Philippine Daily Inquirer

In the service of the nation

- ISZA AMPONIN-ZERRUDO ———— Isza Amponin-zerrudo, 22, is from Iloilo City. She is an alumna of the University of the Philippine­s Visayas and former Skimmers cheerer, and currently teaches communicat­ion subjects.

We do not tell the story of long, blistering nights spent breaking vocal chords and stretching taut muscles. We do not tell the story of mastering time management as we memorize cheering lines while we study for exams. We do not tell the story of gripping worry over a potential loss just because we heard a competing school organizati­on cheer louder.

We do not tell these stories because they are the background noise of the real stories we yearn to tell: those of underpaid workers, of mistreated laborers, of women, of youth, of every victim and survivor of the unjust and blighted system we call “government.”

We live for those important tales, because they remind us that our hoarse voices are the loudest cries for those who are forever silenced, that the dull ache between our shoulders is the strongest we can be for farmers who toil night and day for a measly sum, that our mental toil over lines and exams is a small sacrifice we make for those who cannot even afford to step inside a classroom.

And if we’re going to single out lines from the Skimmers cheers and go on to lengths about what it means, then we might as well highlight its real call for action, one without satire (for it seems quite a challenge to comprehend satire). Of all their chants, this one stood out best: “In the service of the nation.”

This small academic organizati­on nestled within the small community of the University of the Philippine­s Visayas was fueled by only two: to win and to inspire. The sheer reality of it all is that no one who has ever joined UPV’S annual cheering sport ever dreamed or yearned to be (in)famous for it.

As is the nature of protest, we only sought to speak of wounds slashed by realities we face in a society that’s warped with promises and failed by inaction. What the Skimmers performanc­e showed wasn’t merely an academic stint, but also a loud ringing affirmatio­n of the evident injustices and inequaliti­es confrontin­g the underprivi­leged and silenced.

Every cheerer donning the flashy pink vest is a farmer shortchang­ed by the rice tarifficat­ion law, an LGBTQ+ member dissed because the sexual orientatio­n and gender identity and expression bill continues to languish in Congress, a Kian delos Santos failed by its police, a student leader taken to be an enemy of the state, a journalist killed for speaking the truth, a Filipino betrayed by the loss of the West Philippine Sea.

When social media influencer­s picked up the video of the performanc­e, everyone had to hold their breath. President Duterte’s supporters lobbed threats and criticisms and clamored for state funding to be revoked, for kids to go back to their books, for teachers to imbibe government-sanctioned ideologies. But these only press us to continue fighting until people realize that education is not just about memorizing scientific names.

Education is realizing that humanity benefits not from what we retain from textbooks, but how we understand what it means to be human. Education is impressing the worth of discourse and dissent in times when the political climate threatens to monopolize narratives. Education is teaching that our compassion for each other and for social good is what moves us forward.

The unwavering spirit of the youth cannot be deterred, not when it is the same sector leading the protest in Hong Kong, that rallies against the government in Chile, that makes global leaders listen and panic about climate change.

Protest is the voice and face of all who yearn for human rights and equality. Protest is the gateway for leaders to hearken to its people and act on their grievances. Protest is in every one of us who desires change. Protest is universal.

And so is action.

For all the sham and drudgery we face in the online comment sections, these have only moved every Skimmers to fight for a system that will uproot the ills of illiteracy, miseducati­on and the dearth of employment opportunit­ies. No one deserves to go after brainless trolling as a job because no better work is presented. No one deserves to be vulnerable to vote-buying. No one deserves to have their stories twisted to protect oppressive regimes.

As much as Skimmers is just an identity for a bunch of students, it is now the name of all those whose government­s have failed them, who have been robbed by their president and senators, who have been unjustly taken down by the military and police. It is now everyone’s call to action.

After all the hashtags, we are at an important crossroads where we may live off the dregs of this virtual battle, or carry on our mission to serve the nation; for our government and its supporters to redirect their efforts into addressing the legitimate issues raised during the Skimmers performanc­e (and in other protests throughout the years); for our university administra­tion to take a stronger stance in fighting with its constituen­ts; and for every Skimmers, Isko and Iska, and Filipino who believes in this fight to go serve the nation. This! This is the story we live to tell.

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