Not content with UP’s lease of Techno-Hub and UP Town Center, both within short distances from the UP Campus (the latter walkable from the back of UPIS), UP authorities have mulled converting one of the constructed buildings on Diliman campus as a mall, Dilimall, with a supposed deal to allow a master leaseholder to manage it as seen fit.

Apparently, the construction costs of the building expected to house the Dilimall, did not come from borrowings or loans from financial institutions (public or private) but as addition to UP’s regular budget. What this means is that If ever it is to be operated as a financial venture, there are no capital costs that must be paid (over a period) and for which it must earn a rate of return eventually repaying its capital costs. Indeed, this being the case, the construction of the building is part and parcel of the government’s investment in human capital in the form of quality education to UP (Diliman) students, facilities that enhance their education, and rudimentary services that fulfil their basic needs. This should be the priority of any infrastructure built on UP Diliman campus including this proposed use of a building as Dilimall. One recalls the Dilimall that existed for quite some time in the PHILCOA area. That ought to be a candidate for private lease using private funds, relying on private financial resources, and operated as going concern and earn rates-of-return for capital costs.

Granted that the University should refrain from managing a commercial venture and instead focus on academic functions, it becomes ludicrous why go into such a commercial venture on campus in the first place. It becomes worse if the master leaseholder (be private firm or individual) is given wide latitude in imposing rental rates that mimic what outside malls charge. In fact, there seems to be no reason why charges should follow industry standards given that that there are no capital costs to recover, and the costs are part of UP’s resources as human capital investments. Indeed, such diversion of human resources investments appears to be outright budgetary misappropriation. Moreover, since these construction costs are part of the broader UP infrastructure, new buildings should first and foremost provide for classrooms (and there seems to be a continuing shortage of them), faculty rooms (many faculty share or squat in undesignated areas), student organizations rooms, etc. not mall spaces. The multi-story character of the building is argued to use UP lot more efficiently. True, no reason why a whole building becomes a mall itself. Indeed, a ground floor can probably house the occupants of the original Shopping Center, many scattered around campus but have remained in service to the University. They should be the primary beneficiaries of any building that could house them.

One need not go into details of the accompanying negative “externalities” of a mall inside the UP Diliman campus, new and cumulative. Surely, there would be free flow of traffic in and out of the University to allow entrance of vehicles, shoppers, suppliers, outside mall employees, among others. UP can of course save on the free movement by dismantling existing gates, mandatory stickers, or UP ID to enter UP Diliman campus. One can imagine the new traffic jams in addition to the current bottlenecks that are daily occurrences. While UP Diliman campus itself is quite porous, whatever guardrails there are would pave the smooth way for wider security threats students may experience. And when those high-end and five-star establishments inveigled to set up space in a Dilimall have ‘midnight sales’, ‘end-of-season sale’ or what-have-you, they’d demand more parking spaces (via the master leaseholder) setting up commercial parking places. Those living on-campus eventually becomes second-class-citizens.

If the agreement for a master leaseholder is already a done deal, what is critical is to ensure that the master leaseholder is subject to specific parameters. If there are legal infirmities to such an agreement, these should be raised, litigated, and resolved with dispatch within the UP mission and goals. The master leaseholder room for charging rental rates, among others must be limited and not operated as if there are borrowing costs to recover. It can even be argued that the rate-of-return in this Dilimall case is zero, break-even, or some modest profit rate and does not warrant standards practiced in outside malls and the industry in general. It is also not clear if the done deal stipulates that the master leaseholder (be firm or individual) has all the rights to impose charges as if it owns the building. In fact, there is no reason why such a master leaseholder is not limited to managing stalls and paying it its opportunity costs with all other attendant functions relegated to UP (for example, maintenance can be undertaken by an enhanced UP CMO).

There is no doubt that the entire UP Diliman constituency will be significantly impacted by any operation of a mall inside the campus. Such a mall invasion affects students (both residing on and off campus), faculty and staff in (temporary) residence, original stall holders who have weathered the fire of the Shopping Center and stayed, and others legitimately residing on-campus. All these constituents need to safeguard the very core functions of UP as a premier educational institution and to ensure these are not frittered away.