(SPOT.ph) Three years ago, "Family is Forever" played around the ABS-CBN compound in Quezon City as fans made a beeline for studio tours, live shows and merchandise. Fast forward to 2022, after the network's shutdown and the COVID-19 pandemic, the now muted Quezon City neighborhood rebuilds itself by drawing strength from each other, true to the lyrics of the network's yearly Christmas Station IDs.
Kapamilya favorite restaurant Pamana may have been replaced by a pet shop and food court stalls either folded or shifted to online selling, but for those who call the South Triangle area home, life must go on, like millions others in Metro Manila who are celebrating the holidays with the least restrictions since the start of the pandemic.
"Kami dati nag-iingay sa lugar na 'to tapos ngayon dinadaanan ko lang siya at 'di naman ako papasok para makita kung ano nangyayari, so parang nakakapanibago siya kasi nasanay ka na 'yun ang bahay mo e," Fides Chan, a producer at ABS-CBN TeleRadyo, told SPOT.ph.
For five years straight, mornings for Chan meant reporting to the set of the now defunct Kapamilya morning show Umagang Kay Ganda. Up to now, she still looks back to the events of the last three years with disbelief.
How COVID, ABS-CBN shutdown changed the neighborhood
Along Mother Ignacia Street, Pamana, a favorite afternoon spot for employees because of their eat-all-you-can kakanin and palabok, was replaced by a pet shop. The once busy ELJ Communications Center entrance lacks the usual long lines of tricycles and has been replaced by cars parked along the sidewalk. No more Family Mart; only the banks are open.
Most of the small businesses at the food court in front of the ELJ building also did not survive the pandemic. Racsay Eatery, a five-year-old carinderia near the entrance of the old food court is one of the few who remain. For Junie Ytang, who manages his sister's business, their mantra is "survive-survive lang."
"Pre-pandemic, kumu-quota kami P50,000, hindi siya whole day, as in mga 18 hours lang... pagkatapos ng lockdown, walang dine in, puro take out, makakabenta kami P3,000. Luto namin, kain na lang din namin," he told SPOT.ph.
"Ang mahal pa ng bilihin ngayon, nagtaas [kami] nang konti lang din kasi pangmasa din sa amin."
Along Sgt. Esguerra, Italian pizza place Pazzo Rollio is no more and replaced by dermatology and aesthetics center Avignon. Tina, who works at the carinderia just beside Avignon, said their eatery also took a hit from the pandemic.
"Before mag-pandemic siyempre marami kumakain. Nung pandemic nawala tao lalo nung nagsara ABS, humina ang kita... May kumakain pa naman ngayon, mga cameraman, driver," she told SPOT.ph.
Homer's Bar and Restaurant, a go-to for employees who clock out late, is now closed. Mjhay Lapinosa, who used to work at the kitchen and has since been employed at the car wash beside the restobar, said the pandemic paved way to its slow exit.
"Simula nung pandemic, maikli na oras namin. Malabo na po magtuloy-tuloy pasok namin. Pinaubos na lang sa amin stock kasi sayang naman kung magsara bigla," said Lapinosa.
The Loop, the food court at the ELJ building, is now silent as guards and employees at ABS-CBN confirmed food stalls and convenience stores Family Mart and MiniStop did not reopen from the pandemic. The Starbucks branch inside the compound was shut down after serving ABS-CBN employees and guests exclusively for 19 years.
For Barangay South Triangle tricycle driver Jonjon Javier, fewer ABS-CBN employees working onsite meant less income to bring home to his family.
"Bago mag-pandemic nasa P1,000 kita namin kada araw. Nung nag-pandemic na, pahirapan kami sa P500 noon. Ngayon nasa P700, sobra pa eight hours 'yun," Javier, who has 10 years of experience, told SPOT.ph.
How the community is recovering with hope
Some businesses are slowly getting back to its feet, like Panaderia Pantoja, according to its cashier Sid, who has worked there for 18 years. Daily sales have picked up from the P3,000 post-lockdown sales, she said.
Several institutions ABS-CBN folks have grown to love throughout the years are also recovering. McDonald's at the Eugenio Lopez Drive has been refurbished with new interiors. Hi-Top grocery along Quezon Avenue looks like the pandemic never happened, except for employees and shoppers wearing face masks. For happy hours, Pub.liq Gastropub, The Beech, and Livestock, among many others, are still open.
Carinderia workers Ytang and Tina said they shifted to online food selling and deliveries to nearby areas to increase sales. Ytang said he remains optimistic that ABS-CBN would be back on the air and with it, the return of its employees onsite.
Tricycle driver Javier expressed the same hope. "Kung madagdagdagan, magkakaroon ng empleyado sa ABS-CBN, kung mag-o-operate sila, madagdagdan kita namin kasi magkakaron kami pasahero especially 'yung audience lang ng Showtime dati ang daming pasahero nun."
For Teleradyo's Chan, it's the return of the taho vendor near the employees' entrance that gives her hope.
"Dahil tuloy ang buhay, push lang hanggang sa makabalik sa normal. Kahit na medyo bumabalik na nga rin sa normal, kailangan mas eager ka lang to push, para kahit papaano parang walang nangyari kahit meron sa loob."