Condo units for cemetery dwellersBy Doris C. Bongcac
CEBU CITY—Vicky Pancho and her family used to live in a shanty atop a stairway of tombs at a cemetery in Barangay Lorega in Cebu City for 11 years. Not anymore.
Last month, Vicky, 46, and her husband, Dioscoro, moved to a condominium unit built by the Church-backed humanitarian group, Gawad Kalinga (GK), in the old Lorega San Miguel cemetery, once the burial grounds of famous Cebuanos and World War II veterans.
Vicky could hardly contain her happiness when she was handed the key to Door No. 23 of Condoville 1, their new house. “There is no measure to the joy that I now feel. I have been dreaming of owning a decent house for my family and that dream is now a reality,” she said.
The Panchos are among the 60 families living in the cemetery who are beneficiaries of the low-cost condominium units built by GK.
Tanny Go, GK project director, said three more condominium buildings would be built to accommodate 440 other families still staying in the cemetery. The plan, however, will depend on the availability of funds.
The 60-unit Condoville 1 was constructed with a budget of P12 million. Of the amount, P10 million came from the Priority Assistance Development Fund of then Rep. Raul del Mar of Cebu City and P2 million from the nongovernment Action for Nurturing Children and Environment.
Each unit has a floor area of 34 square meters. It has its own toilet and bath, running water and electricity.
Although their unit was smaller compared to the shanty they used to live in, Vicky said it was definitely cleaner and safer. In their old dwelling, she pointed out, her youngest son, 12, often had asthma attacks and had to be brought to a physician almost every month.
Aside from having the tombs as neighbors or house fixtures, Vicky said the family had to endure the stench of garbage and human wastes dumped in the area. Most of the 500 families in the 1.9-hectare cemetery do not have comfort rooms.
The place had also been a haven of drug addicts and petty criminals, Vicky said.
Vicky explained that she and her husband had wanted to leave but could not afford to rent a decent apartment, especially because they are raising three children—one in high school, another in college and the youngest, in Grade 6.
Vicky works as a clerk at the Department of Social Welfare and Services of the City Hall. Her husband is a utility worker of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). Both are natives of Oslob town, 117 kilometers south of Cebu City.
After they got married in 1990, Vicky and Dioscoro bought the shanty in Lorega cemetery for P1,500. They decided to settle there because it was just a block away from the DSWD building. They could hardly stretch their legs when they slept inside the shack.
“With the little earning that we were getting, we thought this (owning their own place) was no longer possible for us,” she said.
Little did they realize that their prayers would be answered.
In 2005, the city government closed down the cemetery because its presence in a thickly populated community violated the Sanitation Code.
According to the law, cemeteries should be at least 25 meters away from the nearest residential area and 50 m away from the nearest water source.
In 2010, the city council passed a resolution designating 9,000 sq m of the cemetery area as a socialized housing site. Some 400 tombs facing the barangay road were cleared for GK condominium units. The bones buried there were transferred to a temporary chamber in the middle ground.
Construction of Condoville 1 started in June last year. After 11 months, 60 families became owners of the condo units.
Go said 40 of the 60 units were ready for occupancy. Eighteen were turned over to the beneficiaries during ceremonies on May 11.
Go said 22 other units would be awarded after the processing of documents. The remaining units were still undergoing finishing touches.
The beneficiaries were selected based on their participation in GK’s “kapitbahayan” membership training and values formation seminars, Go said.
They were required to provide “sweat equity,” equivalent to 1,000 hours of labor during the construction of their assigned units.
According to government social worker Ligaya Dael, the occupants would pay monthly dues of P300 each through their association for the building’s upkeep.
Barangay Chair Fritz Herrera said the residents had wanted single-detached units, but due to limited space, a condominium building was put up for them.
Space is also needed for a playground project funded with a P500,000 donation given by Sen. Francis Pangilinan.
“Many thought that the plan to convert the cemetery into urban poor housing was a joke. But we did not make a mistake in doing so,” Herrera said.
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