New Year’s Eve is right around the corner. The search for a 2020 countdown party in Manila will lead most to a spot in Makati City’s Poblacion district, the Philippine capital’s hippest neighbourhood that’s home to cafes, dive bars, speakeasies, and techno clubs. The former red-light district transformed into a much-needed creative enclave in the last five years but, when blinded by the bright lights and inebriated by craft cocktails every weekend, it's easy to forget that in between these roaring establishments are houses left over from Poblacion’s days as a residential area.
Its transformation has not been easy on Christine Almario*, 26 years old, who has lived in Poblacion her whole life.
“The neighbourhood I grew up and continue to live in feels less and less familiar to me,” she told VICE.
Almario, whose house sits on the main strip of bars, pointed to the government’s failure to prioritise residents as businesses in the area boomed. According to Makati City’s zoning ordinance, Poblacion is categorised as a residential and not a commercial area.
“I think people fail to realise that Poblacion is first and foremost a residential neighbourhood. I still remember when my neighbours were actual people, and when the environment was quiet,” Almario said.
“Now, it’s obviously the opposite, and most of the bars just refurbish old houses. None of those bars existed before, because the place was never meant to be this commercialised if you look at the planning.”
The commercialisation has led to an increase in noise and air pollution, public disturbances, road closures, and traffic congestion. At the height of this year’s Christmas rush, it sometimes took people an hour to drive down a 100-meter street in Poblacion.
Almario recalled a time in October when she just could not handle the noise, got out of her house at 2:30 a.m., and complained to one of the bars.
“I asked them to lower the volume, but they only did so when I mentioned calling the police,” she said. “I’ve done this before too, but this was the first time a bar was resistant to it until the police were mentioned.”
She’s not the only one who has felt ignored. Other residents who live close to the bars have also raised their concerns with the local government.
“Imagine generations of families living here and not recognising the area anymore. It’s difficult for us residents to have a true voice when we are not the priority,” Almario said.
This, despite the local government's claims that they are addressing the problems.
"We really inspect the area to check the noise level. Sometimes, residents also call us and we go [to the establishments]. We take note of the bars and if they're always noisy, we take it up to city hall and they ultimately decide the consequences,” a Makati City official who wished to not be named told VICE.
While long-time residents feel like they’re losing their neighbourhood, creatives who recently formed a community in the area are thankful to have found a home to pursue their passions. 21-year-old graphic designer and painter Kristine Duyongco moved to Poblacion earlier this year and said she has gotten used to the noise.
“I think it’s a great place for creatives to thrive. There’s always something new happening in Poblacion and there’s diversity, which makes it an open space for everyone,” she told VICE. “There are a lot of cool places to hang, where you get to meet a lot of interesting people.”
Advertising Creative Director Terence Angsioco has been living in the area for two years and said moving to Poblacion was “the best decision” he ever made.
“Before I moved to Poblacion, I moved my office there first. I used to live in a central business district and it was comfortable but as an artist, my options were always limited. There wasn’t a lot of variety,” he told VICE.
“Here, I’m surrounded by my tribe. I meet a lot of musicians, my friends have gigs here. The establishments that appreciate this type of art I enjoy are only here in Poblacion. The area has a soul now and it’s because of the people here.”
In the neighbourhood, he has his pick of cafes, workspaces, and galleries with affordable prices.
“There are many hidden gems too, like small carinderias (eateries), and [vendors] selling coconuts on the street. I like the textures here. There’s still a small town feel despite commercialisation,” Angsioco said.
He loves to take non-Filipinos out — from Silicon Valley CEOs to friends from New York — and boast about the scene in Poblacion. Still, he acknowledges the concerns of long-time residents and noted that the changes aren’t for everyone.
“I feel them. The problem is, only nighttime activities here really thrive, so businesses really only prioritise that. The bars and the residents should really find a common ground so they can coexist,” Angsioco said.
“I’m good, but that’s only because I enjoy riding with the noise.”
*Name changed to protect privacy.