As a former resident of Bonifacio Global City (or Fort Bonifacio, or The Fort, as it used to be called) back in the early 2000’s, I witnessed how the face of this district grew to become something truly spectacular, yet at the same time, kind of remote and unfamiliar. Like the geeky best friend you once had in the 6th Grade who became one of the popular girls in high school, one can’t help but watch in awe the ongoing changes in BGC, while at the same time wondering whether the old version was better or not.
Fort Bonifacio was home to many of the country’s military men, as the whole district used to be part of the main Philippine Army camp, with living quarters spread out over the whole area. My husband grew up living in the officer’s quarters of Jusmag, and he remembers being taken to school in an army jeep filled with men in fatigues, to the chagrin of potential bullies and the delight of his friends. It was during the last years of Jusmag that I lived there, and it was very memorable for me.
It was common to wake up and see army recruits jogging outside Jusmag, and non-working tanks became my son’s favorite jungle gym. Fort Bonifacio was still spacious, with very few residential buildings dotting the area. In fact, we would often have picnics on the grass-covered grounds, and fly kites near the Essensa Tower. Nowadays, doing either of those things is close to impossible, with buildings that seem to sprout up all the time on the green grasses of the Fort deterring picnic goers and kite flyers from relaxing and frolicking about the place.
It was during 2003 when there seemed to be a shift in the air in the district, like the city was waiting for something big to happen. It came stealthily—first many tall residential buildings came to grace the skyline. Then, nearer to the ground came specialty shops and eating places that couldn’t be found anywhere else. I distinctly remember how the emergence of one particular donut shop created lines that snaked around the main square of the Fort. I looked on with amusement, thinking how a bunch of deep-fried dough can entice people to wait in line just to bring home a box of the delicious treats. I was still thinking about that before I headed towards the end of the line to see what the fuss was all about. Little did I know that in a few years time, the Fort will become a place that will showcase culinary prowess that will make any foodie weep with joy.
In 2003, Ayala Land Inc., Evergreen Holdings Inc., and Bases Conversion and Development Authority came together to help shape and develop Bonifacio Global City, with goals of turning an area once synonymous with military power into a world-class business and residential center. Within a few months, residents of the Fort witnessed the opening of the first mall in the district- Ayala Land’s Market Market, a mall which combined traditional and non-traditional retailers and wholesalers within a mall setting. My family spent many hours here even during its early days, when retailers were few and many stalls were still unoccupied. One of the highlights of my life happened during a lazy afternoon at Market Market, when from the second floor, I happened to spy a commotion going on at the ground floor. But it was a good kind of commotion, not the there’s-a-robber-in-the-mall kind of way, but more of a there’s-someone-famous-here way. The crowd parted a little, and lo and behold, there was the former First Lady, Imelda Marcos, with her hair coiffed beautifully, and dressed to the nines. I don’t know what came over me, but I made my way to Mrs. Marcos, got past her many bodyguards, and uttered, “Ma’am, I just want you to know that you are a big inspiration to me, you are the most fashionable First Lady ever!” The gracious lady smiled at me and said, “Thank you hija. What is your name?” I couldn’t believe it. Mrs. Marcos was talking to me, and asking me about my province, what I was doing at the mall, and such. I believe we had a conversation that lasted about 2 minutes, before I pointed out where the best places to get pearl jewelry were. She thanked me and I went on my way. As I walked shell-shocked alongside my very amused husband, I thought that it was quite cool that the former First Lady loved to shop for bargain finds just as much as she loved expensive baubles.
After , a residential development from Ayala Land started constructions, and before long Serendra, a prime garden residential community graced the land fronting the mall. In the coming years it will have its retail promenade called the Piazza, where today one can find upscale shops and restaurants with Asian, European and Continental themes. In the years that would follow it will also be home to a lot of expats who choose to reside here due to its very close proximity to the international schools in the district.
As my family watched and enjoyed all these developments, little did we know that the old Fort Bonifacio that we have come to love was coming to an end. In June of 2006, a fire razed the house that we were living in at Jusmag, and we were lucky to escape from it. We all got out with nothing but the clothes on our backs, and the only possession that we managed to save was our car. After the house was burned, and only the charred skeleton of our former home remained, we drove to my husband’s family’s house in a village in Makati, to live there temporarily while we all planned to rebuild the house. It was quite a coincidence when, two weeks after the fire, officials tasked by the government came to Jusmag and drove out all of its homeowners, claiming that they had no right to the place and that the government was taking over the area immediately. We all watched the violent footage on the news, and we wondered whether it was a blessing in disguise that the house burned down. We all agreed that in the end, it was better that we left with no possessions, but at least we retained a shred of our pride, rather than to suffer the indignities of being driven out like an unwanted animal.
For years, we have avoided Fort Bonifacio, not because of ill feelings, but because we had no reason to go there. Both I and my husband worked in Makati, the kids went to school in Makati, we lived in Makati, and we didn’t see the point of braving the traffic of Mckinley Hill just to get to the district. But that all changed when we joined the Victory Church at the Every Nation Building in Bonifacio Global City. Upon returning, we stared in amazement at the many changes that we missed.
First of course was the name. No longer was it called the Fort, now it was BGC. Open landscaped parks were strategically distributed within the city, to the delight of our kids. Serendra was no longer just a residential area. A big part of this 12-hectare development turning into a mecca for foodies and shopaholics. Since we returned, we have made it a habit to dine at least once a month at a new restaurant, and we still have a long way to go before we get to eat at every single place at least once. Everywhere we looked, not a single man in Army fatigues can be found, but socialites walking tiny dogs in the manner of Paris Hilton can be seen everywhere, and celebrities were walking nonchalantly while people tried their best not to point or take pictures of them. The Fort—excuse me, the BGC, has certainly changed.
As I looked on wistfully at my old stomping grounds, a wry smile comes over my face as we passed by our old picnic grounds, now flanked on two sides by huge buildings, and on one side of it, a glorified, newly renovated Jollibee. Upon going to the south side of the district, we soberly looked upon the former Jusmag, now enclosed completely as it awaits further development by the Megaworld Group, which will transform the former officers’ quarters into posh residential apartments for the wealthy. This is the place where I became a wife, and a mother. This is where my son thought that playing in a retired tank was no big deal. Here is where I had the chutzpah to go up to a former First Lady and helpfully informed her where she could get a pair of pearl earrings. And though the district is a chic-er, sleeker version of its former self, and though each month brings about new attractions to delight the urban soul, for me, this place will always be, The Fort.