Whenever we think of the vast campus of the University of the Philippines (UP) in Diliman, a flurry of images and landmarks would come to mind, with the Oblation of course being number one on the list. But for generations of students and visitors in the campus, one beloved landmark that is close to heart would be the little canteen behind Benton Hall and Lagmay Hall (formerly Palma Hall Annex) known as the CASAA Food Center.
Thus, it was heartbreaking to hear that last June 13, the place was gutted by a huge fire which also injured 2 people. The event provoked an outcry of sadness and emotion among the UP community and beyond.
The CASAA Food Center, more popularly known as Casaa, came about in 1983 thanks to the efforts of UP Diliman’s College of Arts and Sciences Alumni Association, (CASAA) hence the name. It became a favorite go-to place among students, faculty and campus personnel, and even visitors in the campus with the variety of food choices offered by the various tenants within its premises.
It also became a favorite place to hang out among friends, work on school projects, or even a place to discuss ideas, a microcosm of sorts of the vibe and atmosphere of the greater UP community. While there are a lot of canteens and eating choices in the Diliman campus, CASAA has this unique character that has made last this long and be patronized by generations of students. It even was immortalized in a song by the Eraserheads, who themselves are UP Diliman students.
For more than 30 years, the food center was being run by the alumni’s foundation, the College of Arts and Sciences Alumni Foundation or CASAF. However in 2014, CASAA Food Center’s future was in doubt when it found itself in a middle of a management change as CASAF could no longer handle the expenses in managing. The new management, the UP Diliman Business Concessionaires Office, (BCO) planned to no longer renew the contracts of the concessionaires in the food center as soon as the contracts expire in December that year. However, the plan was met with protest from students, alumni, and other groups united with a cry to “save CASAA.” Eventually, management relented and had the contracts extended for a few more months at least.
With these recent events, there were suspicions raised that the fire was a deliberate act to drive out the current concessionaires so the management can do their thing, so to speak. However, the Quezon City fire department denied these claims as it was an accidental gas leak that triggered the fire as the preliminary investigation has shown.
At this point, it remains to be seen as to what will become of the place. Will the structure be renovated or will a new one rise in its place? What would CASAA 2.0 be like assuming there are plans to reopen it? Considering the circumstances, will the old concessionaires be there at a possible CASAA 2.0? While these questions remain to be answered, there is no doubt that there is a sense of loss in UP Diliman at the moment with the loss of a landmark so beloved as this one. The atmosphere and the memories of CASAA are elements that would be difficult to replicate, even if a new Casaa will rise in its place.
With CASAA’s future pretty much in doubt at the moment, its contributions to the UP Diliman community cannot be denied. For that, generations of students, faculty and personnel, and visitors to the campus will be forever be fond and grateful to CASAA, hoping as well for it to rise again somehow in one form or another.
Acknowledgements as well to the Inquirer