She made me choose
CTALK - Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) - January 17, 2018 - 12:00am

At the time, she was the love of my life. Smart, beautiful, inspiring, multi-lingual and to win her heart, I faced a challenge many of my college classmates feared: to perform on stage in a foreign language. It took months to understand and memorize the lines and then another to synchronize the spoken words with action, no props, no co-performers but it was all worth it just to impress my Miss Universe look and speak alike. It was a performance. A few nights after, I visited her to present her with the gold medal for our collective effort. Then came the moment of truth, were my efforts and sacrifice worthy of winning her heart and becoming her boyfriend?

She smiled, adjusted her self on the seat, I think she even held my hand, gazed into my eyes and said, “Only if you promise to give up cockfighting.

I don’t remember much of what else was said after that. I was not swept off my feet nor did I float in the air from the prospect of her conditional promise. I actually got up and went home. It was a no brainer for me.

How could I possibly give up on raising fighting cocks when my crib was next to an egg incubator, when chicks shared the same space I slept in as a baby and not to mention how selling and fighting chickens were the primary source of income for my father when he could not work for four years during Martial Law. Those “Pang sabong” fed us and brought food to our table. Once in a while they brought their dead enemies, sometimes they ended up as dinner!

I even earned an almost perfect grade when I wrote an extensive essay on Cockfighting in the Philippines that covered the areas of sourcing breeding stock, rearing, training, fighting, betting, beliefs and superstitions etc. The irony of it all was that we were not considered fighters but more of breeders and serious enthusiasts. Given how hard it was to find work or make money, gambling in whatever form has never been part of our trademark or activities. Sadly, that was the public impression.

It has been 40 years since that faithful night and a 25-year absence from the “hobby” after my dad Louie Beltran passed away. I am amazed and partly shocked at how a “vice” or “form of gambling” has evolved beyond being the national pastime into a lucrative export industry where Filipino cockers or breeders sell chickens in many parts of the ASEAN and even in the Middle East where they fight Asian-American breeds. It might shock you to learn that breeding hens average at P10,000 each, the cheaper ones go from P5,000 to P7,000. Brood cocks go from P15,000 to P35,000 on the average, day old to week old chicks go for around P350.

They now have several dedicated TV programs all about cockfighting and related products. You now have “champions” standing as paid or sponsored endorsers for feeds and nutritional products such as BMeg and it is amusing to see people actually asking for autographs or to have a selfie with their idols in sabong. My friend former Governor Baham Mitra recently intoned: “Once a Chicken man – Always a Chicken man” and I must confess that I have lately been walking around the house replaying a certain song in my mind: Let me try again!

In all seriousness, as someone who raises pigs and poultry for eggs, I now have to say I must be in the wrong business considering the selling prices and profit margins professional game fowl breeders can make, compared to selling pigs and poultry chickens at farm gate prices. Of course not everybody can become an endorser. It takes financial and personal commitment as well as being surrounded by family and friends, who support or at least tolerate what you’re getting into because they love you, trust your judgment or are smart enough not to make you choose!

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It is not the first time!

The situation that Rappler finds itself in is not new. Other news organizations have found themselves in a bind, under the microscope, or squeezed by powers both, the petty or the powerful. What Rappler has in common with other media organizations or personalities is that they set themselves up to be the antagonist, self appointed critic or out and out political opposition of governments past and present – without seriously believing that their targets might one day fight back or actually get even. Being the pain in the ass may seem fun and feeds some people’s power trip but there is a saying that goes: “Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones.” So if you happen to know that you have tax issues, skeletons in the closet or any chink in your armor, common sense dictates that you stay tidy and safe. The problem we have in media is many practitioners and officers never really expect the Lion to bite back. Yes it may threaten or growl, but we recklessly assume no harm will befall the mighty media.

But the days of invincibility are gone. A call to arms in defense of Freedom of the Press may look like good copy or great sound byte, but people have simply become cynical of Media because nowadays most of them are businesses as well as a form of political protection and a platform for promoting personal and political agenda. Even the handful of Senators calling out to members of media to fight for Freedom of the Press are just as suspect because none of them are known to be defenders of Press Freedom because if they were, there would be no libel law in the Philippines!

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