by Harriet Elaine Limpot

To be an Iskolar ng Bayan is a privilege. That’s the first thing they tell you when you become one,  and rightly so; because it’s something that should never be forgotten. It is in the heart of UP to  serve the nation. We become prone to failing that mission when we don’t recognize our privilege in receiving our education. Recognizing our privilege grounds us, it keeps us on the same level  with the people we aim to serve, it’s a constant reminder that we are no better than anyone, and  it’s only a mixture of circumstances that allowed us to be where we are. But enough about  privilege, I’m here to talk about what they don’t tell you when you become an Iskolar ng Bayan.  

What they don’t tell you when you become an Iskolar ng Bayan is that it’s bound to become a burden; and not just mentally in terms of academics, but also physically, emotionally, heck, even  spiritually. My first year in UP forced my feet to walk distances I’d never thought I’d ever walk, at  speeds I’d never thought I was capable of. Subtly, UP mocked my physical fitness. I used to wake  up with leg cramps and I’d curse the people who decided Kas 1 classes be held at the fourth floor  of AS. On my second year of UP, the combined demonic force of EEE 1, ME 61, ES 101, and ME 11  tested the strength of my faith. I remember arriving late at one of my ES 101 exams because I was  practically begging for a miracle during a mass at the Parish of the Holy Sacrifice. I was desperate,  and I didn’t want to leave the mass early for fear of repelling God’s mercy.  

It’s rarely easy, being an Iskolar ng Bayan. You’re constantly challenged; and all throughout, you  never really know if you’re close to your limits. You just keep inching forward, bit by bit pushing  your boundaries, bit by bit pushing yourself to be better: a better Catholic maybe, or a more  physically fit version of yourself. There are challenges, however, that you face, and it’s difficult to  define what kind of better they’re supposed to make you. I’ve had my fair share of these  challenges. As you may have already figured, they fall in the emotional spectrum. 

Perhaps the greatest burdens I carry as an Iskolar ng Bayan are consequential to how UP trained  me to see the naked realities of society. There are many issues in our country that fail to reach  national awareness because they are deliberately suppressed by powerful entities whose 

interests do not align with the nation’s. When your eyes are opened to these, you don’t look away,  you look closer. You feel the responsibility to seek out the why’s, the how’s, and bring the  knowledge to the people who are affected but are unable to see the bigger picture of the society  they belong in. This is the basic premise of why UP students do what they do, but unfortunately,  it’s also the same reason I’ve found being an Iskolar ng Bayan to be so emotionally taxing. 

The emotional burden of being an Iskolar ng Bayan has manifested itself in my life in two ways;  both of which are challenges I face on a regular basis. Firstly, there is always an accompanying  feeling of helplessness when you are aware of the experiences of the oppressed and yet you know  there’s only so much you can do. When our capacity to help falls short of the extent of our  empathy, the emotional burden fills the gap: a mixed feeling of discouragement, defeat, but also a  stronger sense of perseverance, of hope. The strength of an Iskolar ng Bayan lies in our nature of  never seeing failure as an endgame, but instead, as an even greater catalyst for action. It is why  we don’t shy away from the emotional burden of knowing the ugliest truths of society; it weighs  us down, but we welcome it, because it allows us to develop deeper relationships with the people  we aim to serve: the oppressed, the marginalized, the neglected. The challenge of carrying this emotional burden molds us to have a better and wider understanding of every Filipino’s  narrative. In this challenge, better means becoming better prepared in serving the nation. But like  I said, there are challenges we face where it’s difficult to define what better means; and this leads  me to the last but perhaps the greatest burden I have borne as an Iskolar ng Bayan. 

When I started to take firm stances in matters of national concern, I have already well prepared  myself for the inevitable: the hateful discrimination, the baseless red-tagging, and the other  common means of suppression. The outspoken and strong personalities of UP students aren’t  everyone’s cup of tea, I get that, so when the non-supporters started throwing their disses, I knew  how to keep calm and soldier on. What I wasn’t able to foresee however, was the possibility that  these forms of verbal attacks could come from my very own family; and lo and behold, they did.

The impact is different, I’m telling you. It might be because the blow is closer, or that it weighs so  much more when it comes from people you never expected to throw the punch. Over the last four  years, I have been repeatedly silenced by my parents, told to quit being critical of national issues.  I have been accused of being brainwashed by communist groups. In family occassions, I have  casually been the butt of NPA jokes.  

It’s difficult to comprehend how people you love so dearly can have the capacity to look and think  of you in such malicious ways, branding you as a threat to national security, unapologetically  showing utter disgust to the principles you stand for. To be received with these kinds of  treatments is alienating, it is painful. And so, I have long been plagued by the question of how am  I supposed to respond to this challenge. I’ve already lost count of the times I bottled up the hurt  inside because I knew the more urgent concern was to correct the misinformation or defend my  right of expression; but every time I have tried to explain, my words fall on deaf ears. Every time I stand up for what I believe is right, I am made to sit down. 

This everyday challenge of reaching out only to be pushed away has already worn my patience  thin. I have deprived myself of processing the pain for so long because I thought doing so will not  help in my chase for understanding from my family. Now I just feel like a fool, a worn-out fool,  and I don’t think there’s any more left of me to absorb the hurt, or to keep on reaching out to  people who step away when I step closer. 

I guess not all challenges are supposed to make us better in some particular way. Maybe some  just exist to show us not all battles can be won. I’ve tried so hard to seek understanding from my  parents, but it has so far only left me in pain. As much as being Iskolar ng Bayan means never  letting failures stop us from our pursuits, I think it also means knowing which battles are worth  the fight, and some people aren’t worth the fight.