In Davao public cemetery, thousands of exhumed bones await transfer to ossuaries

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 1 Nov) – At least 2,500 sacks of exhumed cadaver bones are piled up in two repositories at a public cemetery here, waiting for transfer to newly built ossuaries as the cemetery undergoes rehabilitation.

Frayed and dusty, the sacks are all labeled with numbers.

A worker installs a tombstone on an ossuary at the Davao Wireless Cemetery on Thursday, November 1, 2012. Since last year, thousands of bones have been exhumed and transferred to ossuaries as the cemetery is being rehabilitated. The rehabilitation will be finished next year. MindaNews Photo by Ruby Thursday More
A worker installs a tombstone on an ossuary at the Davao Wireless Cemetery on Thursday, November 1, 2012. Since last year, thousands of bones have been exhumed and transferred to ossuaries as the cemetery is being rehabilitated. The rehabilitation will be finished next year. MindaNews Photo by Ruby Thursday More

Set on a 1.1-hectare land, the Wireless Public Cemetery at Madapo Hills has at least 7,900 niches before its rehabilitation began. (It is called “wireless” because it is close to the Telecommunications
Office.)

Gerardo Antonio Castillo, officer-in-chief of cemetery operations, said Wednesday the cemetery is undergoing rehabilitation because it is so disorganized at its present state. To organize things, 1,368
ossuaries and 254 compartmentalized niches have been constructed.

So far, massive exhumation of graves were done within 20 meters from the front and 30 meters from the side, Castillo said.

He added, however, that nearly half of the exhumed bones are yet to be transferred to ossuaries. Each ossuary, a vault made of cement that will house the bones of six or more cadavers, measures about 12x12x24 inches.

The two sets of four-layer niches built at each side of the area are also still empty.

Susan Margate, 52, a resident of Bucana Village here, visited the cemetery on Wednesday afternoon to see if the graves of her parents and relatives were still there. She thought the two-layer niches that
used to hold the remains of her parents, grandmother and brother, were not yet evicted.

But what she saw surprised her. “Their graves were gone. I was told that all their bones are now in one sack with number 1384,” she told MindaNews.

The last time she visited the cemetery was in November last year, and she returned later in the same month to enlist her kin’s graves for exhumation.

“We will only light candles for them at home,” she said, explaining that she cannot transfer the remains to an ossuary yet in time for All Souls’ Day.

Near the threshold of the cemetery, a small covered space was allocated for candle lighting for exhumed bones not yet relocated.

Castillo told Margate that an ossuary costs P200 a year and that she has to pay for the tombstone, which can be purchased right outside the cemetery for P800 each.

She asked Castillo if all bones of four cadavers can fit in a singlevault, and he replied, “It depends on the sizes of the bones.”

Older bones are smaller, and a vault can hold remains as many as seven cadavers, Jun Labro, a village chief in Obrero here, said.

He pointed to an ossuary that shows seven names on its tombstone.

Labro was also at the cemetery, hiring someone to transfer his father’s remains in an ossuary.

“He’s my beloved father. Of course, I am giving him a more decent and sophisticated tombstone. That one cost me P1,800,” he told MindaNews.

He said he transferred the bones just in time for All Souls’ Day so his family and relatives can visit the cemetery.

Margate and Labro said having the ossuaries is practical compared with the old site, congested with niches.

“It’s alright. We can’t do anything about it. They’re all bones now so it’s just practical. The important thing is that they are in good condition with the Lord above,” she said.

Without any hint of complaint, she said, “I don’t know why we have to pay for the rent of the ossuary. We already paid for the grave lot years ago.”

She said her grandmother was the first one buried there in 1960s.

Labro, on the other hand, said he was pleased with the changes in the cemetery as it is for everyone’s convenience.

“I have seen the city’s plan for this cemetery. It will soon become like the People’s Park,” he said, citing that a garden will be built in the center as part of the rehabilitation project.

The Wireless Cemetery is one of the nine public cemeteries in the city that are all congested, including the ones in Panacan, Tibungco, Bunawan, Maa, Toril, Mintal, Tugbok and Calinan.

The City Economic Enterprise and Economic Planning Services (CEEEPS) eyed to rehabilitate all of them, starting with the Wireless Cemetery for a project worth P23 million, including the construction of 928 niches and 13,240 ossuaries, among other facilities.

The rehabilitation, which started last year, is expected to be finished next year. (Lorie Ann A. Cascaro / MindaNews)

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