Donation of Osmeña Shrine lot to private group ‘violates zoning, risks health’; Osmeña disagrees | Inquirer News
CLASH OVER NEW CEMETERY

Donation of Osmeña Shrine lot to private group ‘violates zoning, risks health’; Osmeña disagrees

Who wants to live next to a cemetery?

And why should the Cebu City government give away land for free to a private group to develop one, possibly “violating” city zoning rules on land use?

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Residents in the hills of barangay Kalunasan and other parties yesterday had their chance to object to a decision of the Cebu City Council made last year to donate 4.2 hectares for a private cemetery.

In a public hearing, Edmundo Vinzon, president of the Villa Remedious Homeowners Association, said a burial ground poses health and environmental risks through water contamination, sanitation issues and the loss of trees.

FEATURED STORIES

Legal issues were also raised about the lot’s classification as “residential rural.”

The furor was revived in the City Council hearing over a donation of a big chunk of the 7-hectare Osmeña Shrine, a wooded area set aside decades ago to honor the memory of the late President Sergio Osmeña Sr.

The “midnight” donation took place when then mayor Tomas Osmeña signed an agreement with the Evangelical Christian Coalition of Cebu Inc. (ECCCI) on May 4, 2010, a few days before the May local elections, to allow the land’s use for a “multifaith cemetery”. The City Council earlier authorized him to donate 42,687 square meters to the Christian organization in their April 13 session.

These decisions are now being revisited.

RESCIND

Lahug barangay captain Mary Ann delos Santos yesterday said the donation should be rescinded.

Aside from questions about the legality of donating government land to a religious group, she said the site really falls in the boundaries of barangay Lahug, whose leaders were never consulted.

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Lawyer Lito Astillero, a Capitol consultant, said a cemetery in the Osmeña Shrine may violate provisions of the original donation of the property decades back by the Cebu provincial government to Cebu City.

Some park benches and a footpath are there but the land has remained undeveloped with no monument marking it as a “shrine” for a Cebuano president.

“Legal questions may also arise on whether it was constitutional for the city to donate the lot to a religious group,” said Astillero, who is in the board of directors of the Lyceum of Cebu, a school located below the site, which he said has suffered a drop in enrollment because students are afraid to study near a cemetery.

PROTESTANT BURIAL

Osmeña, the main proponent of the donation, spoke yesterday to defend the city’s decision.

He said he supported the request of the the Evangelical Christian group to have a multifaith cemetery there since Protestant members didn’t have one in Cebu City.

ECCCI is a coalition of 23 non-Catholic denominations with a total of 863 churches in the city.

Romeo Borado, head of the coalition, said his group was grateful for the donation.

“Only the city of Cebu did this for a Protestant community. You have not only given us hope but also a decent burial place for our departed ones,” he said in the hearing.
Congressman Osmeña said he saw nothing wrong with putting a cemetery in Kalunasan, one of the city’s hilly and less-populated barangays.

“Because of its location, the area is well drained and forested. If there is any seepage (from the cemetery), the trees can consume the leachate,” he said.

Osmeña said residents’ fears were “psychological.” He offered to fund water purification plants in deep wells in the area.

“I have not heard of anyone getting sick from water contamination because of cemeteries,” he said.

“We have several cemeteries in Cebu and during my 20 years as mayor I have not heard of anyone getting sick (because of cemeteries).”

After several hours, the council decided to let the Cebu City Planning Office to look into several questions of the lot’s location, ownership history and classification.

City Planning Officer head Alipio Bacalso, in a separate interview, said the zoning ordinance has to review to determine if a cemetery is allowed in the Osmeña Shrine.

While it is classified as “rural residential” a variance may be issued to allow its use for another purpose, he said.

The City Council called for yesterday’s public hearing yesterday to listen to sentiments, especially of Kalunasan residents, who weren’t consulted before the donation was made.

Of seven speakers in the forum, Congressman Osmeña and Protestant leader Borado spoke in favor of the cemetery project.

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TAGS: cemeteries, Health, Local Governments, zoning
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