Missing my kapamilyas

RAZZLE-DAZA - Pat-P Daza - The Philippine Star
Missing my kapamilyas
Heroes Burger, the organic chargrilled burger joint inside the ABS-CBN compound since 2018, is also discontinuing its operations for good.

Today is National Heroes Day, the day we pay tribute to our heroes who struggled and fought for our freedom and democracy. Aug. 31, 2020 is also the last day for thousands of ABS-CBN employees who were retrenched when Congress denied the Kapamilya network its franchise renewal.

A few days ago, I had to go to the bank located in the Eugenio Lopez Jr. Communications Center (ELJCC) building. ELJCC is a 15-storey building which serves as the headquarters of ABS-CBN Corporation, and its ground floor is leased to commercial establishments. Loneliness and sadness enveloped me as I entered the building, and I couldn’t help but feel melancholy and sentimental.

Before the franchise loss, thousands of people entered the building every day. The reception area always had a line of visitors registering for appointments and meetings. On the ground floor are three commercial banks, the Loop food court and a Family Mart owned by a sister of my former schoolmate, Bess Basa. During my visit, ELJCC was practically deserted…a ghost town during the ghost month. With the pandemic forcing administration to restrict entry into the building, not to mention the misfortune that befell the company, many of these establishments had to cease operations.

Many of my favorite food outlets have closed down in the last couple of months. Among them, my go-to place for salad and pasta, Refreshers. For ginisang tinapa, adobong atay, chicken inasal and crab relleno, it was Eduardo’s. For pancit canton, sinigang na ulo ng salmon and signature saging na turon, there was Café Espresso of 9501.

I was also a suki of Bernadette Sembrano’s B store, which was manned by Mace, a trusted sales girl who always had a warm smile for everyone. B sold only healthy products and food like nilagang saba, nilagang mais and assorted kakanins for merienda. When I was in the mood for a bucket of sour cream French fries with a glass of fruit juice, I headed to Potato Corner and Big Chill.

On the other side of the building was Heroes Burger, where the menu items were named after Mars Ravelo characters like Darna, Lastikman and Captain Barbell. My favorite was the classic Incrediburger, which was 1/4 lbs. organic beef patty, cheese, lettuce and tomatoes with a side order of cheesy fries. On days when I wanted a sandwich, I grabbed one from Starbucks. I also enjoyed their roasted chicken pesto or the ham and cheese croissant, depending on my mood. When my kids fetched me from work when they were younger, they usually asked for a cup of their favorite Starbucks drink: the caffeine-free caramel cream. For obvious reasons, I didn’t allow them to have coffee. Starbucks was the oldest tenant of ELJCC when they closed down on Aug. 25, after serving their signature roasts and bites for 19 years.

On the 14th floor of ELJCC was ABS-CBN’s best-kept secret: the executive dining area exclusively for ABS-CBN employees, 9501. “9501” was the day the company applied for its building permit from Quezon City hall in 1995, 9501 shorthand for the first permit issued that year. The restaurant was named as such because the number had recall. 9501 was the venue for all contract signings of the network’s artists and countless business meetings. Not only did it have posh interiors, the food was excellent, too. I will miss the specialties of head chef Richard Aranas like his kare-kare, kaldereta, inihaw na baboy and coffee jelly. The waiters Lauro Maligat, Marlon Ramos, John Bautista, Michael Mangonon, Mario Arcallana Bedan and Jayson Diomampo always made sure we were happy with the food and service while Lilia Belin supervised operations.

I will miss going to ELJCC, and I will miss having lunch with my officemates. I will miss sharing food bought from the ground floor. I will miss ordering from nearby restaurants and those days when we would go out and try new restaurants nearby. But more than the food, I will miss the warm, friendly faces of friends and kapamilyas.


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