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The Philippines may soon ease restrictions again, but can nightlife businesses hang on until then?

The Omicron surge has peaked in the capital but what remains of local clubs & bars continue to face waves of challenges

  • Samantha Nicole
  • 26 January 2022
The Philippines may soon ease restrictions again, but can nightlife businesses hang on until then?

The Philippines may have already seen a peak in Omicron cases. However, things aren’t exactly looking up for small nightlife business owners.

In a press briefing last Monday, local health secretary Francisco Duque III shared that covid cases have already started to decrease, with risk levels being lowered from “critical” to “risk.”

“The situation is getting better in NCR. Infections are rapidly decreasing. Same goes for the other NCR Plus areas. If this continues, we can go back to Alert Level 2,” Duque declared.

The country is currently at Level 3, wherein clubs and bars are prohibited from operating. Until the spike in cases seen at the tail-end of December, revellers across the country got a taste of what nightlife was like pre-pandemic in November. However, it seems nightlife spaces are back to square one — and with even more challenges like annual business renewal payments and endless hunts for ways to be more adaptive.

David Ong, one of the founders of beloved neighbourhood coffee and cocktail spot and one of Asia’s 50 Best The Curator and listening room OTO, amongst others, shares: “To be honest, I’ve stopped relying on the government ever since a rant I made went viral. I’m grateful that vaccines have been rolled out and that our colleagues have benefited from them! However, no other help has been extended. Unfortunately, the fact of the matter is that they don’t care! They’re only pro-business so that we can pay taxes and renew paperwork.”

He continues: “Instead, we try to seek help from our landlords, which have not always been successful! Apart from that, we try to “pivot” (I hate that word) by trying to do something different to lure in sales”

Despite the complete shutdown of bars and clubs around the country, cinemas, malls, tourist attractions and restaurants remain operational within limited capacity. Raids haven’t stopped, with at least three more nightlife establishments in the capital’s central business district being forced to shut down recently.

Another bar owner, who wishes to remain anonymous quips: “I would just like to see bars and clubs treated more like restaurants or any other venue where there are public gatherings. Why should a religious venue and an entertainment venue be treated with different standards when they both have equal risks? They should both be treated with a similar capacity standard. It's only common sense.”

While there is a strong possibility that the Philippines may go back to Level 2 by February, the future of local nightlife continues to walk on an increasingly tighter rope.

“Having said all this, there’s only one way I see this cycle ending: that is the complete eradication of the virus or living with it, just as the rest of the world," Ong explains. "Of course, this is easier said than done and our leaders will need to do better."

He adds: “Despite everything, I do believe that things will go back to “normal” in due time! Whether or not we’ll still be open is the big question. I really don’t know the answers yet I encourage other space owners to continue fighting as the nightlife industry is far from done. There will be more opportunities in the future.”

[Images via Jensen Chua, Rappler, Drink Magazine Asia & Philippine News Agency]