philippines. One of the organizations under FAME is the Corregidor Foundation, Inc, (CFI), which maintains the island of Corregidor.

CFI gets the vast majority of its funds from the tourists who come here, most notably the guests of Sun Cruises, which runs one or more ferries every day throughout the summer, and as weather permits during rainy season, which will start any day now. A small portion of the fares go to CFI. Most guests also attend the “Light and Sound Show” in Malinta Tunnel with the majority of each entrance fee going to CFI. Tourism here is down about 20% so far this year due to the worldwide recession. As a direct result, CFI’s income is down.

Due to this decrease, CFI has had to make some tough decisions. They have been forced to further tighten a budget that was already bare bones. We can assure you that staffing is at a bare minimum and that those who remain work very hard.

A small group of contractors work on specific projects when money is available. One of the issues involved is the constant encroachment of the jungle. Cleared areas become overgrown. When funds are available for the contractors, those areas can be maintained. They have done excellent work at some of the gun batteries and the roads leading to them. Notice the before and after photos of Battery James.

Presently Benny and his small group, which we call “Benny and the Bolos,” are clearing out Battery James, which has been neglected for many years. We want to point out that the clearing involves removing vines and undergrowth; mature trees are preserved except where they are destroying buildings. It is absolutely amazing what Benny’s group can do with nothing more than bolos. Battery James is on the north side of the head of the island and overlooks Manila Bay and the Bataan Peninsula. Before their clearing you could barely see the concrete buildings which are just a few feet from the road. Now you can clearly see them, as well as the view which demonstrates why the battery was situated there.

Benny and the Bolos work long hours six days a week. For their efforts they are paid 282 pesos (p282) a day. At the current exchange rate of about p47 to the dollar, that amounts to only $6.00 a day. For that they toil away in heat often exceeding 90 degrees with close to 100% humidity, and work even in pouring rain. Without an infusion of funds Benny and the Bolos will have to be laid off as of July 1.

There are several projects that CFI would like to pursue:

1. The view of Cavite and the other fortified islands of the bay from Battery Crockett has been obscured over time. This significance of this impressive 12-inch disappearing gun battery will be obvious when guests can see why its location was chosen.

2. Driving the winding roads of Corregidor with no reference to where you are can be confusing. There are a few select areas along the roadside that could be reopened so that guests riding on the Sun Cruises tranvias would be able to see the Cavite and Bataan provinces and be oriented to their present location.

3. As you know, we recently rediscovered the houses of General MacArthur and President Quezon. The path leading to them and the overgrowth in the houses themselves needs to be taken care of, allowing visitors a chance to see where these men lived while on the island.

We know that many of you are just casual readers of our newsletter. This appeal is not to you. However, if you have a place in your heart for Corregidor, then we ask that you consider helping sponsor one of these projects. As we said, $6.00 will pay one worker for one day. If we can raise a mere $500 that will keep Benny’s group working for an entire month. That is an awful lot of work for $500.

We were members of the Lions Club for the past few years in Michigan. Some of you may belong to groups such as the Lions, the VFW, the American Legion, or the Rotary, and maybe your group would consider a donation. Individuals may wish to contribute in honor of WW II veterans who were important to them.

Donations to FAME are tax deductible in the United States. Checks should be made out to FAME, Inc. and mailed to:

FAME, Inc.
c/o Alex H. Keller
535 Rolling Rock Lane
Cincinnati, OH 45255-3919

In the Philippines mail your check to:

FAME, Inc.
c/o the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, Inc.
2/F, Corinthian Plaza Building
Paseo de Roxas, Makati City
Philippines 1229

Please indicate that the funds are to be used for Corregidor Special Projects, and designate which one if you so choose. We can assure you that 100% of the money will go to the projects. There will be no administrative costs associated with these donations.


Steve and Marcia

P.S. This weekend the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor are meeting in San Antonio, Texas. We believe that the ADBC has been gathering every year since 1946. Member attendance has dropped off significantly in the past few years to the point where the group decided that this would be their last convention. However, a group of their descendants has stepped up and will run the conventions in the future. We wish them success and want them to know we are with them in spirit.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Finding MacArthur's house

This week we decided to try to find and photograph General Douglas MacArthur’s house on Corregidor’s Tailside. You may be thinking, didn’t you guys clear a path there a few months ago so that James Zobel, the curator of the MacArthur Museum, could see it? The answer is yes and no. At the time we were under the impression that the house was one of the last three of six houses on the northeast side of an old sidewalk. That is where we took James. However, further investigation has convinced us that it almost certainly could not have been any of those six houses.

We have maps of pre-war Corregidor which show not only those six houses running from southeast to northwest (609-614 on the 1935 map) all identified as officer’s quarters, but an additional three houses plus a larger structures on the southwest side of the path, also running from southeast to northwest. Building 604 is labeled as NCO officer’s quarters, and 605, 607, and 608 are identified as officer’s quarters. We now strongly believe that MacArthur’s was either 605 or 607.

Please refer to the attached section from the 1935 map while reading this. This section of map was digitally enhanced by our Aussie friend, Martyn Keen. If you look closely you will see that building 606 is at the bottom of the picture. It is listed as a “dope shed,” a term with which we are unfamiliar. If anyone can enlighten us we would appreciate it.

The map shows a road running between the two sets of buildings. We also discovered a mostly ruined sidewalk that we did our best to follow to find the second row of houses. Both old sidewalks are between the rows of houses, and not far apart, but hard to spot in the overgrowth. The newly explored sidewalk has extensive bomb damage, with one crater between houses 607 & 608 that is easily six feet deep and 30 feet across. It was made by a 2000 or 3000 pound bomb. The first path may have been maintained as a hiking trail, since it passes not only the six houses but also leads to Battery Kysor on Infantry Point.

We referenced three publications to arrive at our conclusions. The first is a book called “I Was on Corregidor,” by Amea Willoughby and published in 1943. Her husband “Woody” Willoughby was Executive Assistant to Francis Sayre, High Commissioner of the Philippines at the time. On page 113 Amea says, “An evacuated officer’s house a few minutes walk away [from Malinta Tunnel] was assigned to the H[igh] C[ommissioner] for his use. The two adjacent houses were occupied by General and Mrs. MacArthur and President and Mrs. Quezon.” On the following page she says, “All along the northern side of the dwelling a steep terrace sloped down to an open field in which stood two magnificent trees. A half mile away one could see the channel between Bataan and Corregidor…” It was this second quote that originally led us to believe that the house was one of the six rather than the four, since Willoughby does not mention looking past other houses to see the bay.

Our second source is an article on Corregidor in the July 1986 issue of National Geographic. In it Sayre’s stepson, William Graves, states on page 131: “With Jim [Black]’s help I located the site of our former house near Malinta Tunnel together with that of the MacArthur house next door. All that remain of either building are crumbled concrete steps and the reinforced concrete posts on which the structure rested.” This in itself was no help to us, since that basically describes any of the nine houses in question. However, an accompanying map on page 121 clearly indicates, we’re assuming via Graves, that they were in the row of four, with arrows pointing to 607 as the Sayre house and 605 as MacArthur’s.

The third source complicates (or clarifies) matters. We recently read “General Wainwright’s Story” written by the general himself and published in 1946. On page 3 he says, “So Sutherland took me out the east end of the [Malinta T]unnel to the little slate-gray house a quarter of a mile away, The island had taken two sharp air raids at the start of things, three torturous months before, but MacArthur’s house and the two other small ones near it were not touched. Those raids had continued sporadically, but now it seemed quiet and peaceful there as we walked up to the porch.” This was March 10, 1942, the day before MacArthur left for Australia, from where he promised. “I shall return.” It should be noted that MacArthur still lived in a house with his family, not hiding out in the tunnels like his nickname “Dugout Doug” implied. In reality, that was one of the least descriptive nicknames ever, like calling an NBA center “Shorty.”

A few days later Wainwright moved to the Rock from Bataan, and said on page 74, “The new intensity of the shelling of Corregidor from Cavite made our little houses – Generals [George] Moore and [Lewis] Beebe had the other two houses near mine – unfit as quarters. Atop the shelling, we were heavily bombed on March 24 by fifty-four Jap bombers of a new type. I picked up the light walking stick which MacArthur had left for me and walked down to Malinta Tunnel, to live there the rest of my time on Corregidor. Our houses were knocked down shortly thereafter.” Once again there is a map. On page 117 Wainwright depicts MacArthur’s former and subsequently his house as 607 with Beebe’s as 608, implying that Moore lived in 605.

So what do you believe? If Willoughby’s description is accurate, the views of Manila Bay were not blocked, leading one to believe the houses were in the longer, northeastern row. It was written only two years after her time on the island, lending credibility. Possibly she just didn’t think it relevant to mention the intervening houses. There is some difference in elevation, with the four buildings higher than the six, so one might have had a minimally obstructed view. She also seems to indicate that the Sayre house was the middle of the three, since she refers to the other two as “adjacent,” but her meaning is not entirely clear.

Both Graves and Wainwright place the houses in the shorter, southwestern row. However, the arrows indicating the exact locations don’t match, with Graves pointing to the second from the west – and middle of the three – as his (Sayre’s) house, thus seemingly agreeing on this point with Willoughby. Wainwright said the middle house was first MacArthur’s and later became his. Sayre’s memory could be called into question since the article appeared 45 years after he lived there as a boy. Wainwright wrote his book only five years afterwards.

The best we can do is to give an opinion here. Almost certainly the three houses of High Commission Sayre, General MacArthur, and President Quezon – and subsequently Beebe, Wainwright, and Moore – were in the southwestern, shorter row. Marcia slightly leans toward the combined testimonies of Willoughby and Graves, therefore putting the MacArthur house at 605. Steve believes that Wainwright, having lived there only five years before, would be the most believable and he certainly would have remembered that his house was between Beebe and Moore. This would put the MacArthur/Wainwright house at 607.

Being reliable and accurate is important to us. On occasion we have printed a clarification or correction. We like to say that there is fact and there is opinion. That MacArthur was brave – he was the most decorated American soldier in World War I – is a fact. That he was arrogant is fact. Whether or not he was one of America’s greatest generals is a matter of opinion, and no matter how much scholarship is applied it will always be just that: opinion.

In an upcoming email we will discuss how easily sloppy research can find its way into our history books. One thing is certain. Steve turned 57 on Wednesday. Thanks to those of you who remembered to wish him Happy Birthday.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Cock fight letters

The question has arisen, especially after that stirring Mothers’ Day tribute, who really writes the stuff in this newsletter. So far, I have written every article. Marcia edits what I’ve written to make sure my sentences are clear and grammatically correct. She will often expand and sometimes put in thoughts which I missed. She often spends more time editing than I do writing.

We got enough responses about the cockfighting that we thought you might want to see them. You will see some very different and sometimes very strong opinions. So we are letting you, our readers, write this newsletter. Thanks to the contributors.


Fascinating cultural difference. Interesting that the loser is dinner.


Randy and Shelly


My two brothers Paul and Antonio enjoyed cockfighting also, they also have some roosters in the house, sometime they bet a small amount just for fun. You are right, that cockfighting has been part of the culture. I hope you too enjoyed watching.


From a Filipino:

Cockfighting is really barbaric and crude. Unfortunately a lot of Filipinos assimilate closely to this way of living. They still have a lot of growing up to do...perhaps it will take several generations for them to realize how un Christian the whole exercise is...


Thanks for sending [this] Steve.....I found it very interesting...I come from a cockfighting enthusiastic family ( just the men) but had never witnessed a fight once again, "it was like being there!"........Hope it's okay with you......I forwarded your article to : Singapore, London and Belgrade, to each of my three children's location as I know they would enjoy reading this and experiencing a cockfight too.

Warm regards to you and Marcia,



Hi guys,

I live an hour from San Francisco. On the way to SFO I have to pass a town named Vallejo. On a side road in a gully there is a huge rooster farm. Perhaps there are 85 small huts with roosters tied to each hut. It has been there for years. It is illegal in California so I surmised these birds were being shipped to the PI.

On my last trip to Manila a couple of months ago we had an eye opener. As soon as the plane doors opened we heard a symphony of roosters crowing. It was coming from the tarmac under the plane. Sure enough, the attendants told us they were cocks shipped for the fights in the Philippines from a spot in Vallejo. They told us that this method was a lot better than asking the attendants to store the eggs in their bras to keep them warm and protect them. It seems this was a practice some years back with PAL.

When I lived in Hawaii my Jewish girlfriend and I made Lumpia and Babinka and sold them at roving cockfights around the island. We made bets on the side and came out well. She made the Babinka and I made Lumpia. Cane fields were great spots, but the time limit would be 1 hour. Then we moved on. We got busted one day with the group. So end the sojourn of two fifty year old women trying to make a buck on the side. It was fun.

I am now trying to find a ring tone of a cock crowing for my cell - the official Filipino ring tone!

You could always tell if there was a cock fight going on in a cane field. When you saw a long string of cars with only hats showing through the windows heading into the cane fields, you knew these were Filipino people going to the cock fights. Because they were short people, their hats were a dead giveaway. Then there was the Rooster or Chicken Mafia, which is another story better left alone.

Aloha – Sascha


Steve and Marcia,

Thank you for your detailed description of Philippine cock fighting. This brought back memories of 1944 on Leyte to me. After we were pulled from the front lines the day before Thanksgiving, we move back to a Philippine civilian area. Sure enough, many men watched or had roosters taking part in cock fighting every Sunday afternoon, The men called it "Sunday School." Betting was as you described and was participated in many of the Filipino men present. Not fair to the women I thought, as some of the men were betting what their wives had made washing GI clothes during the week.



When I think of cockfighting, I think:
One must win.
One becomes dinner!!!


Dear Steve,

That was an interesting story about typhoons -- I am glad you and your friends "survived" but you ain't seen nuthin' yet. During your stay in the Philippines, you are bound to experience a few that are strong enough to take away your dentures. During my time in the military, we used to celebrate unit anniversaries as an important tradition -- with serious and not-so-serious events. Sometimes, we have cockfights -- yes, they are prohibited in the military -- so we make it a non-lethal event.

In a makeshift arena, we bring in our roosters. These are not the money-making (or money-losing) gamecocks, these are the barnyard roosters from the people's farms. They have NO bladed spurs tied on one leg, they are "au naturel" sans accoutrements. The roosters fight until one runs away -- and the remaining one is declared the winner. And then, the next two roosters enter the arena. After the tournament, everyone goes home happy, especially the vanquished roosters.
The roosters return to the farms, where the hens await them and their important services. And life goes on once more.


PS Yeah, yeah -- we officers say nothing, see nothing and do nothing regarding any betting that goes on during these "humane" cockfights.

Steve talking: To me, “humane” cockfighting is to cockfighting what boxing is to the gladiators. Each may be enjoyable to the spectator. In boxing the referee can usually step in before someone dies.


And finally…

I saw my last cockfight in 1948. My pal's cock also was a loser. And since it was white it was rather obvious instantly. I think that cockfighting is nearly as stupid a thing as the mania for cell phones.-pp

When we asked PP how he could have failed to mention Karaoke, which he says should be banned from the planet or at least Corregidor, he further replied:

Ooops and double ooops. You got me. Definitely a horrid omission. Put Karaoke in the #2 spot behind the cell phones. Drop the cockfighting into 3rd.

On third thought, put jeepneys at the top of the list. And on top of them put, wearing a crown of basura, crooked politicians (i.e. all of them?).

And the ubiquitous plastic bag has to get into the top ten somewhere.

Thanks for the reminder.

And have I told you lately how much I enjoy your writings? PP

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day

Walter Kwiecinski, Steve’s dad, died on May 8, 1988. The first time Steve was in the Philippines he called home on May 8 and found out that Boomer, our beloved golden retriever, had cancer and would pass away soon. Steve never thought about it being the anniversary of his father’s death because May 8, 1988, was Mothers’ Day, and Mothers’ Day is the day he always associates with that sad event.

Walt picked the day to die. Seven months earlier he had suffered a stroke, and his quality of life was declining. Steve’s mother, Mary Anne, had been at the national bowling tournament in Nevada for most of the week and returned on Saturday night. Walter waited, then died in her arms on Sunday morning after saying, “I love you.”

We give a lot of credit to Mary Anne, who married a man almost 14 years her elder, and who had to know that his prisoner-of-war treatment meant she would likely be a widow for a very long time. Today makes an unbelievable 21 years. She had always been a very desirable woman, and even at 80 is an incredible dancer, and we’re sure she could have found another man to spend her life with, but we think she never thought she could replace Walt, and she was right. He wasn’t perfect, but he was one heck of a husband and father.

This tribute goes out not only to Mary Anne, our mother and mother-in-law, on Mothers’ Day, but to all mothers, and especially to any women who, like Mary Anne, chose to live with men who had gone through the hell of being POWs of the Japanese for almost three and a half years. We have had the privilege of meeting a few of these women over the years and they are indeed remarkable. We know that these men had to be extremely strong-willed or they never would have survived the experiences. We know that at times it must have been extremely difficult, as circumstances came along that made the men have to remember what had gone on, almost like reliving their worst nightmares.

So Mary Anne, Bernice, Esther, Jean, Judy and all you other amazing women, thank you for your devotion to your men.

Steve and Marcia

Friday, May 8, 2009

Anniversary of fall of Corregidor; dignitary tour

Wednesday, May 6, was the 67th anniversary of the fall of Corregidor. There was a small ceremony at Topside to commemorate the event. For whatever reason Sun Cruises failed to bring their guests to this once-a-year short noon-time ritual, and if not for the 11 guests with Edna Binkowski it would have been a non-event. However, one of her tourists, Richard King, was the son of a Corregidor survivor.

Colonel Artemio Matibag asked Richard and Steve to present two wreaths, and to talk about their fathers for the small audience. Richard talked about how his father had first been at Battery Geary and then was at Ft. Drum (the “Concrete Battleship”) during the actual invasion. Steve talked about his father being at Battery Way, but emphasized two things. One, if not for the men holding out on Bataan and Corregidor Japan might have taken Australia, with the possible outcome that America might have conceded the Pacific theatre to Japan. Two, that seven years ago we had seven veterans present, and this year none, meaning that it was now up to the survivors to keep their fathers’ memories alive.

After the ceremony Steve met a man who said, “Did you hear the story about the two brothers at Cabanatuan?” Steve said yes, he was aware of it. The man introduced himself as John Betts, and said that his father was the older brother. At this a tingle ran up Steve’s spine as he remembered his father’s words.

“… they had what they called a numbered system, where say I was in a group of one to ten, and there was another group from 11 to 20 and so on. If any one of those prisoners escaped they would kill the other ones, whoever was left in the squad of ten. And it did happen too.

“There was one squad where somebody escaped so they were going to shoot the others and it just happened that there were two brothers, one was in this squad and he happened to be the younger of the two brothers. The older brother offered to take his place! Can you imagine that? Isn’t that something? And be shot in place of his younger brother! But the answer was no, so they shot the other nine, and of course that ended the running away.”
– Excerpt from “We Managed to Survive”, which we hope will soon be published.

Later in the day Steve was asked to lead a private tour for a couple of dignitaries arriving at Topside by helicopter. They were the Governor of Bataan, the Honorable Enrique Garcia, known as “Gov Tet,” along with The Honorable Michael W. Cruz, MD, the Lieutenant Governor of Guam, and also Michael’s wife Jennifer. Michael’s father is Filipino. His mother is a native of Guam, as is Jennifer.

The tour had to be very short due to a typhoon which was heading into the area, but it gave Steve enough time to show them a few of the main attractions, including the “Light and Sound Show” in the famous Malinta Tunnel. All three guests were very friendly, with Gov Tet inviting Steve and Marcia to visit him any time in his office in Balanga, where his son is mayor. Michael surprised Steve by telling him that he did his five-year surgical residency at the University of Michigan, and ever referred to Lansing’s Sparrow Hospital where he’d spent some time before his graduation in 1989.

Speaking of typhoons, the first one of the season moved into our area late Wednesday. Rainy season is “scheduled” to arrive mid-May to early June, but it seems to have appeared this year in late April. As they say, when it rains it pours. Typhoons are the Pacific Ocean’s equivalent of Hurricanes. We were only on the edge of this one, with the eye west of here and heading to the northeast. One of the biggest problems associated with typhoons here is mudslides, which kill hundreds of people each year.

Steve got his first taste of typhoon rains in 2007 when he was leading a private tour. They were at the Capas National Shrine (Camp O’Donnell) at the time, looking at the names of the American soldiers who died there. Off in the distance they could here the rain approaching, sounding almost like a stampede was on the way. They ran for the car and just made it. It was raining so hard that even though the driver drove up to the Philippine memorial, it was impossible to see even the very short distance to the obelisk.

You don’t usually think much of the effect of hurricanes in Michigan, being so far from the ocean, but in reality many times the remnants of hurricanes – including Katrina – came inland and dumped a lot of water there. Now we are living in an area where eventually we are going to experience the full brunt of a tropical storm. The longest one in recent memory lasted for three weeks. So we have our storeroom well stocked just in case. Our house is surrounded by trees and we are assured that the winds near the house will not be nearly as severe as if we were near the shoreline, less than a mile in any direction.

Wind blew over a young malunggay tree in our back yard. Malunggay leaves are used in soups and for medicinal purposes. We heard several branches come crashing down in our back woods. Other than that, so far we have sustained no damage.

On Thursday night we decided to go to the row houses to eat dinner, since the rain had lessened. As luck would have it, the rain got heavier and heavier as we were sitting outside in their dirty kitchen. Finally we made a dash for the jeep during a lull, only to have it start right up with a vengeance the second we got outside. We drove home soaked only to get wetter, if that is possible, while running to the house. If it had been cold we would have been chilled to the bone, but it was like taking a warm shower with our clothes on.

Steve and Marcia

P.S. We have received several interesting comments on the cockfights which we will use in an upcoming newsletter. If you have a comment or interesting story about cockfighting, send it on to us in the next few days.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Steve goes to the cock fights

I want to caution you that this deals with cockfighting. I realize that some people will find the subject disgusting or worse, and if this is the case, just delete it. You might not want your kids reading this. Then again, this is part of real life in some cultures, so maybe you do. As they say, forewarned is forearmed. I am not rabidly pro-animal, but I would probably cheer for the bull at a bull fight, just so you know where I stand.

Cockfighting is legal, normal, and accepted in the Philippines. I am not sure the fascination is so much in the fighting and blood-letting as it is in the gambling that is associated with it. In America, the popularity of “March Madness” and the Super Bowl are to some extent attributable to the billions of dollars bet on the outcomes. As far as I am concerned, my attendance was a matter of curiosity. I did not intend to bet.

May 1 is Labor Day here, and Cabcaben is one of many small towns that have an annual festival. While larger cities may have cockfighting year round, Cabcaben has it just once a year, during the Labor Day Festival. Our helper Baroy planned to enter his 15-month-old rooster in the event, so I decided to go along and experience it. Since it is illegal in most if not all of the 50 States, I have never attended a cockfight before. Earlier in the week four cocks from Corregidor had been entered and they were all winners. Roy had the same trainer/handler so he was confident that his rookie rooster would prevail.

We took the banca to Cabcaben and a tricycle to the venue, which was located on the edge of town ten feet down a steep embankment. You would drive by and never see it. The fighting surface was a simple ring, about 20 feet square, with a dirt floor – we were outdoors – and with a four foot high fence made of, what else?, chicken wire. There were only a few seats, basically a couple of benches against the fence, as opposed to bigger venues where you could expect to find a thousand seats or more.

Even though the matches were scheduled to begin at 9:00 A.M., there were only a few roosters present when we arrived. Individual matches are not scheduled per se. What happens is that the handlers bring the roosters together and try to agree to a match. Of course each handler is always claiming that the other guy’s rooster is bigger and would therefore have an advantage. Eventually two men agree – there are virtually no women involved – to pit their cocks against each other. This continues even as fights are ongoing.

These male chickens are naturally aggressive toward all other males, much as Siamese fighting fish will bristle when two fish bowls containing them are put side by side. Some are fed human multi-vitamins, and in bigger events they are probably juiced up with steroids to try to gain an advantage. But there isn’t a lot of pre-fight training that can be done, since you’d probably end up with a dead or maimed rooster if you attempted it. They just seem to know how to put up their dukes and go at it with each other.

To make sure that the cockfight doesn’t last too long, a razor-sharp, three-inch curved blade is placed on the left ankle of each rooster, angled in slightly. When the handlers are in the ring the blades are covered in plastic, which is not removed until just before the fight. The handlers must be very careful not to be slashed on their arms once the covers are removed.

The object is to bet, so a favorite has to be established. I got the impression that this was determined by which owner was willing to put up more money at the outset. After all, if owner number one is willing to bet 1000 pesos (note P1000 is about $20) and owner two P5000, the second guy would appear to have more confidence in his rooster. He goes to the favorite side. Then the drama begins.

It seemed noisy before this, just from the sound of all the cock-a-doodle-dos that all of the roosters were constantly crowing. This was nothing compared to the yelling which now ensued as bettors were trying to find takers. It works like this: men who wanted to back the favorite would yell something that sounds like “meron” [meh-ROHN]. They would hold up fingers, five meaning P500, for example. If they could get the attention of someone wanting to bet on the underdog a bet would be consummated. Often all you heard was “meron, meron,” as few would take the bet. But often the initial underdog would become the favorite, in which case the cries would switch to “sa wala” [swah-LAH]. Soon men were just yelling out numbers, presumably betting amounts, and I couldn’t tell which side they were backing, but somehow the other bettors knew which side they wanted.

As in all gambling the only eventual winner is the house, since it gets a cut of all bets, although I got the impression that some of the men were cutting out the middleman by placing their own bets amongst themselves. Anyway, there is a 10% house cut, meaning that if you want to bet P500 you are in fact putting up P550. So after each fight the loser hands P550 to the bet collector who in turn hands P500 to the winner.

While the betting is going on, the two handlers are holding their roosters in such a way that they start to show aggression towards each other. They even let them peck each other a few times. The bettors are watching this closely and trying to determine which rooster seems more likely to win. In reality the louder or more aggressive rooster is no more likely to win, but you know how gamblers are. They each have their own way of picking a winner. Usually one rooster will strike a lucky blow and the odds are almost always 50-50.

When the betting is completed the covers are taken off the blades and the handlers set the roosters on the ground about three feet apart. Once in a while it takes some time to get the fight started, as they seem to be ignoring each other. But most of the time the two are fighting almost immediately. Quite often they both fly into the air and attack with their feet. In most cases, if one gets on top he is able to inflict a serious and often fatal wound in the blink of an eye. Most of the roosters were dark, almost greenish-black, so you might not see the blood at first. With the blond roosters a fatal blow was obvious, often before the cock collapsed. Fights last from 15 seconds to a few minutes, since occasionally the roosters tire out before there is a winner, and the referee has to set them to fighting again.

In Roy’s case, both roosters looked alike and fought alike. I soon lost track of which rooster was which, but the man next to me was able to set me straight when the two settled down for a second. When they went at it again the man told me Roy’s rooster looked like it was going to win. Five seconds later it received a fatal blow to the neck and the fight was over. Both roosters died, but Roy’s was declared the loser since the other one lived an additional minute. It had to have been close to a draw, and there was at least one draw during the matches. In most cases one of the roosters is killed during the fight, sometimes both, and in every case the loser is dinner, even if he manages to leave the ring alive.

Roy told me that he and his Corregidor buddies had bet P13,000 on his rooster, so they collectively lost about $275, a lot of money to these guys. The winner also gets to keep the loser’s rooster for chicken soup or whatever he wants. Roy was not discouraged, however, and says he’s going to start raising another soon.

At first I was seated next to the fence, and stayed there several matches after Roy’s rooster lost. It was sprinkling lightly all morning, and when the rain got heavier I moved under a canopy, since I had seen enough. More and more men were crowding around the ring, and near the end the betting got more intense, probably from bettors trying to make up for lost money.

Cockfighting is part of the Philippine culture, and I personally don’t find it as objectionable as, say, dog fighting. But it really doesn’t do a whole lot for me. I’m not a gambler. Will I ever go back? Possibly to support Roy or other friends on the island. On the other hand, if I never see another cockfight it won’t break my heart, that’s for sure.

Steve (with Marcia editing)

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