DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 31 October) — In this city of so many firsts in the country – first to have successfully implemented a ban on smoking, on firecrackers and pyrotechnics, first to have a Children’s Welfare Code, a 30-40-60 speed limit, etc.. — there is another first that many are not familiar with: an interfaith cemetery in this predominantly Christian city.
Only a three-foot hollow-block fence serves as marker between the cemetery for Christians and other faiths, and the cemetery for Muslims at the Ma-a Public Cemetery here.
In fact, non-Muslims pass by the cemetery for Muslims on their way to bury or visit their loved ones in their cemetery.
Residents living in the vicinity of the 3.7 hectare public cemetery are a mix of Christians and Muslims, too, but gravediggers for a Muslim’s burial must be Muslims, Suhaile Salih, caretaker of the Maa Public Muslim Cemetery since 2002, said.
Salih told MindaNews he does not know exactly when their cemetery was established but reckons it may have been in the 1960s or 1970s.
Elsa Baynosa, who lives near the entrance to the cemetery, said the Muslim burial site was not there when they settled in the area in 1978, when she was six years old. But the cemetery for the Christians was already there, she said.
Gary Castillo, Davao City’s OIC for Public Cemetery Operations, told MindaNews that they are still checking on the records to determine exactly when the public cemetery in Ma-a was established but he is sure it was set up post-war.
Castillo’s office supervises the city’s nine public cemeteries: Ma-a, Bunawan, Tibungco, Panacan, Wireless, Calinan, Tugbok, Mintal, and Toril.
Baynosa and her neighbors said it must have been in the 1960s as they found a grave that had 1968 as year of death.
According to Castillo, the Muslim Cemetery in Ma-a was established in 1991 when then Councilor Bonifacio Militar proposed to the City Council “to set aside half a hectare of land” from the 3.7 hectare Ma-a Public Cemetery, “for the exclusive use of our Muslim brothers and sisters.”
For Muslims, For Lumads
He said Militar, who is back as Councilor, again proposed to add another half a hectare from out of the city-owned public cemetery for the Muslims.
The City Council in January this year approved the ordinance, providing P4.1 million for the expansion, which would include fencing the perimeter, filling the shallow portion and improving the drainage system.
Informal settlers who reside in the area where the cemetery will be expanded, including Salih, have volunteered to vacate the 23 houses already tagged by the Davao City Housing and Homesite Division.
Castillo said that with the expansion, the Muslims would have a total of one hectare for their cemetery, leaving 2.7 hectares for the Christians.
Militar said in January that the expansion is timely because next year the city will improve public cemeteries where non-Muslims will be interred in apartment-type structures.
Militar said Muslims have their own traditional ways of burying their dead.
For one, Muslims have to be buried with the body facing the Qibla or the direction of Mecca.
Salih is grateful for the city government’s support to the Muslims, including the allocation of a cemetery for them.
The city government has deputy mayors for Muslims and Lumads (Indigenous Peoples). For the Muslims, there are five deputy mayors – one each for the Sama, Kalagan, Maguindanaon, Maranao and Taosugs like Salih.
He said the city has also provided them the use of a vehicle to ferry the dead, unlike in the past when dumptrucks were used.
Castillo said there are other cemeteries for Muslims in the predominantly Muslim barangays of Sirawan, Tigatto and Waan but these are being supervised by the barangays.
He said there are also cemeteries for the Lumad (indigenous peoples) “but operated by the barangay just like in Paquibato district.”
Non-Muslims who pass by the cemetery for Muslims on their way to bury or visit their loved ones in the other cemetery will immediately notice the physical differences between the cemeteries.
In the cemetery for Christians, most of the land is covered with concrete tombs beside and on top of the other while the cemetery for the Muslims is an open field with graves marked by about a foot-long rectangular enclosure (known as pilang-pilang among the Taosugs) made of concrete or tiles.
Very few graves of Muslims have names unlike the lapida (grave markers) for Christians where the name and dates of birth and death are painted or engraved.
Salih said that even without markers, the relatives would know where they buried their loved ones.
“Malalaman mo rin kung lalaki or babae ang nakalibing” (You will also know if the person buried here is male or female), he said, pointing to the “sundok” that would indicate if the person buried there is male or female.
“Kung parang dome ang shape ng sundok, lalaki yan” (If the shape of the sundok is like a dome, the person buried there is a male), Salih added.
The cost of digging a grave varies at the public cemetery. Salih said the cost of digging a grave for Muslims is P800.
MindaNews asked a gravedigger for the Christian cemetery and he said “patong” or a tomb above another tomb would cost P9,000 inclusive of “lapida” while digging the ground would cost between P1,500 and P2,500.
Castillo said a neighboring private memorial park has proposed to the city government a public-private partnership to rehabilitate the cemetery for Christians and turn it into an “apartment-type” cemetery similar to what was done to the Wireless Cemetery. He said the proposal, which would include exhuming the remains and putting the bones in ossuaries, is still under study.
He said rehabilitation costs millions of pesos. The city, he said, spent P23 million for the 1.1 hectare Wireless Cemetery rehabilitation. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)