#HandsOffSkimmers: UP community slams attacks vs students, faculty behind viral cheer routine
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Various student organizations from the University of the Philippines Visayas (UPV) condemned the red-tagging and attacks against the people behind a viral performance tackling national issues in a cheering competition on Wednesday, October 16.
Skimmers, an academic organization composed of students from the Division of Humanities, College of Arts and Sciences, performed a cheer routine that criticized the Duterte administration and highlighted issues related to the West Philippine Sea and Rice Tariffication law affecting Filipino workers among others.
It bested 10 other academic organizations which joined the cheering competition as a kick-off to the university’s annual sportsfest.
A clip of the performance reposted on Twitter on Friday, October 18, quickly went viral online, as several Facebook pages singled out a satirical line that criticized the Duterte administration’s failure to stand up to China and assert the Philippines’ sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea.
The line's satirical nature did not sit well with Duterte supporters as they took their threats and harassment to Facebook and launched different attacks against Skimmers and its cheerers.
As the video became viral, the students became targets of attacks and harassment, receiving threats after the personal information and photos of several of its members, especially its governor and adviser, were publicized online.
This was further amplified when controversial pro-Duterte blogger, Mocha Uson, shared a snippet of the cheer routine on her personal blog, criticizing the line and questioning the teachings of UP Visayas.
Student organizations of UP Visayas were quick to defend Skimmers, condemning the “blatant acts of doxxing and harassment” in the wake of the group’s performance.
The UP Visayas-University Student Council asserted in a unity statement that all UPV student councils and organizations won’t stand idly by when faced with harassment or unjust behavior targeting any member of its community.
“With the increased instances of red-tagging by this oppressive state whenever the university raises awareness and action on societal issues, we will not and will never tolerate any kind of harassment or unjust behavior towards our constituents, whether we are facing a single troll or the whole Duterte administration,” it said.
Pagbutlak, the official student publication of UPV’s College of Arts and Sciences, especially criticized the string of online attacks and harassment that followed Skimmers, pointing out how these online trolls muddle critical discourse on social media platforms.
“Such handiwork seriously threatens established freedom of expression and right to speech of citizens under our Constitution,” Pagbutlak added.
UP Scintilla Juris and UP Stella Juris residents emphasized how several of the pages attacking the cheer routine deliberately took a snippet of the video out of context, making it prone to misinterpretation.
“These groups and pages deliberately singled out a satirical line from the performance which misplaced its meaning and removed it from its context, which is to call the government to be accountable for its inactions over the West Philippine Sea, among other issues,” they said.
They highlighted how the recent incident of harassment and red-tagging of the students and faculty behind the performance only magnified the key issues that Skimmers showed in its performance such as the silencing of the press, the infringement of freedom of expression, and the suppression of truth.
“Our institution has long prided itself in its service for the people, and in its core, the cheering competition does precisely just that. It raises awareness about the pressing issues that plague our nation and demand for action. The student body, especially the Skimmers, do not deserve the defamation for speaking the truth and refusing to be silenced,” they said.
“The recent incidences have proven that the government, its lapdogs, and blind followers can be moved and pressed by the voice of students. The youth is powerful,” they added.
Partido sang Mainuswagon nga Bumulutho, a political and socio-civic organization in UPV, urged for the takedown of false reports and misleading videos on social media to protect students and faculty from cyber-bullying in the form of red-tagging and harassment.
“As the dictatorship of the current administration exists, there are unheard voices and voices being shut down…. These false reports and pieces of information do not help in creating peace and unity in the nation. Instead, it creates division and unsafe environment,” they said.
UPV Literati also joined in the call to take down posts on social media that intentionally mislead viewers by singling out a line in Skimmers’ cheer routine, as they listed posts that people can report to protect the cheerers from further harassment and red-tagging.
The Student Christian Movement-UPV noted that the attacks that followed Skimmers after its performance only show that there are efforts to drown out the voices of critics of the administration.
“The recent online attacks to UPV-Skimmers is a manifestation of utter cowardice of the Duterte regime's tentacles to silent dissenting voices of the youth heralding the banners of truth and justice,” it said.
Beyond the UP Visayas community, #HandsOffSkimmers also trended on Twitter on Saturday, October 19, as netizens stood in solidarity with Skimmers and commended their courage for putting a spotlight on issues the Philippines is currently facing.
For years, the annual UP Visayas cheering competition has served as a creative protest where students can tackle social and political issues from the university administration level all the way to national and global scales.
In a statement on Sunday night, October 20, University of the Philippines Visayas explained that the annual cheering competition is a unique tradition where students perform routines that can include satirical commentaries on various issues within and beyond the university.
“In UP Visayas, we encourage our students to think critically and allow them to exercise their freedom of expression,” they said.
In light of recent attacks against the Skimmers, UP Visayas assured students that they will be protected inside the campus, and condemned all forms of attacks and harassment hounding any member of the community.
“We also assure them of protection while they are inside the campuses. We remind them to exercise prudence in their actions, thus, we denounce all forms of threats and harassment held against them,” they added.
Though the administration offers physical protection to students within campus, University of the Philippines Visayas Chancellor Ricardo Babaran reiterated in a statement on Wednesday, October 23, that it cannot extend this beyond its boundaries.
"Because we have armed our students with critical minds to speak, we trust them to fight their battles especially in social media, wherever they are located in the social and political spectrum," he said.
As of October 16, the clip of the video reposted on Twitter has reached around 1.12 million views. The clip was taken from the almost 18-minute video uploaded on Youtube. – Rappler.com