Barely weeks into planning next year’s much anticipated UP Fair, the event is already drowning in controversy.
The first blow came on October 17 when night handler UP Junior Marketing Association (UP JMA) withdrew due to the hazing-like “dares” in their so-called comm wars. The organization, which was supposed to organize “Cosmos,” cited the need to “regain the UP sector’s goodwill” before they can host a UP Fair event again in a statement posted on the same day.
Another night handler, UP Economics Society (EcoSoc), which used to organize “Dimensions,” withdrew as well the next day due to similar “dares” in their internal events.
Since then, the issues have only kept on piling. When the UP Diliman (UPD) University Student Council (USC), which leads UP Fair, released the new list of night handler applicants that were vying to replace JMA and EcoSoc, students were quick to question the inclusion of fraternities, including Upsilon Sigma Phi, which came under fire last year due to an incident of fraternity-related violence.
If that wasn’t enough, it was then revealed on October 30 that Alvin James Magno, a USC councilor and fair co-head, was a member of fraternity Alpha Phi Beta. The nondisclosure of his fraternity affiliation sparked outrage, prompting Magno to resign from both his council position and headship of the UP Fair the following day.
Night Handler Selection
Magno’s resignation left the UP Fair leadership with one head down.
“Hindi ko alam na he was part of a frat,” said Erwin Medina, a USC councilor and now the lone head of the UP Fair. “But despite him being a fratman, he still worked with the community when amplifying the calls and campaigns na meron tayo.”
Magno’s resignation is only one indication of the slide in the reputation of fraternities and some organizations in UPD. Since the USC allowed Upsilon Sigma Phi to host last year’s “Polaris” despite being marred by hazing and fraternity-related violence allegations, the involvement of fraternities in the event has always been a touchy topic.
To avoid the same issues from arising this year, night handlers were evaluated based on five criteria: collaboration and partnership strategies, assessment of social media campaign and content strategy, on-the-ground advocacy execution plans, risk assessment and feasibility planning, budget plan, and resource allocation.
“Before, it was [the] monetary bid that was the basis for an organization to be included in the night handlers’ list. Pero this year, there are five categories na nonexistent last year,” Medina said.
Committee heads of the core team rate night handler applications on the said five criteria. Even if the decision is technically only up to the core team, Medina said that they do listen to the public when they choose night handlers.
“I think yung pagtanggal naman natin sa dalawang night handlers natin is a manifestation na we do value the reputation of the organizations applying for UP Fair. Yung pagtanggal natin sa night handlers natin who already won the bidding is a commitment to [the public],” Medina said.
Last year, then UP Fair co-heads Ron Medina and Aliyah Pascual promised a more “community-centered UP Fair” after the demands for a more transparent night handler selection process surfaced. While the revision of the selection criteria fulfills part of this promise, the UP Fair core team heads still have the final say on the night handler selection.
Advocacy partners, for one, do not have a direct say in the selection process, said Glen Lovitos, chairperson of Gabriela Youth UPD.
“Pati kami, parang surprise lang din sa amin kung sino-sino yung magiging night handlers. I think it would be nice if the [advocacy partners] have a say in the process,” said Lovitos.
These advocacy partners forward a specific cause for a specific night. “Cosmos” supposedly had Gabriela Youth UPD as its women and gender advocacy partner but was replaced by “Quests” with UP Junior Finance Association as its night handler.
While advocacy partners are consulted, and have avenues to voice their concerns during the night handler presentations or through grievance forms, they are not involved in evaluating the applicants through the five criteria.
UP Fair as a Protest
Since the pandemic, many have pointed out the seeming sidelining of advocacies in the entire UP Fair week, raising questions on whether the much-anticipated event remains a meaningful avenue for protest.
The first UP Fair was held during the Marcos dictatorship years in the 1980s to raise funds for human rights violation victims. The event was filled with many cultural performances and was open to all who would listen to its subversive and militant message.
That spirit may have waned, as many have noted the weakening militancy and openness of the event. Last year, the booths for advocacy groups were decreased to just 10, and the placement of sector and advocacy groups became an afterthought in the fairgrounds. The historically open grounds have now been replaced by high walls keeping nonticketholders out. Worse, lightning rallies seem limited and forced between music acts.
“There definitely is more room for improvement na hopefully masasaayos ng collective assessment and practice with the entire community. So again, hindi lang sya duty ng USC, although as I’ve mentioned, mas mataas yung standards [sa kanila] kasi student leaders sila,” Lovitos said.
But Medina defended the event by saying that no other event gives a big platform to different advocacies other than the UP Fair.
“UP fair is a big platform, so it has 15,000 people each night. So, even if sobrang maliit, or short lang yung period ng speaking engagement, [that doesn’t mean] na wala nang [gamit] ito,” he said.
To the USC’s credit, major changes were made following last year’s controversy. The bidding process was scrapped entirely. Nights now have targets on how much advocacies should be emphasized in an event. Medina also said that a free night handled by the USC itself is also coming back next year.
Whether this has been enough to ease public concerns remains to be seen. Even Medina does not dispute that public trust has been broken. Combine this with questions on the mandate of the ruling USC due to low turnout in the past elections, and it’s easy to understand the UP community’s skepticism, and, worse, anger and frustration.
“For us, in the steps we’ve made in the past and the future, we’ve always put in mind how this could benefit the UP community and the broader society. We can gain their trust back if we can prove that the UP Fair is really for the community and the calls and campaigns of the sectors we want to amplify,” Medina said. ●
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