Group on a mission targets cemeteriesBy Erika Sauler, Rima Jessamine M. Granali
Philippine Daily Inquirer
On All Saints’ Day, some people go to the cemeteries to honor and remember their departed loved ones. Others are there for a different reason altogether.
Around 200 residents of Marikina City who were victims of Tropical Storm “Ondoy” in 2009 went around the 54-hectare Manila North Cemetery on Thursday to gather up the recyclable trash left behind by visitors.
The “scavengers” were volunteers for a charity organization that plans to sell the garbage to raise money for its medical care and educational assistance program for the poor.
Tzu Chi Foundation, a Buddhist organization that originated in Taiwan, helped the Marikina residents rise from the devastation wrought by Ondoy. In gratitude, some of them became volunteers for its garbage recycling program.
“Avoid trash, avoid floods,” volunteer Zenaida Maglaqui said, echoing the group’s mantra.
The daughter of another volunteer, Jennifer Silleza, is now in fourth year college through a scholarship provided by Tzu Chi.
The group also deployed its volunteers Thursday to Manila South Cemetery, Loyola Memorial Park in Marikina and Parañaque, Chinese Cemetery, Paraiso Memorial Park in San Mateo, Rizal, and Carmona Cemetery in Cavite province to collect more trash.
Coordinator Angie Villanueva said the garbage would be brought to a Tzu Chi center in Sta. Mesa, Manila, where it would be sorted to determine which could be recycled or sold. The money from the sales will go to the foundation’s eye clinic, which provides free operations for those suffering from cataracts, glaucoma and other eye problems.
She said that when they started the program last year at Manila North Cemetery, the volunteers gathered at least five truckloads of trash.
A report by the Manila City Department of Public Services said that up to 30 truckloads of garbage are hauled from Manila North Cemetery and Manila South Cemetery during the observance of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day.
On Thursday, the volunteers were wearing shirts made from recyclable bottles. Coordinator Kalam Chan said that 12 1.5-liter PET bottles can be turned into shirts while 40 bottles can become blankets, which the group donates to disaster victims.
“We tell them that these blankets are not just imported, these are made from other people’s love since these are made from donated bottles,” Chan said.
The technology to turn the PET bottles into thread is currently available only in Taiwan, Chan added.
Tzu Chi sells the collected garbage here and in a month, the group can raise up to P1.5 million, she said.
Chan explained that the foundation’s environmental advocacy intensified after the tragedy brought by Ondoy.
Tzu Chi initially provided relief goods to the victims but afterward, it introduced the cash-for-work community cleanup program to Marikina residents.
At the Libingan ng mga Bayani, college students were also on a fund-raising mission—sell “good luck” bracelets so that they would have enough money for their tuition and offer “spiritual elevation” to the departed.
Mary Ann Villano, Jerome Precia and 13 other students of International Peace Leadership College in Tanay, Rizal, approached relatives of war veterans and military men to offer the bracelets worth P100.
“It may be expensive but it’s for a good cause. We will use the money for our tuition this second semester,” Villano, a Bachelor of Secondary Education student, told them.
They had been in the cemetery since 11 p.m. on October 31. “It’s a 24-hour activity. We will stop at exactly 11 p.m. today (Thursday),” she added.
Precia, 17, said: “From time to time, we rest for five minutes but we haven’t slept yet.”
But the business student said he doesn’t feel tired because of “spiritual cooperation.”
The “heroes” buried in this cemetery are helping them, he said and added that they chose Libingan ng mga Bayani because it is the final resting place of people who “voluntarily” fought and served the country.
“The ancestors guide us in finding their relatives so they can help us with our needs,” Precia said.
The “fund-raising” activity is called “chusok,” or ancestor’s liberation.
“We believe in the spirit world,” he said. “By helping us, their ancestors will be elevated to a higher spiritual level.”
Precia’s tuition for the second semester is P10,000. He is the youngest of two children. His mother is a seamstress while his father is out of work.—With Maricar Brizuela