OFFLINE: A case of mass murder?

Close to two years ago, news came out about the disappearance of sabungeros, AKA cockfighting aficionados. I had often wondered why not enough had been written about the mysterious case.

The disappeared ones were reportedly involved in e-sabong, meaning cockfights that could only be seen online.

Nothing wrong with that, as the country – in fact the world – was still in the midst of battling the COVID-19 pandemic, which was producing variants and sub-variants at a regular pace. So live cockfighting was out of the question as crowds would never agree to social distancing.

I must admit that I have never been attracted to cockfighting. It seems a little too violent and cruel for me, even if the only parties involved were male chickens AKA cocks (which always invites jokes and snide comments from macho followers of the game).

Blades are placed at the legs of the cocks, who are then released to destroy each other. It’s always a case of one dies, one survives, although it is not uncommon for the winning cock to also suffer injuries that prove to be fatal.

In my entire life, I have been to one live cockfight, but did not place any bets as I had no idea which cock was better than the other.

I also found it quite odd that the bets were taken by men who were referred to as ‘kristos.” Why they would be called by the name of Jesus Christ was way beyond my comprehension.

I did appreciate the honor system that was involved in the taking of bets. You should shout which cock you favor, and if it wins the kristo pays you. If it loses, however, you simply throw the sum you had declared to the kristo.

Cheat and you can end up beaten to a pulp outside the cockfighting arena.

I was somewhat surprised to learn that a good number of very rich men were cockfighting aficionados. They raised  their cocks – a good place for a green joke right there, huh? – like they were their children, giving them the best foods, having professional trainors care for them, and buying and selling them for tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of pesos.

The top owners would spend fortunes importing chicks to train into fighting cocks, too.

All in all, it was a pastime for the rich, but which depended on the entire A to E social classes to thrive. The cockfighting arena near the place where I grew up would have a parking lot full of new cars and SUVs, but the hoi polloi would also be seen entering the arena donning slippers and work clothes.

It is that honor system that may have caused a case of mass murder that is only now being revealed ever so slowly.

The reports said more than 30 cockfighting aficionados had disappeared in 2021 to 2022.

That was it. Nothing followed. No news, no leads, not even rumors of what had befallen them.

As far as everyone was concerned, it was as if they had disappeared from the face of the earth, never to be seen or heard from ever again.

So the obvious question is, what happened?

Last week, the first reports came in after a long while. Three policemen had been dismissed from the force because of their involvement in the disappearance of one cockfighting aficionado. It is not clear if the missing person was some sort of kristo.

What has come out so far is that five policemen had originally been tagged as being behind one disappearance, but two had been cleared for lack of evidence.

The most accepted figure is 34 sabungeros as having disappeared between May 20, 2021 to March 4 of this year.

The disappearances – I do believe that kidnapping is the more apt word – took place in several Luzon provinces.

To this day, all 34 are still missing, and can be considered as dead. Of the total, 19 are from Laguna, six from Manila, six from Batangas, and two from Bulacan.

The Senate held hearings on the issue, but not much came of it. The missing are still missing.

Who is behind the mass disappearance can only be a matter of conjecture, but the fact that three officers from the Philippine National Police have been charged in one case is disturbing enough. There were several witnesses to the abduction, including the wife and in-laws of the victim.

The PNP’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group along with the National Bureau of Investigation have taken the lead in solving the mystery of the missing sabungeros.

Other cases have been filed against other policemen. This can only indicated that the PNP has too many scalawags within their ranks would readily commit the heinous crime of kidnapping if the price is right.

They have not only been dismissed from service, but are now facing kidnapping and serious illegal detention charges.

It is too early to say that the kidnapping and possible killing of the sabungeros is part of a grand scheme perpetrated by a mob boss who felt that the victims were not living up to the code of honor practiced in the field.

But that they could be nabbed in large numbers says there is something deeper than a mere case of bettors or kristos not paying their debts.

The families of the missing men are still waiting, and even hoping against hope that their loved ones are still alive. This is highly unlikely, of course.

Even Justice Secretary Crispin Remulla said that “there really is no hope for them to return home alive.”

The charges will most likely be upgraded to murder depending on what the government’s prosecutors are able to find out.

There have been thousands of cases of Filipinos being abducted, never to be seen again. They are called desaparecidos, or the disappeared ones.

Filipinos did not invent the word. It came into use in South America to describe persons who disappeared and are presumed killed by members of the armed forces or the police.

Now it has become part of our language, for all the wrong reasons. Mass disappearances, ergo mass murder, remains a common occurrence in the country we call home.