In March of 2018, the UP Shopping Center was razed by a fire that claimed around P3 to P5 million worth of supplies. What ensued was a lasting campaign—girded by the collective might of vendors, students, and faculty—for permanent spots to sell, financial aid, and transparency regarding the UP Master Development Plan (MDP). Five and a half years later, however, a multistory complex abounding with boutique outlets rises atop the rubble, and beneath it are the hue and cry of its former occupants.
The new shopping center, known as DiliMall, is the latest in a series of big-ticket infrastructure deals contracted by UP Diliman (UPD). It relegates the mom and pop stores of the old shopping center to the third floor, instead foregrounding outlets like Robinsons Appliances, Daiso, and Mary Grace.
The yearly salvo of budget cuts rationalizes the construction of such establishments. But as the invasion of an already high and dry UP community remains in full flower, as in last August’s knockdown of the Samahan ng Nagkakaisang Guardia’s hovel and the demolition of structures near Malantic Bukid, one is prompted to contemplate the true nature of such moves.
These are, in fact, moves that bear intimations of Manuel Quezon’s vision of development. In 1939, the former president pushed to relocate UP, then situated in the heart of Ermita, to somewhere “away from the noise of the city, which detracts from the serene life of the scholar.” He feared that a UP situated within earshot of the slums and radicalism of Manila would detract it from its “world-class reputation.”
Nearly a century later, structures like the UP Technohub, the UP Town Center (UPTC), the Gyud Food Hub, and the soon-to-be-opened DiliMall eclipse the urban poor settlements just flanking the campus. New life is breathed into Quezon’s ideal of a cultivated, suburban UP.
Where workers’ hovels, self-built homes, and learning centers once stood now rise monoliths sired by billion-peso leases. Today’s beautified UP is built on a linear yet unsparing business model–one that sees community pleas as issues to be rooted out rather than addressed.
The density of displaced settlers shunted to the fringes of the campus, however, adds a tangible component to the spatial inequality of Quezon’s development philosophy. This betrays not just a few holes in Diliman’s brand of development, but also its outright untenability. It is development with a human cost.
Ash and Ruin
The UP administration brokers its lease deals in the name of income generation. But a scan of UP’s development track record reveals an upward trend in projects that disservice key stakeholders instead of benefiting them.
The year 1992, for one, was peak season for housing, as evinced in the P137 million residential facility for UP faculty and a P131 million walk-up apartment. A piece from the Collegian noted, however, that the first project displaced 189 families from Pook Daang Tubo, while the second produced a bulldozing order for 32 hectares worth of Barangay Krus na Ligas farmland, eventually forcing residents to barricade their lots. This predicament is an enduring one, where poor families by the campus perimeter still contend with regular incursions from armed personnel–sorties usually preceded by surveillance and blackmail.
Students carry over this same plight in the glaring lack of space allotted for them on the campus. Such sparseness is exacerbated by leases like the UP-Ayala Land Inc. contract, which leveled the old UP Integrated School (UPIS) to make way for UPTC. UPIS’s would-be students were moved to a new site, which they complained was unsound in construction and limited in utilities.
Beyond trawling campus grounds for adequate space, students must also rein in their advocacy work, as in the case of UPD Palaweños, who, along with 27 other organizations, lost their tambayan in the Vinzons Hill Complex to make way for the Student Union Building (SUB). P.A. Echague, head of the organization, is doubtful whether the building fulfills its crux of upholding students’ right to organize. "Ironic kasi SUB, pero ang mga offices [ay hindi para sa] students."
In the First Day Fight mobilization last September, students decried the cutdown of rooms up for student use on the fourth floor of the SUB to seven from an already paltry 12, where two of the deducted five were given to the sectoral regents. Students also blasted the allocation of the Lorena Barros Hall, historically a venue for the assembly of student formations, to an administrative office.
But it is the plight of campus vendors, seven of whom face displacement upon the opening of DiliMall, that instills much urgency to the threat of campus commercialization.
Ties between vendors and the administration have long been teetering. In 2005, 13 vendors around the Academic Oval were threatened with displacement, serving as the impetus for the Save UP Manininda campaign.
A present-day counterpart could be seen in the Gyud Food Hub, which the administration paraded as a “kainan ng bayan” yet reserved no slots for small vendors–an outward snubbing of their prior promise to the Samahang Manininda sa U.P. Campus, Inc. (SMUPC) that vendors would be given chances to sell in the market. “Kumbaga ang mga unang pinangako nila sa amin ay nabalewala,” SMUPC President Narry Hernandez said.
The Gyud Food predicament is not a one-off thing; an earlier version can be seen in 2004’s “Diliman Food Kiosks.” Though the Development Planning Committee vowed to prioritize UP-based vendors in the bidding for kiosks, monthly upkeep for such was fixed at P10,000. In contrast, the highest monthly rent that vendors had to settle in 2004 was P300, per reports from the Collegian.
Now, with DiliMall’s blueprints unveiled to the public eye, there exist documentary exhibits of where the chain of command’s priorities lie. Hounded by unfair competition and exorbitant rent by mega brands like Robinsons, Diliman’s small vendors remain at the peripheries of a developed UPD.
When such projects are subject to scrutiny, the administration touts the rationale behind these projects as a bargaining chip for their fruition, secretary-general of Kariton ng Maralita Network (KMN) Cheska Estepa said. “Sasabihin nila na ‘magtatayo kasi kami ng housing diyan, at para naman iyon sa UP.’ Pero pinagbabangga kasi yung interest ng sectors at ng urban poor.”
The fact of the matter, however, is that campus sectors have already laid out their own benchmarks for a developed UP. KMN and its partner groups, for one, have asserted indigent communities’ place in Diliman through their still-in-the-works People’s Counterproposal. Contained in the proposal are moves like the formation of a body dedicated to consultation for housing policies, the cessation of clampdowns on settlements without prior notice, and the barring of police forces from entry into poor communities.
The push for fairness is carried over in SMUPC’s agenda, which includes a reorientation of the university vending guidelines. Beyond this, Hernandez’s idealized UP is one wherein the stigma imposed against vendors is expunged completely. “[Kailangan pa rin igiit na] hindi obstruction sa traffic ang aming pagtitinda, at hindi rin eyesore ang mga manininda.”
A gray cloud looms low over the heads of campus vendors. Now that outside entities have been contracted for DiliMall’s construction, Hernandez and those under his wing see, more lucidly than ever, a potential repeat of past events. “Alam naman natin pag may third party na, umiiwas na itong si UP sa mga kahilingan ng mga legit na manininda.”
Death by Policymaking
The administration’s development philosophy seems to pit progress and the university’s sectoral demands against one another, instead of realizing their symbiosis. This is an attitude traceable in history.
The buzz surrounding UP’s urbanization was a byproduct of the political climate. Following the formation of the Philippine Commonwealth in 1935, the state became fixated on cementing the country’s place in the global arena. With this goal in mind, Quezon, as president, put the glamorization of the country high on the pecking order–thus his desire to purge UP, as his state’s “crucial ideological institution,” of the urban chaos rife in its surrounding environs.
The president’s obsession was influenced by similar moves made in the West, where infrastructure development was a chief economic stimulant. In this neck of the woods, factors like “increased exposure to modernized, Western society,” according to American economist Walt Rostow, were hailed as the so-called “Third World’s” golden ticket to development.
Quezon’s subscription to Western ideals of development would be passed on to his successors. Fidel Ramos ordered the demolition of the Smokey Mountain landfill, which displaced thousands of hitherto occupants. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s Manila Bay Sands reclamation project stripped thousands of fishing communities of their livelihoods.
The Western framework was evidently paternalistic at the core and inimical to the interests of developing countries like the Philippines. The building blocks of Western urban transformation comprised violent coercion and marching orders by the hundreds: “accumulation by dispossession,” as anthropologist David Harvey put it.
Yet, detrimental as they are to sectoral interests, glaring analogs to Western thought nonetheless remain in Diliman’s development agenda. Former UP President Emil Javier was among the first to fashion UPD land as a veritable moneymaker, authoring policies like the Land Use Plan of 1994, which came after UP received an annual budget one billion short of its requested sum. The plan marked 129.45 out of 221.55 hectares of UPD realty as leasable land, free to be developed through joint ventures with private entities.
A 2004 report from the Collegian identified a dozen or so communities situated within those 129 hectares, such as Pook Amorsolo and Pook Aguinaldo. Each of these was populated by the thousands.
The plan, in effect, greenlighted the demolition of hundreds of self-built homes. The Land Use Plan, and other programs like the UPD MDP or the UP Strategic Plan (StratPlan) of 1995, also a contrivance of Javier, are tied together by one common denominator: the expropriation of entire communities. The MDP conceived numerous Science and Technology Parks that banished hundreds of families from their homes, whereas the StratPlan withheld benefits for retiring teachers who refused to voluntarily tear down the homes they put up in UP grounds without a permit.
“May policy or general principle [ang UP] na bawal ang urban poor,” says Estepa. “Gusto nilang panatilihin ang isang space na parang malinis, o ligal–nagkakaroon ng gentrification.” To conclude, then, that budget cuts are the stimulus behind wholesale dispossession is a lukewarm verdict. Evicting entire communities is a key part of the Diliman development agenda.
This contention manifests subtly at first, as in then-Vice Chancellor for Community Affairs Ernesto Pineda’s statement that building a fence between poor communities and UPD is vital to “protect the [security and] integrity of the campus.” One may also refer to UP President Angelo Jimenez’s declaration in November of 2022 that he “cannot reconcile informal settlers in academic spaces,” or in the continued labeling of campus vendors as “eyesores” by the administration itself.
Then, it unmasks itself more audaciously, as in the administration’s move in 1991 to lease six hectares of UPD real estate to commercial gardeners explicitly to “protect UP lands [from illegal occupants] for the needs of future generations.” It also manifested in 2004 when the administration, in partnership with the Quezon City local government, arranged the creation of mini-parks along Commonwealth Avenue “to curb the increasing number of informal settlers in the area.”
Finally, Diliman’s gold rush for profit transcends the boundaries of the infrastructure project and materializes in a landlord-like relationship with the poor who inhabit its spaces–blue guards, security personnel employed by the UPD Police, prowl communities in UP with loaded shotguns to tear down illegal structures. Because accredited settler alliances are exempted from the decision-making processes that concern their residence, demolition without prior notice has become par for the course.
Any relocation plans forwarded by the administration end up further inconveniencing affected families, as in the 1992 case of Pook Ricarte, Palaris and Dagohoy families relocated to Sitio Libis Phase II, where there was no stable source of electricity and water. No security of tenancy awaits relocated settlers either; they are obliged to vacate their new homes “in the event that the University finds it necessary to use the land in pursuit of its plans,” per a memorandum dated 1992.
“At no cost whatsoever to the University,” the memorandum adds.
Decided in Secrecy
“I’ll accept the resignation of every professor and Dean, including the President. I can run this university without a single man of those now constituting the faculty.” Quezon adopted a warlike disposition in his push towards a sanitized UP uprooted from the country’s urban woes.
Yet for all his zeal, Quezon’s plans would flounder. When the new UPD was opened in 1949, it was found that the lower-rung barrios skirting Diliman housed a total population of 1,000. In the 1960s, this amount would mushroom to the tens of thousands. Even upon relocation, the plight of the urban poor could not be sieved from the scholar’s stay in university.
The reason for this can be found in the UP Charter itself. Contained within it is a clear-cut articulation of UP’s standing as a “collegial body”–the development of the university is a shared responsibility, one that incentivizes the participation of all stakeholders and outlaws their exclusion.
As a litmus test for the university’s commitment to this mandate, the Collegian in June sought a dialogue with the Vice Chancellor for Planning and Development Raquel Florendo to check whether mechanisms were in place to include the UPD community in decision-making processes.
Florendo redirected the Collegian to a memorandum drafted in 2020, which states that the disposition of all fixed assets within the university, which spans redevelopment, demolition, leasing, and others, “rests upon the Board of Regents.” She also expounded that the UP president holds most rein over the disposition of structures, based on the backing of the chancellor of the relevant constituent unit.
With this, the UP community’s clarion call for a transparent, inclusive development arm remains in limbo. The fate of the urban poor’s dwelling places, vendors’ spots to sell, and students’ venues to organize continue to be decided behind closed doors and dismantled in broad daylight.
But if Quezon’s failure is any indication, the image of the insular UP student has been proven to be a myth. The towering structures of Diliman and the lives they have upset will always prompt within the scholar a concerned reflection of the true character of development and the place that the campus’ sectors reserve in it. ●
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