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How The Pen coped with lockdown

By SCOTT GARCEAU, The Philippine STAR Published Nov 30, 2023 2:11 pm

The thing that comes through in The View from the Peninsula Manila, a special print run of only 150 copies published by the hotel that documents its sudden closure during COVID-19 lockdown, is how contrary to the nature of Peninsula staff such a time was. 

The Pen had never closed in its 70 years, not even when a 2007 military coup took place (even then, it reopened after four days). Here, in 30 vignettes gathered by the Pen’s communications heads Mariano Garchitorena and Grace Lim and edited by Tara FT Sering, you get an inside view of their concept of service, how it guides the staff at every level—from security to food and beverage to housekeeping to everything in between.

“The one thing that was clear were the values transmitted to me from the head office: people first,” recalls Jose Luis Jimenez, former executive assistant F&B manager, when the doors were closed on March 19, 2020 and lockdown began. “Our first marching orders were to secure everybody. Weeks dragged into months.” 

For those still serving guests, it was the same mission: keep them happy and safe. But for an indeterminate period. Like the Eagles sang, “You can check out anytime you like… but you can never leave.”

The View from the Peninsula Manila is episodic, rather than strictly chronological, following the first shuttering of the front security doors to the end of the crisis—about two years. In it you’ll find first-person accounts of the lockdown from inside. Everyone has their own anxiety, concerns or occasional comic moments. Key to the mission was keeping the Pen staff gainfully employed; it gave them all something to focus on. And they also learned to adapt, pivoting to delivering cakes, high tea kits and other Pen fixtures to lockdown homes.

Garchitorena recalls a sense of stolid disbelief as they “soldiered on.” All the usual traditions that mark the Pen’s annual calendar—holiday celebrations, the Make a Wish Foundation lighting of the Christmas tree, the Afternoon Tea service in The Lobby—were put on hold. Until who knew when.

“People liked to celebrate their big life moments at The Pen,” he writes, “but for the time being there were weddings or christenings, no despedidas de soltera, no anniversaries.”

It must have seemed like life itself had stopped. 

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The View from the Peninsula Manila will be downloadable soon