Photo by Keith Magcaling

Text by Denver Del Rosario

And it was uttered, “…all good things must come to an end, but all great things come back.”

A familiar beat of the drums echoed inside the MOA Arena, a familiar sea of maroon cheered in excitement.

Finally, they were back.

After their non-participation last year, the University of the Philippines (UP) Pep Squad took center stage again in the recently concluded UAAP Season 80 Cheerdance Competition. Donning the usual maroon highlighted with yellow and purple, the team’s performance was about the story of the iskolar ng bayan, a routine dedicated to the Diliman faithful for their unwavering support, despite the pressure and the backlash.

Many were shocked when the official list for last season’s cheerleading competition was released. Only seven schools were in the lineup—it was missing a familiar name, a competition staple, a team synonymous to the sport, a pep squad loved by all.

The UP Pep Squad made a bold and principled moved by skipping last season’s cheerleading competition, the first time the ‘pep squad ng bayan’ chose not to participate in the league’s history. At the day of the contest, the absence was greatly noted— seats were left unfilled, and the Araneta Coliseum was missing a familiar element.

After a third place finish in UAAP Season 78 with their ‘utak-puso’ routine, UP filed a protest questioning the overall results which “did not reflect adherence to the competition guidelines and criteria”. Despite their non-participation, the UP Pep Squad was given the opportunity to represent the country in last year’s Asian Cheerleading and Dancesport Championship, together with the UP Filipiniana Dance Group—they took home six medals.

The UP Pep Squad has always made a statement in their performances—and so did their absence.

One of the most decorated teams in UAAP history, the UP Pep Squad has always been in a league of their own. It isn’t just the high-level, gravity-defying stunts, or the way their energy fills up the entire arena—they make sure every performance banners an advocacy, a commentary to our society, a true mark of being an Iskolar ng Bayan.

As a sports fan, I was sad not to see UP Pep Squad compete last season, just because they have always brought a certain level of excitement–they always bring something new to the plate and set the bar for the competition. Everyone loves and respects them, regardless of whichever school they come from, because they have always surpassed what is expected of them. Bearing an advocacy means nothing in the official scores, but they always go further by sending out a message to the public. The cheerleading competition is one of the many times the UP community becomes driven by a purpose—for instance, a few years back, rainbow flags, girls lifting boys, a community advocating for equality. This has always set us apart from the others.

But this UP student has always been proud of his pep squad taking a stand, even if it meant them losing the opportunity to perform in the cheerleading stage. There is nothing wrong in questioning the system when you see something is wrong—their story is the story of the iskolar ng bayan, ang matapang at matalinong iskolar ng bayan, not afraid to address the status quo and stand for his principles. They may have lost a chance to regain their glory in the tournament, but they have represented the true essence of what a UP student should be, an individual of honor and integrity, and with that they have won. The Diliman community is proud and will always stand by them.

Their comeback this year, although sweet and momentous, was also difficult. Questions were left unresolved, and they were put in a situation where they had to choose between standing up for their principles or representing the university. But this year wasn’t really about winning for them; members would always say their performance was for the UP community. The decision, for them, felt easy to make.

The UP Pep Squad may have had its first non-podium finish in UAAP history, but it is more than that. It isn’t just about winning medals and trophies for the UP Pep Squad—it is about representing the ideals of the university and standing for something, that sometimes making a difference is more important than the spotlight.

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