By FRANZ ANDREW RONQUILLO
Campus stall owners are opposing the opening of the privately operated DiliMall to replace the old Shopping Center (SC), fearing for their business’ displacement should they be unable to agree with the management’s terms.
DiliMall, which replaces the old SC, is located along Laurel Avenue at UP Diliman (UPD). The project has a master lease with CBMS Retail Business Development Consultancy and will be managed by a certain representative named Bim Sebastian. This comes after former UP President Danilo Concepcion said the property will be “managed and operated by UP internally.”
This has dismayed Elis Cruz, 70, a small vase entrepreneur, as he faces another fight to save the SC. He recalled surviving two shutdown attempts already. Yet agreeing to the master lessee’s terms or not, Cruz said, is an entrepreneurial suicide.
“Anong kakayahan [makipagsabayan] ng maliliit na negosyante na tinutulad sa isang mall ang operation?” Cruz said.
The UP Shopping Center opened in 1976. Despite initial shutdown attempts from university officials, the Shopping Center Stallholders Association Inc. (SCSAI) persisted in asserting their right to livelihood. However, SC operations halted after the structure was gutted by fire in 2018 due to faulty electrical wiring. This led the stallholders to relocate to the nearby old Tennis Court.
In the 1834th UP Board of Regents (BOR) meeting, the UP administration said they would rehabilitate SC “into a more modern structure” where vendors would be accommodated for leasing.
Five years later, the SC–now DiliMall–is set to open. But as it nears operation, stallholders have raised issues of high rental rates, intense competition, and stall demolition threats.
Cruz said this is just UP’s pivot toward a more corporate direction, with university spaces being turned into commercial structures. For him, UP has paved the way for big private corporations to enter the university at the expense of small entrepreneurs like him.
University of Privatization
Community stakeholders criticized the DiliMall project for its commercialized structure plan after the UPD University Student Council (USC) released the project’s floor plan on November 24, 2023.
The floor plan showed DiliMall’s assignment of private establishments like Mary Grace Café, UCC Park Café, Army Navy, and Pancake House to the first floor, while the upper floors were designated spaces for a pet store, gym, and appliance store, among others.
Unlike the UP-managed shopping center, DiliMall will have a master lessee who will control and manage the property on behalf of the university.
USC Councilor and Community Rights and Welfare Head Kristian Mendoza claimed DiliMall is part of the implementation of the UP Master Development Plan (MDP).
“May pattern kung saan patuloy na nanghihimasok ang third-party entities with their own profit-oriented scheme dito sa Diliman,” Mendoza said.
The UP MDP is a land use policy approved by the BOR in 2014. It was heavily criticized by the community stakeholders for its profiteering scheme as it “forwards private and corporate interests in the process of [its] so-called development.”
Before this, commercial establishments had also risen from the lands of the university.
The UP Ayala Technohub was 37.5 hectares of idle land converted by Ayala Land Inc. upon UP’s approval of their bid in 2006. The same developer converted the UP Integrated School’s Kindergarten to Grade 2 and high school buildings into UP Town Center in 2013.
USC said the MDP does not cater to the community's immediate needs, even institutionalizing an “anti-community” policy toward UP’s sectors.
The Samahan ng Manininda sa UP Campus Inc. (SMUPC), another association of small vendors, previously condemned UP’s “intensifying commercialization and anti-poor policies,” citing UP’s disregard for maninindas in the recently opened Gyud Food, a food hub located in front of the College of Fine Arts that opened in December 2022.
SMUPC said their members cannot afford to lease Gyud Food as the master lessee requires stallholders to pay P15,000 to P25,000 per month as rent.
According to Executive Order 301, s. 1987, corporations leasing out government-owned buildings for private use “shall have authority to determine the reasonableness of the terms of the lease and the rental rates thereof.”
DiliMall’s same fate of having high rental rates like Gyud Food hinders Romalyn Enriquez, 49, a small fruit and vegetable merchandiser, from agreeing with the terms of CBMS for prospective DiliMall sub-lessees.
For her, stallholders have been at the losing end since they financed the rebuilding of their stalls when the SC fire happened. It will not be any different if they conduct business at DiliMall.
As a surviving widow, Enriquez appealed to the UP administration to be compassionate to the families of the stallholders and their staff. “Di naman po kami nakagawa ng labag sa kanila. Nakatulong din naman po kami sa kanila,” she said.
Once DiliMall opens, stalls at the Old Tennis Court will be demolished and the area will be converted into a parking space. The dismantling of the fences started in October 2022.
Another stallholder, who requested anonymity to protect their business, said Vice Chancellor for Planning and Development Raquel Florendo notified stall operators in 2022 about their displacement. Florendo declined to comment on the matter, saying the project was “not under the privy” of her office.
A memorandum of agreement (MOA) between the UPD administration and SCSAI in 2004 stated that stall operators of the old SC would be granted a five-year worth of 20-percent lease discount and a right of first refusal (ROFR).
The ROFR obliges UP to give priority to SCSAI to “lease stalls in the first and second floors” of a new shopping center.
Since SC was turned over to the UP System in 2019 after the fire incident, a third-party lessee, CBMS, was sought by the administration. Since their entry, however, CBMS never honored the stallholders’ 2004 MOA with UPD.
Stallholders later learned that their stalls would be stationed on the third floor of DiliMall, opposite to what the MOA provided. SCSAI also learned that private food and service establishments were offered leases first before them.
“Diretso dapat ang magkausap; ang UP at yung stallholders. Pero dahil mayroon silang nilagay na third party, di namin alam ano ang [kanilang] papel,” Cruz said.
The MOA, according to UP Executive Vice President Jose Alcantara, was signed a day before Concepcion’s term ended in February 2023. Alcantara added that CBMS had not undergone bidding because the contract only has a five-year effectivity.
As of writing, a meeting among the SCSAI, the UP System administration, and CBMS to address grievances has yet to be scheduled.
‘Save Shopping Center’
With the entry of big retail stores and food establishments in DiliMall, stallholders fear there may be no more space for them to conduct business. Enriquez stressed that only the rich could afford the services of DiliMall, similar to the Gyud Food Hub.
For more than 20 years, Enriquez said her fruit stand has provided the community with affordable and quality fresh products.
“Sana matulungan lang din kami kasi nga nag-wo-worry din kami. Naririnig na namin na marami na pong occupancy diyan pero kami nandito pa rin kami,” she said.
The USC said there are unofficial plans to relocate the stallholders to P.G. Valenzuela Street, adjacent to Area 2, but SCSAI opposes it. For Cruz and Enriquez, they have already put too much into saving their livelihoods.
Cruz built his business from his reparation money as one of the 11,103 legally recognized Martial Law survivors. He said, “Naubos na yung compensation dahil dito sa labanan na ‘to.”
Enriquez, on the other hand, has been repaying the P300,000 that she owes her sibling since her business caught fire. This is on top of other bills her husband left her after he died in 2021.
Cruz and Enriquez said they understand the market’s evolution of needs. But for them, they want UP to understand that they are “struggling entrepreneurs looking for ways to save their businesses.”
While campus developments occur, community members like Cruz are left wondering about their space in the “supposed university of the people.”
“Kasama ba kami doon sa na-envision nilang pag-unlad o hindi na? Para kanino yung development na tunguhin nila?” he said. ●
An earlier version of this contributed article was completed for Journalism 121 (The Newsroom) class.
Feb 28, 2024
With the NPU Bill striving to privatize and commercialize PUP, student leaders assert budget increase to the university and academic freedom.
Feb 28, 2024
NUPL-Cebu called for an investigation into the nature of the death of Bilar 5, adding that they have received reports of possible violations of the International Humanitarian Law.