Voicing out: UP Visayas cheering competition a platform for creative activism
ILOILO CITY, Philippines– Taking their protest to a bigger platform, University of the Philippines Visayas (UPV) students used their cheering routine to amplify national issues in a performance that quickly went viral on social media, gaining the vitriol of administration supporters for its inflammatory content.
No stranger to gaining traction online, the annual cheering competition may seem puzzling or intriguing to those outside the UPV community. However it’s become a part of this UP campus’ culture and yearly festivities – a platform for the razor-sharp wit of Ilonggo Iskolars ng Bayan since at least the 1970s, as recounted by a faculty member of the state university.
UPV’s brand of cheering relies less on pompoms, stunts, and human pyramids. Its routines typically focus more on satirical commentary instead.
Part of the campus’ yearly Sportsfest – intramurals to most other collegiate athletes – the cheering competition pits UPV’s 11 academic organizations against each other as they trade barbs and roasts while also espousing jokes that often take on a political slant.
“It’s not the usual cheers and yells, or series of stunts and tumblings,” explained Raoul Danniel Manuel, a UPV alumnus and former UP student regent, now National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP) spokesperson.
Manuel had participated in the annual cheering competition a few times before graduating as UP Visayas’ first summa cum laude in 2015. He was even a cheerleader in his senior year with the Elektrons, the academic organization of the Division of Physical Sciences and Mathematics, College of Arts and Sciences.
UPV professor and filmmaker Kevin Piamonte echoed Manuel’s statement, emphasizing how the cheering competition has become a platform to tackle issues within and beyond the campus.
“UPV cheering is totally different, it’s always been creative,” said Piamonte. “Teams always poke fun at each other by way of funny and witty insults. Issues in the campus, as well as in the society, are also [usually] included.”
“It’s a platform for students to express grievances related to campus, youth and national issues,” added Manuel.
The annual cheering competition is also a rite of passage of sorts for UPV freshmen. Manuel and Piamonte explained that the competition is usually participated by first year students of each of the academic organizations.
Piamonte said he remembers joining the cheering competition as early as 1979 at the University of the Philippines High School in Iloilo.
“I don’t remember when [the contest] first started but I recall joining the cheering competition since my high school years. Since that time, until now, it’s always been an avenue also for students to air out their sentiments,” he said.
In the spotlight
This is not the first time a routine from UPV’s cheering competition has gone viral due to its progressive and political message.
In 2018, the Fisheries academic organization – from UPV’s College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences – gained traction online for their cheer routine that touched on the plea of endo or end-of-contract scheme workers employed by a popular Filipino fast food chain.
The performance featured cheerers of the group donning the recognizable uniforms of Jollibee service crews – their look completed by hairnets and nametags that read “Hi! I am contractual,” alongside the logo of the bee brand with an upturned smile.
“The cheering competition always had an element of protest. Students can bash school policies right in front of the members of the university administration. But I believe that the share of socially relevant themes in the content of the cheers has noticeably increased in recent years, especially in light of the harsh times we face under the Duterte government,” expressed Manuel.
Aside from the Skimmers, another organization that participated in this year’s cheering competition in UPV also went viral online.
RuPaul’s Drag Race star and Drag Race All Stars season 3 crowned winner Trixie Mattel shared a photo from the cheering performance of the SoTech academic organization from the UPV School of Technology to her over 1 million Instagram followers on Tuesday, October 22.
"I was told this was a team of cheerleaders in the Philippines," the newly-minted Trixie Cosmetics mogul captioned her post.
Entitled "SoTech Drag Ball Eleganza Extravaganza," the performance took inspiration from drag culture and had their cheerers don Trixie Mattel's now iconic signature "mug," or makeup.
The Skimmers are a perennial champion of the cheering competition, claiming the top spot in the contest consecutively from 2008 to 2011 for a momentous 4-peat, and usually never leaving the Top 3 in the yearly rivalry.
This year's daring routine made Manuel proud of his alma mater. He shared how taking a stand doesn't mean the people behind the performance deserve the attacks and harassment.
“I expected the backlash from diehard supporters of the Duterte administration. But I cannot bear the attacks on the students to the point of them being harassed,” he said.
Does he think the annual cheering competition will remain a relevant platform for free expression, even protest?
“Yes,” Manuel concluded. “As long as issues in and out of the campus remain unresolved, and as long as students devote their time and creativity to a good cause, the cheering competition will remain relevant.” – Rappler.com
Rhick Lars Vladimer Albay is a Rappler Mover based in Iloilo. He reports mostly on the local cultural community and art scene.