Tomb Dwellers of Manila

by

They have lost fear for the ethereal white lady in lavender lace who appears mysteriously under the full moon’s shadow behind the cemetery’s concrete-covered coffins. The cryptic presence of the black cat and the howls of hungry mongrels in the mausoleum aren’t bothersome anymore. In the pitch darkness of the night, the eerie stillness is friendlier in the cemetery than before.

It has been a hushed reality that for years, there are people who live in the cemetery. Grave diggers, sextons and caretakers of tombs may be allowed housing in the vicinity, but in some burial sites in Manila, a throng of people have found their residence among the dead. On All Saint’s day, the tomb dwellers merge with the crowd, paying tribute to the dead.

Two years ago, in Manila North Cemetery, about 6,000 men, women and children reside with the dead. The number keeps growing as the destitute convert the burial ground into a living space, disturbing the resting place of the dead. The poor seems to have no choice.

As of last count, those who sleep, eat, and bathe inside the cemetery have ballooned to more than 10,000. For generations, the government seems tolerant, ignoring the ugly and hapless sight away from the consciousness of the public.

Like the problem of exploding squatters living close to the railroad tracks, poor people who share living space with the dead pose a dilemma to urban planners, health workers, and sanitation engineers. Standard plumbing, water supply, sewer system and regular electric supply aren’t available. However embarrassing, it is clear the government has to do something to put an end to the dangerous environment which the public doesn’t approve.

Arrivals from the provinces unable to afford the high cost of housing are forced to seek a patch of squalid space in the cemetery as they seek jobs in the metropolis of 12 million. In the burial grounds, the thieves, gamblers, drug addicts and homeless roam as the housing shortage worsen.

There is a basketball court nearby. Children play on dirty alleys. They sometimes hold on human ribs and broken skull bones away from the sight of their parents. Smell of stinky effluent and garbage sometimes fill the air. Peddlers have set up stores to make the place a surreal shopping ground. Understandably, the living must not make the cemetery their home. =0=

(Photo Credits: dsrito; Bahag; dsrito; hywell; elmernocheseda)

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