The UP Shopping Center
EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales (The Philippine Star) - March 13, 2018 - 12:00am

The suffocating smell of a burnt building pervaded the air. There’s a pungent odor of smoke, ash, soot, burnt electrical wires and all. I could smell the stench even before I actually saw what was left of the University of the Philippines Shopping Center or SC.

It was late Thursday evening and I was on my way home, just a few minutes away from the SC. When I finally saw the razed structure, I was shocked. There was almost nothing left but shattered windows, protruding wires, and gaping holes.

The lights were gone. It was nearly pitch black. Even the moon seemed to be grieving. And not too far away, a swarm of bees were buzzing about, trying to find a new shelter; the fire must have destroyed their nest, perhaps in one of the age-old trees near the SC.

The building was cordoned off by yellow fences and a lone guard stood by the entrance along Apacible Street, keeping a close watch on whatever was left.

Earlier that morning, just a little after the roosters woke up, a fire ripped through this small community building we call “SC.” It was an iconic fixture inside the campus, a backdrop to vignettes of life in the university. Generations and generations of UP students passed through this long, dusty, but oh-so- familiar SC.

It wasn’t the best building in the campus, but it was a comfort zone of sorts, a one-stop-shop for many a UP students’ needs — photocopying services – liquid, powder and what-have you; lamination, prepaid load, every Blue Book we ever needed, a seamstress for a torn dress, or the best shoe smith one could ever find.

And for me who lives a few minutes away from here, SC wasn’t just part of my student life in Diliman. It was part of the community where I grew up, long before I even became a UP student. My grandfather and I would walk here to buy newspapers; the grand old man died when I was in college, but not a day goes by that I don’t think of him, especially when I’m walking inside the SC even for just a quick errand. In my mind’s eye, we’re still there — he in his trademark dark pants pulled by black suspenders and I, in my messed up pigtails. We would go get the day’s paper, or have some ice cream when the days were sizzling hot.

He often took my brothers for a haircut in the barbershops. My mother and I would buy fruits and vegetables. My grandmother knew every stall owner. And when the helpers took their day off and we were too lazy to cook, my siblings and I would run to the SC to buy food. Rodic’s “tapsi” was our comfort food, never mind that we’ve been eating it for decades. I liked it so much that I tapped them as caterer for my daughter’s baptism. Until now, 10 years later, my friends remember the fried rice and the familiar tapa that warm Sunday morning; not so much the ceremony.

Almost every basic thing was at the SC. And if you’re craving for fresh fruit shake, you go to the SC.

I never thought I’d see the day that it would disappear in smoke. I never imagined it would be gone.

Looking at whatever was left of the building that night, it hit me, and it hit me hard. The fire that razed SC engulfed not just the small family-owned shops there, but also decades and decades of memories.

Conspiracy theories

In recent years, there has been a lot of talk that giant property developers wanted to take over the property and turn it into a modern, commercial mixed-use hub.

Oh please no, not our SC. I never believed those rumors. I was always confident nobody could touch the SC.

The SC helps you survive as a UP student. It’s where you can find the stall that could bind your thesis in just 24 hours, or photocopy that long thick law book the same day. Or where you can find hard-to-find titles of required readings.

But when the fire happened on Thursday, all the conspiracy theories came out — that some giant developer had a hand in the fire that engulfed SC.

“Don’t be surprised if you suddenly see a Starbucks there,” said one fellow alumna.

“For sure, there will be a mall out there,” said another.

It was a prime spot, near the church, and huge enough to catch the attention of developers.

Developers know which spots are good, and they will always try to target schools because of the captured market.

I hope all these conspiracy theories are very wrong, and I hope UP itself will not allow this. I hope the SC will rise up again and reclaim its old glory.


Speaking of commercialization of schools, Roosevelt Colleges Inc. assured parents and students that it has no intention to sell RCI’s San Mateo and Cubao schools after I wrote about the impending closure of the two campuses.

That’s good to hear.

Commercialization of education

Going back to SC, I hope this isn’t just another commercialization move.

Perhaps, UP graduates can help raise funds to rebuild the SC. We shouldn’t allow commercialization because prices will go up if this happens. Higher rents will dislodge small entrepreneurs and give way to hawkish businesses that care only about profit.

Sure, the SC isn’t perfect, but I’d take it any day.

For years, we have stood against the commercialization of education. Let’s keep fighting it because it’s a good fight. Let’s keep the rage alive — it’s the only fire they can’t put out.

Iris Gonzales’ e-mail address is

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