So long, Port Area: The STAR makes its move

Juaniyo Arcellana - The Philippine Star
So long, Port Area: The STAR makes its move
The Philippine STAR has moved into its new home – a modern office building located at the Amvel Business Park in Sucat, Parañaque.

MANILA, Philippines — Though it’s been a long time coming, STAR employees, especially the veteran troopers, haven’t really wrapped their minds around the head office’s move from Port Area in Manila, to Sucat, Parañaque.

Not only because of the shift in direction on the way to work (from west toward the sea to southbound if coming from the central metropolis), a good number adding several kilometers to their travel while others benefitting from the new building’s location almost being right at their doorstep. Both, however, are sure to miss the sights and sounds at the corner of Railroad and 13th Street, itself a landmark of the printed word.

For 37 years the building off Anda Circle, given a spanking makeover by former mayor Isko Moreno, has been the home of The Philippine STAR, and before that the newspaper from which it spun off, Philippine Daily Inquirer. Lore or apocrypha has it that when the paper broke away and was about to pack up, founder Betty Go Belmonte said wait a minute, we’re the ones who should stay since it was her forebears who had leased the place from the Philippine Ports Authority.

There was a dry run before the maiden issue on July 28, 1986, the whole staff brainstorming on the cramped first floor, while just a stone’s throw away between Rizal Park and Quirino Grandstand the scene was set for murder in the afternoon and the paper’s first headline: Wear yellow and die. With the byline Alex Fernando who, years later, would man the slot in the newsroom, assigning stories for rewrite or wrap up to the desk editors for next day’s page one.

Might say those were halcyon days, no such thing as digital, the cellphone a dream or two away, and the fax machine and pager were considered revolutionary. Things were simpler, with stripping in the layout section and galleys done manually, the photographer’s dark room smelling of chemicals among other stuff, and the racket of typewriters since been turned into a musical instrument.

The last holdouts were the Christmas parties, with improvised kris-kringles, held in nearby restaurants or hotels with door prizes of gift checks, mostly costume-themed with raucous competitions among departments.

During the pandemic the commute to and from work was greatly eased because there was no traffic, cities resembled a ghost town. Except for the inadvertent checkpoint for virus check or to inspect a task force rapid pass, you could easily fly down the expressways with wings beneath your fenders.

In the last days a number of cats befriended the newsroom staff, one after another as if familiars or harbingers of better days, but soon they all passed too, disappearing as quickly as they came. A couple of dogs camped out at the back exit near the security guard’s post, possibly on the sniff for an incorrect gate pass. Not to forget the bag lady hanging out by the carinderias on Railroad.

The waiting was the hardest part, because it seemed we were good to go months ago when lease expired. What to take and what to leave behind. A pile of books left unread. A treasure trove of mugs with varied histories. Clippings and more clippings.

What to look forward to: possible view of the sunset if desk location is right, working restrooms not resembling one of Dante’s circles of hell, an ATM that made the move to the new building as an advance party.

In Port Area the Christmas decorations usually come up days after Undas, but not this year. They will have to hang and blink at Amvel compound. The setup might be complicated at times, though not one to worry about. As long as the comforting symbols are there: the sculpture of the founder done by Julie Lluch, as well her portrait transferred from one conference room to another.

Thirty-seven years is a long time, but in Sucat there’s hardly room for nostalgia, the opium sentimientos de patatas, the aim being to hit the ground running. There’s the 13th Street café, in tribute to Roberto S. Oca’s former street name, where a karaoke machine might be in hiding, waiting to be unwrapped devoid of the ghosts that ever sang My Way off key, or Desafinado despalinghado.

Some STAR alumni sent over some bilaos of pancit and then some during the last weekend at Port Area, they’ve all moved on to become Senate staff, working with a mall chain or in government. Some even dropped by for a last get-together and powwow and charades.

Then the rest of us move south for a new career in a new town, as the song goes.

***Grappling with moving in pains – including our huge printing presses and CTP machines needing to find correct alignment and power connections – delays and disruptions are unfortunate consequences, so we ask you our readers for patience and assure you that the news will get to you, the truth prevailing, on time real soon.***

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