Photo by Geraldine Santos

A centralized food hub will soon rise at the fenced area in front of the College of Fine Arts on E. Jacinto Street, according to Special Assistant to the Vice President for Public Affairs Teresa Congjuico.

With a budget of P35 million from the UP Reprogrammed Funds and P16 million from the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) General Appropriations Act (GAA), the food hub aims to have a centralized location for food concessionaires and other services providers that were affected by the Shopping Center fire, according to Congjuico.

“Priority will be given to those affected by the Shopping Center fire and then management will still be under the UP Diliman Business Concessions Office (BCO),” she said.

There are still plans by DPWH, however, to rebuild a taller and bigger Shopping Center with the same facilities as before, which will be executed in the first quarter of 2020.

The Office of the Vice President for Public Affairs (OVPPA) has yet to receive a copy of the food hub’s layout.

At what cost?

With the construction of the food hub, vendors are concerned over its possible harm on their livelihoods, according to UP Student Regent Ivy Taroma.

“Mahihirapan ang vendors na makarenta dahil mahal, at kung makakarenta man ay ibig sabihin ay mahal din na pagkain para sa atin dahil sa mahal na renta,” Taroma said, adding that higher rental fees will result to higher prices and consequently weaker sales.

There are also plans to install cash registers in stalls inside the food hub, according to Samahang Manininda sa UP Campus (SMUPC) President Edna Sinoy, who cited the BCO.

“Ina-adapt na nila [ng UP Admin] ‘yung sistemang pang-mall. Automatic ‘yun pag nag-entry ka ng mga benta mo, 10% mapapasok pa sa kanila tapos ang mga mamimili mo estudyante,” said Sinoy.

However, 52-year-old kiosk owner Adolfo Anggoy said the UP administration guaranteed that the vendors will be given a lower rental fee.

“Sabi naman [ng UP administration], priority raw ang samahan ng mga manininda. Pangako nila, mas mura raw ang renta para mas mura raw ang benta sa mga estudyante,” said Anggoy.

The rental costs will be specified once the building is finished, according to Congjuico.

“Aside from the area, you also will have to take into consideration facilities available, so kung fully furnished or not, these things will all determine the cost,” she said.

Congjuico also claimed that the prices of goods to be sold at the food hub will most likely be student-friendly, given the public nature of the university.

“Siguro naman you can count on UP that UP will not think of it as a business like it will earn money from it, kasi we are [part of the] government, we cannot have profits… So, kung mayroong costs, siguro operating expenses, maintenance,” she said.

An additional threat looms in the form of big businesses, as Sinoy said they are to be accommodated in the hub.

“Malaki epekto ‘yun sa amin, syempre ‘yung iba may kakayanan talaga, imbes na sa amin bumili, sa kanila [malalaking negosyante] na pupunta. Lalo na kapag may mga upuan sila,” Sinoy added.

There are also plans to centralize roaming campus vendors inside the hub, in line with the UP administration’s beautification of the campus.  

This beautification is one of the priority projects of UP President Danilo Concepcion, who assumed office on February 9, 2017.

For Sinoy, roaming vendors will suffer the disadvantages of selling in the limited space.

“Paano ang mga taho vendor, banana cue vendor? Paano sila kukuha ng permit, e lako-lako lang naman sila,” she said.

With the looming centralization, Sinoy added that the students will lose the accessibility and convenience of the food sold around the academic oval.

“Ang mga estudyante ay hindi naman sabay-sabay lumalabas ng klase tapos hiwa-hiwalay naman ang inyong mga pinapasukan. So, kung may food hub, doon na kayo sa food hub pupunta. Hindi katulad ng sa ngayon na nakakalat kami sa academic oval, na kahit naglalakad kayo pwede kayo kumain,” Sinoy said.

Considering previous manifestations of commercialization, such as the establishment of UP Ayala Technohub in 2008 and the displacement of the UP Integrated School (UPIS) in 2013 which paved the way for the UP Town Center, UP faces a demolition of its public character, according to Sinoy.

Administration adversities

In response to the continued threats of commercialization, SMUPC has been negotiating with the UP administration.

“Ngayon, wala namang relokasyon, ta’s gustong ipalipat.  So kung malilipat doon sa wala talagang tao, ang hirap mag-adjust. Ang pakiusap sana namin, hangga’t wala pa[ng food hub], wala munang galawan, para kahit papaano magpatuloy sa pagtinda,” the SMUPC leader said.

SMUPC also holds general assemblies with different sectors inside the campus whenever changes are planned to be implemented by the administration.

“Kapag may gano’ng ibinaba sa amin sa mga pagbabago, nagje-general assembly kami… Pinag-uusapan kung ano gagawin ta’s tinutulungan kami ng council at tsaka ng mga faculty na magkaroon ng dayalogo,” Sinoy said.

However, the organization has yet to have a face-to-face dialogue with Danilo Concepcion.

“Ayaw niya [Concepcion] kami harapan e… Inaano [pinapapunta] niya kami kay Chancellor, doon sa business concessions…Sila-sila nag-uusap ta’s ibinababa na lang sa amin…’Di katulad ng mga dating mga presidente na nakakausap namin, nakakaharap namin, hinaharap kami,” the SMUPC president said.

Student-vendor camaraderie amidst conflict

In light of the supposed disjunction of SMUPC and the UP administration, UP students have shown their continued support for the vendors.

“May mga petisyon [ang] mga estudyante, signature campaign, tapos syempre kami mismo nanindigan na ‘di kami dapat alisin, kasi mas malaki ang pakinabang ng estudyante sa amin, kumpara doon sa malalaking negosyante,“ Sinoy said.

In contrast with canteens, which open at 9 a.m. and close at 5 p.m., vendors stay open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., to ensure that students still have places to eat at, regardless of how early or late it is.

“Sa aming mga manininda, parang mga kapamilya na ‘yung mga estudyante, dahil nagiging tambay na doon, ta’s nagse-share sila ng mga problema nila,” Sinoy said.

Amidst the continued strikes on the livelihood of UP vendors, Taroma emphasized that there can still be done to support their plight.

“Bagamat may representante tayo sa loob ng board, ang higit na kinakailangan ay pagpapalakas ng kampanya, pag-uunite sa mas malawak na bahagi ng UP community upang tirelessly ay maikalampag natin ang UP admin upang tayo ay pakinggan,” Taroma said.

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