Manila’s University Belt is now a ghost town.
The country’s education hub, situated at the heart of the Capital, has been silenced by Covid-19 for a year now.
Gone are the boisterous crowds that occupied its dormitories, frequented its restaurants and billiard halls, packed branches of Jollibee and McDonald’s, and badgered the holes in walls for their quick copies of required school readings.
The U-Belt, as it was known, is no more.
Last year’s cancellation of classes was abrupt. The students were sent home still two or three weeks into the summer break.
It was the expected decision for the government to impose a lockdown amid a then-emerging threat of a coronavirus spread, but not in the middle of March when most of them were still in the thick of their final examinations.
One by one, the dormitories were emptied of their occupants. Most of them are never to return.
A Daily Tribune quick travel within the vicinities of colleges and universities revealed a sorry sight of closed gates and empty schools.
A “Zombieland”, it was described by a street vendor who hardly encounters customers passing by her nook.
One can clearly hear the rustling of dry leaves at the Mendiola Consortium, schools composed of the San Beda College, Centro Escolar University, the presently defunct College of Holy Spirit, and La Consolacion College.
The same silence will greet visitors in the Legarda-Recto area where the National Teachers’ College, St. Rita College, and San Sebastian College sit.
The University of the East in C.M. Recto is devoid of life, as well as those of the Far Eastern University, Philippine School of Business Administration, National College of Business and Arts, and the University of Santo Tomas.
Without the students, the area’s underground economy has also collapsed.
Gone are the used booksellers, the fishball vendors, vape pushers, textile printers, all and sundry who survived for generations selling this and that.
“There used to be lots of people who come here,” Cora, a third-generation owner of a used book stall, told Daily Tribune.
“The pandemic took everything away from us, however,” she added.
Cora now sells candies and cigarettes in retail to anyone who walks by her stool and a small box of sweet and nicotine goodies.
“There’s no chance of everything coming back soon. This virus is cruel,” she said.