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Local politics and the ‘tokhang-ed’ chicken

The “konsehal” or councilor of Santa Isabela, a rural barangay located somewhere in a certain Tagalog province, was recently approached by a man and his wife to settle a dispute that had arisen between them and their neighbor, a well-to-do man whom we shall name Mr. Santiago.

The couple, Juan and Juanita, was distraught. They claimed that vicious dogs had attacked their prizefighting roosters. Two roosters were killed and a third left blind. “Na-tokhang yung manok namin!” cried Juanita. “Our chickens were tokhang-ed!” She accused Mr. Santiago’s dogs, the white one and the brown one, of committing the attack. “His dogs are killers!” she screamed, and appealed to the konsehal for justice. Or compensation. Whichever paid out the most.

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“Tokhang,” I thought, was a curious choice of word to describe the killing of those cocks. An amalgam of two Cebuano terms — the onomatopoeic “toktok” and “hangyo” — the word, familiar to the general public since the President launched his war against drugs in 2016, alludes to the operational method by which police officers knock on doors, “toktok,” and issue their warning, “hangyo,” to drug suspects to stop their involvement in illegal drugs. Unfortunately, at least according to the police, many of these suspects, thousands in fact, decide to fight back and are killed in the ensuing shootout.

Of course, the avian victims are not metaphorical drug suspects. Neither are the alleged canine attackers imagined as police officers. But in the strange way that meanings of words are torn from their original moorings and adopted in the lexicon used by everyday folk, tokhang here described how the chickens were violently murdered with cold-blooded impunity.

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Santiago preferred the city and was rarely at his provincial home. His property and animals were entrusted to the care of Freddie, his young manservant. Freddie informed his “amo” of the neighbors’ grievance. “I will defend my dogs,” said the old man, stroking the white dog, a docile and somewhat stupid creature.

The konsehal was substituting for the barangay captain. The latter had just lost his electoral campaign for mayor. This man, I was told, was educated and well-mannered. People said he was a medical doctor. He hated litter and campaigned hard against the illegal dumping of garbage. Riffing on the President’s propensity for tough-guy talk, his campaign slogan was along the lines of: “Your mother’s a whore! If you don’t stop littering, I’ll make you eat your trash!”

At the hearing, Juanita recalled the events with high emotion: The dog, for the attackers were no longer plural as she had earlier claimed, had escaped the confines of Santiago’s garden by jumping over the wall. The beast then proceeded to their home, a few kilometers down the road, where it found the tethered roosters. Freddie, she claimed, even saw the dog guiltily running down the street, its bloody jaws clamped around a lifeless bird. Each rooster, she emphasized, was worth at least P5,000. Where would she get the money to replace them? she wailed.

“First, how do you know it was really my dog?” Santiago countered. “This barangay has many stray dogs wandering about. Second, Freddie could not have seen the dog in the street. He was with me in Manila when you say it happened. Third, you can see for yourself that my wall is too high for dogs to jump over. Lastly, my dogs are passive. They are even afraid of our geese. So where is your evidence?”

It is a fact that dogs roam loose in this particular barangay. These animals are a pitiful sight. They are wild-eyed, injured from collisions with cars, possess scabrous pelts and scavenge in rubbish heaps.

It is also true that Santiago’s estate is, for the most part, encircled by thick, high walls. As for Freddie, he denied seeing his employer’s dog running in the street, but could not remember his own whereabouts at the time.

The konsehal wrote down what he heard as best as he could. The pages of his blue notebook were filled with long lists of names, all written out by hand, using black ballpoint.

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He was by nature a conciliatory man. His eyes swept over Santiago and took note of the nice clothing and expensive glasses. “Maybe,” he asked in an emollient voice, “you can just give these people a little consideration. Maybe a few thousand pesos…?”

The couple stared with unseemly cupidity. “No,” said the old man unhesitatingly.

At that moment, Juan, who had sat throughout in sullen silence, suddenly erupted from his chair as if a fire had been lit under his backside. He stormed out the door and shouted: “Papatayin ko na lang yung aso mo (I’ll just go kill your dog)!”

* * *

Rachel A.G. Reyes (rachelagreyes@ gmail.com) is a historian of Southeast Asia and writes commentary pieces on science, gender and politics.

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