Me and Kuya Jessie, my parent’s company driver, drove to the Texas Cockpit in Marikina. We got there at 4:00pm and parked in a designated parking lot just across the street. We walked towards the counter and paid the P100 entrance fee. The girl in the counter looked at me for 3 seconds before she got the hint that I was going in with Kuya.
It was hot inside with people numbering to about 200 inside mostly men while the women I could count with my fingers. The smell of sweat, cigarettes and beer hung onto the air. People glanced my way for a while but quickly returned their gaze to the stage. I was scared to put out my phone to take a picture or video because someone might start getting an interest in it and steal it.
When we got in the venue, the roosters just started fighting and everyone was hushed down. Kuya showed me to the first row nearest the arena. I watched the rooster with a long green tarik (rooster’s sword) cut through the air and landed on the other rooster. The other rooster ran without direction flapping its wings and swiveling its head before it hit the glass that perimetered the small square arena. It then plopped lifelessly back first to the ground. Everything in just a few seconds.
“Panalo ang Meron! ….” the announcer said as several people on the arena swept feathers, walked in and out with more roosters. The noise of the crowd started to rise. Some of them wanting to buy some cigarettes or beer and some of them talking about the luck the Meron side has. Then, suddenly, crumpled pieces of money started flying around. People threw it to people across the stage, to the people on the seats above and towards the people on stage. They threw P20, P50 and even P1000 bills everywhere. Kuya told me that they were paying up because they lost the bet. I wondered why since people here seemed to want money so badly, why would they just not pluck a P100 bill from the air or leave without paying. Kuya just grinned at me and told me to try putting up a bet.
I was never briefed on how to bet before hand. I thought that there was a systematic way of doing it but while I was seated there I saw nothing systematic. There were people who had yellow uniforms with the sign “Bet Takers”. I talked to one behind me and asked how to put up a bet.
“Kuya paano po pumusta sa mga ganito? May papel po ba na kailangan?“
He just laughed at me and started talking to Kuya who was also laughing. I felt so embarrassed that I just folded my arms and observed the people. I wanted to deduce how people bet since Kuya was still laughing at me. People were doing so many signs with their hands: waving, putting up fingers, wiggling their thumbs in the air. They were shouting so many words with the hand signals that I couldn’t get how they bet. There were so many shout and signals that I didn’t get anything. The fight started again and it was over. Kuya signalled me to the stairs.
We went up and I positioned myself near the railings. A man behind me said to Kuya, “Baka maipit kasama mo diyan.” but I didn’t listen. The handlers of the roosters seemed to be warming up the roosters by letting another rooster peck and flare their neck feathers at them. People started shouting doing the hand signs and another fight went. I found it cute that people would hush up when the roosters start to jump. After the fight, Kuya called me to the back because I did get squashed by the crowd who wanted to see the fight. He then taught me how to bet.
Basically, you bet against another person who either bets for Meron or Wala. You call out what you want to bet on and wave at people to challenge you. If the person is beside you, saying how much you’re going to bet is ok. If the person is far from you, you have to do hand signals or you wont understand each other. You can bet with as many people as you like but you have to remember their faces because, if you won and you don’t remember who you bet with, you would lose your winnings.
Kuya told me to try and bet with the Cristo standing on the rails. Cristo is a bet maker who bets for a boss who gives them their share of the winnings. They usually bet with more than one person at a time remembering all their faces by memory alone. The Cristo shouting “Wala” for people to bet against him for P200. I signaled that I would challenge him. He saw me and smiled maybe thinking I was joking but did take my bet. He looked back a couple of times making sure I was really going to bet. And the result….
I was really disappointed that my bigger bird lost to the smaller Meron side. Big things (winnings) do come in small packages… I threw two crumpled P100 bills to the Cristo I bet against. It almost fell of the rails but he caught it just in time. He smiled at me and made a small bow of thank you while raising the money at me. After that loss we left, because knowing myself, I might retaliate and lose more.
I lost P300 (P100 entrance + P200 bet) that day but I was satisfied (after a few moments of grieving from the loss of P200). Looking at the experience in the sabungan, the community that thrived there was an air of trust. It was a real community, not just a gathering of individual gamblers. People in the area were not focused only in betting but also cared enough to help another out. Kuya told me that if you were a regular there you make friends. Like in protestant church, you have a support group to help you get rise from economic poverty. Friends inside are not only friends in the sabungan but Kumpares or Kumares for your kid’s baptismal and Ninong or Ninangs during weddings. I had fun in the sabungan despite the confusing noises and smells of the place. Kuya promised me that if I raised my own rooster, he would bring me back to the sabungan to test its prowess and my rooster raising skills. I can’t wait to get my own rooster!
1. What insights were gained from the participation compared to just observing?
If I were just to observe the place, I would be regretting that I went there in the first place. Participating in a bet gave me this sense of belonging to the place unlike a few minutes before where I just sat back and watched being mindful more on the people looking at me than on the activities people were doing. I felt the rush of adrenaline when I bet the P200. I knew how it felt to lose and how it felt to throw your money to the person who won against you. In observing, you don’t immerse yourself entirely in the experience thus you miss the affective part of the place.
2. What did having a key informant add to your understanding?
Kuya Jessie was very helpful since he made feel my way through the place first before actually teaching me the tips in the sabungan. He taught me how to bet and how to look at roosters. He also told me where to look and what to look for. For example, he pointed out to me a young man who was selling his watch for P500 just to get back at the person who lost against him. “Ganyan dito eh. Minsan di tungkol sa pera. Minsan tungkol sa pagkalalaki (pride) mo.” If I were to go there without him, the place would be a dangerous place for a little girl like me. Since I was bringing my phone then so I could take pictures he also acted as a body guard and a guide on how to see if someone is a pickpocket or not.
3. What was learned from participant observation at this event that a questionnaire or interview about it might miss?
You’d miss the smoke, the beer, the noise and the action. You’ll never feel how it is to rub elbows (for me shoulder-elbows) with the regulars. If I were to do a questionnaire or just interview Kuya on what happens in the cockpit l would have just come up with a very academic view on the matter and my subjective view would most likely be very biased towards my preconceptions of the sport.
4. For what purposes might a questionnaire or interview be better than participant observation?
Questionnaires or Interviews are used to get objective particular information from an informant. In participant observation, most of the things you discover are subjective where the key informant enlightens you to the objective part of the event.
Llyrica Joyce Intia Tan