June 17, 2024

(Editors’ note: The Midland Courier is reprinting the columns of the late Atty. Benedicto T. Carantes as a tribute to one of its long-time columnists. This piece was published on April 20, 2008.)

The Cordillera Cockers and Casino Club (CCCC, for brevity) is perhaps the only unorganized organization in the region, and possibly throughout the land – there are no elected or appointed corporate officers to call the shots, no board of directors to formulate policy.
But the leaders are known, and treated with deference and awe, having survived the ups and downs of a wicked vice, yet still hanging on, until stricken by unbelievable bad luck that will take them out of commission – and out of the CCCC too, alas, to be gossiped about and laughed at behind their backs by the other members.

Such are the perils of CCCC membership, but getting out of the club is almost impossible, unless one is able to summon the strength to flee its walls – or go bankrupt – which ever comes first.
Members are cockfight aficionados and casino habitués – and on a honorary basis – monte regulars, mahjong addicts, tong-its die-hards, and pusoy loyalists.
Excluded from the club are the street players – those who play cara y cruz, tatsing and small time dice rollers.
But they too have a club all their own, hard up or otherwise.

When the casino first opened in Baguio in 1977 at the old Pines Hotel, cockpit and monte operators grumbled that business had become slow, and even the regular afternoon mahjong amigas no longer converged like clockwork, with nearly everyone excited about the prospects of legalized gambling.
After the hotel was destroyed by fire in 1984, the CCCC members gratefully said “thank you”, and then hurriedly flocked to the Hyatt in doves when the casino opened there in 1986.
Once again CCCC members were losing the shirts off their backs, their trucks, elves, and hard-earned cash, with at least one scion of an affluent family losing his pretty wife to a generous businessman, who would later complain that keeping up with his lover’s habits was taking a drain on his finances, and reluctantly gave her up to another with a much deeper pocket.

Along cockfighting row, (or at least in Baguio), the acknowledged idol is Mr. “V”, a big bettor who knows when to skip with his winnings.
Lately, like an invading army conquering one turf after another, Mr. “V” has been hitting the jackpot in all the cockpits he visits, and all the club members are envious of him, albeit consider Mr. “V” as some kind of folk hero – and will go on carrying that “reputation” until his luck runs out – which always happens to all gamblers as time goes by.
The irony is that a winning streak never lasts, while a losing one seems to go on forever.
His enemies – actually an envious few – as well as his legion of fans call Mr. “V” the runner, taking off each time after four or five consecutive big hits.

One other idol is baccarat member F. G., which does not stand for First Gentleman or First Gangster, but for someone known by all as the “maestro.”
It is not so much his talent that makes the “maestro” a winner, it is his patience and coolness under fire that CCCC members find admirable.
Perhaps the only member who has bitten off a modest chunk of the casino’s earnings as if he were a stockholder himself, his winning style was apparently overlooked by two currently distraught CCCC members – one a card sharp who introduced jueteng in Bangkok before he was eventually shipped back to these islands after his police general Thai cohort and greedy business partner had mastered the ropes of the illegal numbers game.
The then lucky and later unlucky member was able to bring home something like $250,000, only to lose it all in the casino in six months time.
The last I heard, he was in Vietnam, plying his old trade.

But one other CCCC member is in an even deeper hole. Not only did he lose all his earnings abroad, he also borrowed heavily, and has to pay exorbitant daily interest to the casino financiers.
The scuttlebutt is that he has to put up his house and SUV vehicle for sale, if only to honorably wipe out his outstanding debts.
Every sad story in the book had happened to many CCCC members since the casino flung its doors open, a sort of déjà vu twice or thrice over.
Businesses have closed down, many have been fired from their jobs for flitching company funds, and all worldly possessions have been sold. Husbands and wives have gone separate ways, and “the only thing I am waiting for”, confided a casino insider, “is someone committing suicide.”
I suddenly remember one Chinaman jumping into the bay from the floating casino, whose body was found the next day, but kept under wraps because the ensuing bad publicity could send the wrong message.
Ah, but the favorite theme song of Filipino gamblers is “habang may buhay.”
He will rob, steal, sell his kidney or soul, but not take his own life.
But all CCCC members in fact, are dying a slow death, and many have disappeared from the cockfighting and casino scene, either gone underground and hiding from creditors, while a few others have sought refuge in religion, promising God not to commit the same mistake if the good Lord would once again put them back on their feet.

Incidentally, members of the CCCC come from all walks of life, and gender is not discriminated against.
The men play clumsy, the women a bit better, and so too the homos, and the t-birds are methodical and calculating, yet all end up the same route – broke.
The married women open not only their purses and bank accounts, but everything else that comes apart, (for love of the game) and the single girls are constantly on the prowl, looking for some gullible, hapless fellow who has no control over his libido, but gentle with his winnings.
Not surprisingly, membership in the CCCC is fast dwindling, not that they now know better, it’s just that the vice operators have siphoned everything away, including one’s self respect and dignity.