Caretakers of celebrities’ graves earn good livingBy Aries B. Espinosa
Philippine Daily Inquirer
They are caretakers of a different kind—workers literally assigned to the “graveyard” shift.
They handle gravesite maintenance—taking care of the graves of celebrities.
Milagros Moncada, 64, has made a good living out of taking care of the famous dead for more than 30 years. She keeps 25 mausoleums at Manila Memorial Park in Sucat, Parañaque, spic and span.
One of those is the Sarte-Perez mausoleum. So it came as no surprise that she received a call from the family after the death of teen star AJ Perez last year.
One of ABS-CBN Star Magic’s most promising young stars, AJ, or Antonello Joseph Sarte Perez, was killed in a vehicular accident on MacArthur Highway in Paniqui, Tarlac, on April 17, 2011. He had just turned 18.
“They said, ‘AJ is dead. It’s time to clean up the gravesite,’” Moncada said in Filipino.
After getting over the initial shock, Moncada said she did as she was told. She had lost someone she had known “ever since he was little.”
The mother of eight, who started working as a caretaker in Manila Memorial Park in 1981, remembered AJ as a boy who used to tag along with other members of the Sarte-Perez clan during their visits to the family mausoleum.
“The family is kind, and so was AJ. Sometimes I go to their house in White Plains. They always help me,” Moncada said.
“This job has enabled me to send all my eight kids to school,” she said.
AJ’s gravestone is different from those of the others in the mausoleum. Apart from being set in black marble, it bears his picture and an inscription that says: “The warmth of your smile will forever be cherished, your gentleness will always be remembered. An angel sent from above, our source of light, hope and strength.”
Shrine of sorts
A five-minute walk from the Sarte-Perez mausoleum is the resting place of another actor gone too soon—Rico Yan. His gravesite has been transformed into a shrine of sorts, designed and built by an interior designer and architect, Cocoy Cordoba.
Hung on a nearby tree is a black tarpaulin bearing Yan’s picture and greeting the actor a “happy 37th birthday.” On the edges of the marble floor are inscribed messages from members of the Yan family and fans. One reads, “Rico, we will love you until the end of our days—from Dad, Mom, Ate, Bobby and Tina, relatives, friends and admirers.”
Another Star Magic talent, youth leader, and budding entrepreneur, Rico Yan, or Ricardo Carlos Castro Yan, died in his sleep on March 29, 2002—Good Friday—at the Dos Palmas Resort in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan. The autopsy concluded that Yan died of cardiac arrest caused by acute hemorrhagic pancreatitis. He turned 27 two weeks before he died.
Yan’s funeral reportedly drew one of the largest crowds in the history of Manila Memorial Park, the 20,000 who attended outnumbered only by the throngs that turned up for the late President Cory Aquino’s and her husband Ninoy’s funerals.
When news of Yan’s death reached Linda Tupas, who had recently been assigned to take care of the actor’s grave, she felt she had lost a relative.
“I cried buckets on the day I learned Rico was gone,” Tupas, 60, said.
That was 10 years ago. She remembered seeing the young actor accompanying his grandfather, former Ambassador Manuel Yan, in visits to the grave of the actor’s grandmother Amelia Acab Yan right across where the actor now rests.
“Rico was so kind. One time, he saw this old woman who was limping and crossing Sucat Road. He gave her a wheelchair and seed money to start her own store. When Rico died, that woman came often to visit Rico’s grave,” Tupas said.
For Tupas, Yan seemed to continue his generous streak even from beyond the grave.
“I played the numbers 14 and 29 in a loteng game in 2004, and I won P15,000. Those numbers came out again some time after. Too bad I didn’t get to bet on them that time,” Tupas said.
Yan was born on March 14, and died on the 29th of the same month.
Tupas, who looks young for her age, keeps 20 family plots. The Bohol native, who cannot remember when she started working as a caretaker at Manila Memorial Park, has a simple wish for All Saints’ Day.
“I hope Rico’s visitors won’t be unruly, and I wish they would remove their shoes and slippers so they won’t muddy up the marble floors,” she said.
At Loyola Memorial Park in Marikina City, 71-year-old Emilia Mamaril is proud of the newest member of her “family” of 100 or so plots she tends to every day—Francis M’s grave.
Mamaril trims the carabao grass carpeting the simple grave of Francis Michael Durango Magalona, known simply to his fans as Francis M, or “Master Rapper,” who brought the musical form into the mainstream in Philippine entertainment.
He pioneered the merging of rap with Pinoy rock, and over the course of his show-business career became a successful entrepreneur, actor, producer and TV host.
Seven months after being diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia, Magalona died on March 6, 2009, aged 44. He now rests on the plot reserved for the family of his wife, Pia Arroyo-Magalona.
‘Brown like wood’
Magalona’s black gravestone has three stars and a sun above his name, an imagery he often used in his songs to refer to the Philippines. Below his name is inscribed “Brown like wood, Filipino by blood—The Mouth.”
“There are no ghosts here, nobody haunts the place,” Mamaril said.
The native of Agoo, La Union, jested, however, that what she fears is families of the deceased coming and going without paying her. But she quickly added that the Magalona family is among the generous ones.
Half a kilometer away, in an elevated crypt near the lagoon of the memorial park, is the tomb of Julie Vega, one of the most popular young actresses of the 1980s.
Born Julie Pearl Apostol Postigo in 1968, she had become a famous actress and singer by the time she was 16. Propelled by her landmark title roles in the 1978 film “Mga Mata ni Angelita” and the GMA Network TV soap “Anna Liza,” the two-time Famas awardee was all set for bigger things after graduating from high school in 1985.
But she was struck by a mysterious disease. She died on May 6, 1985, 15 days before her 17th birthday.
Vega’s funeral was one of the most attended in the history of Philippine show biz. She was laid to rest beside her brother Jeffrey (who died two years earlier). Her father Julio was buried beside her grave in 1991.
Bearing an eerie resemblance to Julie Vega (had the star lived to her 40s), 45-year-old Margie Silva, who became a caretaker of the Postigo family plot when she married Apolinario Silva 11 years ago, has vague memories of how the star looked like. But she knows Vega’s brother Joseph, who visits the gravesite every now and then.
“He’s the one who comes here and talks to us,” Silva said.
Stars’ final destination
Elsewhere in Metro Manila, the bigger cemeteries have become the final destination of many celebrities. At Heritage Park, for example, two of the biggest stars in Philippine cinema are buried just across the field from each other.
The black marble grave of Rodolfo Vera Quizon, better known as Dolphy the “King of Comedy,” is situated on a rise overlooking eastern Metro Manila and the Sierra Madre range. Dolphy died on July 10 this year.
In contrast to Dolphy’s grave is the expansive mausoleum of Rodolfo “Rudy” Valentino Padilla Fernandez, the iconic action star whose screen name was Rudy Fernandez. His mausoleum has dark-tinted glass walls. The actor died on June 7, 2008 after a lengthy bout with pancreatic cancer.
Other big stars and the cemeteries they lie in are action king Fernando Poe Jr. (Ronald Allan Kelley Poe), at the Manila North Cemetery; Nida Blanca (Dorothy Acueza Jones), at Loyola Memorial Park, Marikina; and Chat Silayan (Maria Rosario Silayan Bailon), at Manila Memorial Park, Parañaque, to name a few.
It is interesting to note that the caretakers know a lot more about the stars than some of their followers do. Through them the late stars could reveal more of who they were in life.