In UP, sports and politics mix

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“Don’t mix politics and sports” is an argument shot full of holes it’s a bother to even it take it down. But demolish the argument we must by just citing the common, popular lament that government’s lack of support for sports is the biggest cause for lack of national glory in the world’s sports arena.

Still and all, the argument made its way into this year’s storied University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) basketball finals when student councils of both the University of the Philippines (UP) and Ateneo urged fellow students and alumni to wear black instead of their school colors of maroon or blue during the games. Wearing black, said the two councils, is to protest violence, misogyny and impunity.

Immediately, as if on cue, calls were made not to mix politics and sports. On the UP side, not wearing maroon was supposedly a betrayal of the “UP spirit,” with one incensed senior UP official branding the call “stupid.”

A funny observation as the call did not say students or alumni should not root for their schools. If anything, the message simply was: “Now that our schools are in the public limelight we are taking the opportunity to remind all that even as we lustily cheer for our teams we are not forgetting what is happening to our country.”

To be blunt about it, most of those who contested the wearing of black came from Mr. Duterte’s supporters. I just don’t know exactly the reason for the overwrought reaction, but I did detect a sense of their anxiety of the unknown, of the future of this government.

Why the anxiety? Does it mean misogyny, violence and impunity are true in this country? Or does it mean UP’s real spirit of struggle, of dissent, of critical engagement of society will bloom further on the advent of a winning basketball team to the peril of government?

I don’t know much about Ateneo or other schools, but I know UP never did lose its real spirit, even if it seems so nowadays, for even in the darkest days of martial rule UP still had its voice intact.

Illustrative of this real spirit is perhaps a forgotten episode in Diliman. It bears retelling as the event also involved sports and politics and, importantly, the UP story of courage against all odds.

This is now largely forgotten, even the participants can’t recall now the exact day and date it happened, only the year is clear. News media failed to record the event nor are there period photographs.

Anyway, it is the year 1974 and the Marcos regime had all but successfully consolidated its power. At the State University in Diliman, a caged spirit was evident, starkly emphasized by the steel grills that had gone up previously in all the first floors of the school’s buildings. ID checks at all entrances was also the norm.

Yet the Marcos regime also yearned for normalcy, dearly wanting to say to the world everybody acquiesced to its view of things. So, the regime was amendable to some form of controllable student government to replace the dreaded student councils of before, thus the forming of the Consultative Committee on Student Affairs (Concomsa).

In the second semester of 1974, Concomsa put up plans for a campus-wide sportsfest. By November, the sportsfest was in place and excited student organizations.

To kick it off, however, one had to have a parade. And so, on one November afternoon came parade day, the length and breadth of which was to snake the academic oval. At the head of the parade, the first organizations in the march were loud but cherry enough to herald a joyful, innocent afternoon for all.

But 30 minutes or so into the parade, large red banners were unrolled, hastily made “ibagsak” placards were hoisted up and the unmistakably shouts of protest thundered.

Unfolding was Diliman’s first ever protest demonstration against the Marcos regime since the declaration of martial rule in 1972.

Thereafter, all hell broke loose. A surprised UP Diliman police tried first to break up the demonstration — they failed. Quickly, outside police forces stormed the campus, wielding bamboo batons in pitch battles with protesters outside the UP Library and outside Vinzons Hall. When night came, scores of demonstrators were arrested.

Days after, sporadic and spontaneous protest marches in school corridors erupted: quieting down only weeks later and only when the arrested protesters were released. The releases also allowed the sportsfest to continue.

But in January 1975, amid rumors of a large demonstration in the capital, the regime arrested and detained scores of prominent UP student figures, including those previously arrested in November. The sportsfest was again aborted and corridor protests again erupted.

In spite of the arrests, UP officials and rightist student organizations and fraternities were pressuring the revival of the sportsfest. No can do, retorted organizers, outwitting the ever-watchful security forces by arguing there was simply no more time to finish the games.

Later on, UP officials, led by the late Armando Malay, then Dean of Student Affairs, decided against continuing the games. Malay perhaps sensed that by insisting on games, campus rightists were more than willing to sacrifice the detainees.

The UP detainees were jailed for as short as six months to as long as more than a year in Fort Bonifacio, in basement cells where one detainee recalled they could only see the feet of other detainees.

With that, the point is simply this: In UP, the mixing of sports and politics is not a new thing. It is tradition.

Email: nevqjr@yahoo.com.ph

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