Dislocation: Examining the land use plan of UP Diliman
(This article was first published in print in issue 16 of the Philippine Collegian on 13 November 2013.)
by Andrea Joyce Lucas
The glass doors opened to a buzz of activity: teenagers excitedly slurping up the dregs of their chilled coffee and milk tea while discussing the latest must-reads and must-haves, the Friday night gimmick, the weekend plans. There is an unmistakably laidback vibe wherever you look, urging you to join in the fun. This is the new ‘it’ place.
Except that this hip, new hangout, the UP Town Center, stands where a learning institution once had been. It stands in the stead of the old classrooms, the libraries, the spacious playing grounds. Its loud extravagance has drowned out the calm of the school lessons and the carefree laughter of the students who had come to call the UP Integrated School (UPIS) their second home.
But UPIS is not the first—and would most likely not be the last—building to be demolished to make way for a commercial facility. It is merely a part of a series of changes outlined by the UP land use plan.
Assessing UP’s real estate assets began in 1994. Land properties were plotted on a map, indicating which portions are allocated to what purpose. In the 1994 plan, academic units were given the most space, their classrooms, libraries, laboratories, and research facilities, taking up 22 percent of UP’s land area. Commercial development and open spaces followed at 17.8 and 17.1 percent, respectively. (see sidebar)
However, as UP’s budget dwindled, the University administration found a need to reevaluate its land use plan. It was finally revised and approved by the Board of Regents in 2011, as the land use plan of 2012, to show which parts were the most “marketable”.
“We have formulated a strategic plan at the start of our term and one of the pillars is financial stability. We were very clear in saying that we are going to develop our existing properties to be able to generate additional resources,’’ UP President Alfredo Pascual explained in an interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Aside from the Town Center, many other changes can be expected, as suggested by the Board of Regents. The list includes the possibility of putting a fence around the UP property, having a mixed-use of land, and solving the problem of UP on informal settlers through the help of developers.
These proposed changes are not a far cry from the development we now call the UP-Ayala Land Technohub. Labeled in the land use plan as a science and technology park, it now houses several high-end restaurants and cake and tea shops, along with a call center hub. Unsurprisingly, it has become the hangout of higher bracket Iskolars ng Bayan.
Even as its foundations were being laid, the UP Town Center has met with criticism from within and outside the UP community. A former UPIS student, Hiyas*, laments: “It hurts to see my former school
being torn down to be replaced with a mall. It surely sends the wrong message to the next generation – that commercialism takes primacy over education.”
Even worse, UP’s public and academic character has been compromised, with the shop-and-dine vibe promoted by the UP Town Center going against the University’s pro-people ideals and academic raison d’être.
UP Student Regent Krista Melgarejo points to the government’s role in forcing the University to resort to own income-generating projects, “There should not be an SUC which is self-sufficient and has an expensive tuition. An SUC is called as such because it is funded by the government and must cater to the poor.”
For his part, UP President Alfredo Pascual explains that income generating projects will not be enough to keep the University going, hence the continued call for state subsidy. “Our Charter says that whatever is generated by the development of these assets will not in any way reduce the commitment of the government to provide it with budget appropriation,” he adds.
From and for the people
The UP Land Use Plan was supposedly created to work for the benefit of the entire UP community. It seeks to reveal key infrastructures now existing in the campus, indicate which areas are to be used for resource generation, and serve as a guide for future infrastructure development.
It follows that the stakeholders of the University should be consulted with before any plan could be approved. But this did not happen, as Melgarejo confirms in an interview with the Collegian, “In drafting the said land use plan, the organic sectors of the University were not involved.”
“The BOR [has] suggested to increase the Resource Generation Zones,” says Professor Maureen Araneta, the director of the UP Diliman Information Office. She explains that the designation of these areas is consistent with Section 22.c, of RA 9500 (Act to Strengthen UP as National University) which outlines the decisive power of the Board of Regents over the implementation of land leases.
Section 22.c states that such mechanisms and arrangements shall “sustain and protect the environment in accordance with law, and be exclusive of the academic core zone of the campuses of the University of the Philippines: provided, further, that such mechanisms and arrangements shall not conflict with the academic mission of the national university.”
These are words that are easier to put on paper, than done. Meanwhile, UP Town Center continues to draw people to its fine dining restaurants – a world so far removed from UP’s views of service, honor and excellence.
*not their real names
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