MANILA, Philippines – Coaches of the UP Pep Squad have been accused by current and former members of physical and emotional abuse on top of unauthorized fee collections.
Campus reporters Cristina Chi, J-Ann Avila, Leo Baltar and Aerielle Ulanday laid out the details in a two-part investigative article series jointly released on Wednesday, July 20 by student publications Philippine Collegian and Tinig Ng Plaridel (TNP).
Here’s what we know on the alleged long-running controversy.
UP Pep Squad
The UP Pep Squad is the university’s official cheerdance team that regularly competes in the annual UAAP Cheerdance Competition (CDC).
Formed in 1994, the squad is currently the winningest team in league history with eight CDC titles – a distinction it shares with the UST Salinggawi Dance Troupe.
However, UP is now in a 10-year title drought since winning its eighth championship in 2012, and has also not clinched anything higher than sixth place since 2015.
Still, UP and UST’s shared hold of the top spot remains strong as their next closest competitor, the new NU Pep Squad dynasty, is still catching up with just six titles to their haul.
Lalaine Perena is the longest-serving UP Pep Squad head coach, having held the post since 1998.
After leading UP to all eight CDC titles – a run that started with a three-peat from 1999 to 2001 – Perena is now under fire for allegedly fining her athletes without UP’s knowledge over the years for a variety of reasons and amounts.
These included, but were not limited to, P300 to P500 fines for being absent or late to practices, and a P5,000 fine for the trivial matter of forgetting one’s shoes.
This reportedly forced an athlete to just buy new ones instead of handing over the exorbitant amount for the release of the confiscated pair.
Perena allegedly went as far as charging a pep squad member P150,000 as a “consequence” for missing a 2018 midyear term training due to an overseas trip. The amount was said to have been used to sponsor new team shoes, but no expenses breakdown was made available.
Perena also allegedly took a cut of athletes’ meal allowances from the UAAP, and meddled with finance streams during international, non-UAAP competitions.
UP Pep assistant coach Pio Opinaldo is the other central figure of the investigative report, and was allegedly responsible for inflicting physical and emotional abuse while Perena and other assistants reportedly watched on.
By his own admission to the university’s Varsity Sports Program (VSP), Opinaldo subjected the athletes to physical and emotional harm, which included shoving and slipper-throwing.
Pep Squad members also told the student publications that they were body-shamed during practice and shouted at during international competitions in full view of other competing countries.
Per reports, the VSP told Opinaldo to “revisit his coaching philosophy” to support “basic psychological needs and well-being of the student-athletes.”
Other complicit coaches
Other coaches were not spared from the near 7,000-word report of TNP and the Collegian, which also named interim head coach Nino Jose Antonio and assistants Amity Casurao-Trono and Suyin Chua as parts of the alleged abuse.
Casurao-Trono has since responded to the allegations by saying that the coaches “will not do anything to taint the reputation” which they helped build, and she believed that both sides can “resolve the struggles through the proper process.”
Slow resolution by UP administration?
The student publications detailed how the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs (OVCSA) only called for a “team meeting” involving both sides last July 14, three days after they informed the office of their intent to publish their report.
This was reportedly the first time since February that the UP administration acted on the long-standing series of grievances, which was initially given a “disheartening” resolution that still allowed other assistant coaches to resume their duties while Perena and Opinaldo were placed on leave.
Another Pep Squad member also said, per the report, that the team had been waiting for a dialogue since April 2021, and wondered why there had been a year-long lull.
UP chancellor Fidel Nemenzo also refused to comment to the student publications whether his office was ready to give a final decision on the matter.
As of press time, only the UP Pep Squad alumni have given an update on the situation, in which they expressed their support for the embattled batches of student-athletes.