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Sabungera: Tales of women in the cockpit (Sabong Arena)

Sabong Online
Genre Sabong Arena
Keywords Sabong Online
Article ID 00000315
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Sabong, or cockfighting, has been in the Philippines since the pre-colonial era. The blood sport continues to fill arenas across the country, with men both rich and poor placing their bets and grooming birds of their choice. The arena is chaotic. Men in the bleachers are on their feet, yelling at the cocks and gesticulating wildly at their bookies. You rarely see a woman in the stands – traditionally, women have stayed away from the hobby that divides their husband’s attention and the family’s finances. But as “I-Witness” host Howie Severino found in his recent documentary titled “Sabungera,” some women are making waves in the male-dominated cockfighting scene. “Siksikan man ang mga maginoo sa loob ng arena, may puwang pa rin para sa pagbabago sa larong ito,” Severino said. Here are their stories. Few make it to the big leagues of sabungan, which makes Josefina “Osang” dela Cruz an automatic standout. She is the only female owner-breeder who joined the National Cockers Alliances’ (NCA) prestigious 6-Cock Derby last March. In these kinds of derbies, the winner takes all. The stakes are high; it costs P55,000 to enter. Each breeder fields a team of six cocks, one taking the place of the other when it is too injured to fight. The minimum bet is P33,000 – over thrice the minimum wage in the National Capital Region – and the pot money amounts to P1,000,000. Thirty of the best farms took part and only one sabungero – or shall we say sabungera – was female. “Ako po ‘yung nag-iisang babae na napasama sa circuit ng mga bigtime. Sabi nga po nila, the only rose among the thorns,” she said with a smile. Osang is known in the circuit as the “berdugo ng ruweda” and “big time killer.” The most regal of her monikers? “Reyna ng ruweda.” She explains how she got into the sport. “Minsan may pagka-thrill seeker din ako eh. Sabi ko, kung kaya ng lalaki, bakit naman hindi ko kayayanin?” she told “I-Witness.” “Pare-pareho lang naman, manok lang ‘yan.” At Osang’s farm, handlers begin work at 3:00 a.m. to condition the birds by playing loud music and blasting bright lights. This gets the cocks used to the arena setting. After this, they are sent to a scratching pen and dirt floor to develop their muscles, sparring sessions to simulate fights, and flying pens to train them to jump high. This routine goes on four times a day in the month leading up to the fight. She bets on her own birds, especially her favorite, a four-time winner named Yakuza. It’s almost jarring to think that in two minutes, a bird’s life and Osang’s investment in it may be over. At the NCA 6-Cock Derby, Osang was dressed comfortably in jeans and sneakers. She lost her first fight, but won the next. Her live commentary: “Ang sama ng tama… naku, napilay. Baka sakali manalo pa…ay panalo!” Giddy with delight, she joked with Howie that the “I-Witness” team is her lucky charm for the day; the birds want to put on a show for the cameras. While she didn’t take home the trophy for that derby, Osang shared the winning spirit that has taken her to the top of her field. “Minsan swerte, madalas hindi,” she said. If Osang enjoys the large arenas and air-conditioned buffets of big derbies, Linda Dechosa’s path in the world of sabungan is simpler. Linda makes a living by being a kristo, or bet-taker, in her town’s Del Monte Cockpit Area (DMCA). “Nasanay na ako kasi tatay ko sintensiyador, nanay ko nagtitinda sa sabungan. Syempre nakikita ko hanggang sa natuto ako,” she says. “Talagang hilig ko na.” A kristo needs sharp eyesight and a sharper mind to calculate the bets based on the audience’s hand signals. But most of all, you need an incredible memory to remember everyone’s changing bets. “‘Di ba kung gusto mo maging engineer, mag-aaral ka? Sa amin din, gusto talaga namin kaya natuto kami,” explained the white-haired grandmother. Del Monte Cockpit Arena is the kind of sabungan you’re likely to see all over the Philippines: hot, crowded and full of smoke. In this world, machismo and sexism stood in Linda’s way. Jun Garcia, president of the DMCA Bet Takers Association, explains why Linda was never allowed a place in their group. “‘Di ba ‘pag babae, medyo feminine, parang mababastos [sila ng mga lalaki]? Iba’t ibang klase ng mga tao nandito. Kung babae ka, hindi mo kakayanin ginagawa namin. Gusto namin, lalaki sa lalaki,” Garcia said. “May kahinaan eh… baka mapaaway, mapatulan ng lalaki. Isa ‘yun sa ayaw namin. Hindi naman sa dini-discriminate namin ‘yung mga kababaihan pero dumadating minsan sa punto ng away.” However, Linda couldn’t care less about what men like Garcia think. Because of her job, she has put all of her children through college. “Hindi lang para sa lalaki ang pagkikristo. Babae, lalaki… basta marangal na trabaho, kumayod ka,” she said. “Gusto ko talaga mapagtapos pati mga apo ko para maiba naman ang istorya ng buhay namin. Sa simula’t sapul, puro sabong na. Gusto ko maiba naman, na gumanda buhay nila at kinabukasan nila.” Inside Firebird Gamefarm, one of the country’s leading farms, Robie Panis carries a pink cellphone and a vintage-style box lined with bright pink felt. Inside this box? Her tari (blades) that serve as the birds’ weapons, individually packed in pink cases and waiting to be attached with her signature pink tape. Because of her girlish appearance and her job history, some have called her “sexy-tari,” a play on the word “secretary.” “Ang plan lang talaga namin, secretary lang ako. Recording [videos], tapos nagbibigay ng welcome drinks sa mga buyer… hanggang sa nadagdagan trabaho ko at pati inventory, akin na. Tapos pati purchasing, napunta sa akin,” said Robie, who joined the farm at 18 years old. After training with the farm’s gaffers, or mananari, Robie took on one of the most important roles during game day. “Siya ‘yung kauna-unahang babae na nagtatari sa Pilipinas,” said her boss Biboy Enriquez. “Ang kamay ng babae, ‘di ba pino? Kapag nagsapin sila, maganda. Dextrous. Bata pa naman siya kaya matalas din ang mata.” Occupational hazards are plenty. Biboy himself once lost his life when the bird he was carrying struggled and cut his arm open in several places. “Sumirit ‘yung dugo,” he recalled. “Pumasok [‘yung blade] at lumabas sa kabilang side, at five tendons ang nalagot.” If Osang was the only female breeder-owner at the NCA 6-Cock Derby, Robie was the only woman in the tarian (gaffing room). Some pigeonhole Robie into nothing more than a pretty face (even while “I-Witness” aired its documentary, the staff received lewd messages about Robie) but it’s telling that Biboy entrusted this integral position to her. “Noong una, naaawa ako kapag namamatay manok [namin],” she admitted. Robie continued with a laugh: “Pero ngayon, kaysa mamatay ‘yung amin, gusto ko nang mamatay ‘yung sa kalaban. Nanggigigil ako eh! [The other birds] look good, kaya lang kapag binubugbog na manok ko, gusto kong ako na pumatay doon sa kalaban!” Robie’s farm didn’t bring home the medal either, but she brushed it off with ease. “Anyway, tomorrow is another day,” she said. “Ang sabong naman, hindi naman lahat ng araw sa iyo. We win some, we lose some.” Sabungan in Filipino culture Cockfighting is banned in 50 states in the United States, as well as in England, Australia and Brazil. Animal rights activists protest the blood sport's treatment of animals. In the Philippines, however, sabungan shows no sign of slowing down. It’s a big industry. Biboy estimates that yearly revenues reach P50 billion. “Kaya nandiyan na ‘yung mga big player. Si Aboitiz, Salto Feeds. Supremo, sa Gokongwei,” she said. “Mga B-MEG, Derby Ace. Si Lucio Tan, at kung sino pa. Malaki ‘yung industriya at wala pa riyan ang bet products. “Hindi ata mangyayari ‘yun dito. Magrerebolusyon sa dami ng mga nagmamanok. Unang-una, politicians are into it,” he added. While cockfighting appears to be here to stay, that doesn’t mean the sport will not change with the times – something that the women in the sabungan are proving each day. Buddy Gatus, a male kristo, said, “Wala namang ‘pambabae’ o ‘panlalaki’ ngayon. Halos lahat ng hanapbuhay, pinasok na ng babae.”

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