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REPORTER’S NOTEBOOK: ‘Tomb V35,’ Aldub goods and the usual ‘epals’

NEARLY seven months after the May 13 Kentex slipper factory inferno killed more than 70 people in Valenzuela City, two of the victims buried at apartment-type tombs at Arkong Bato cemetery remain without tombstones and are identified only with the markings “V35” and “V72.”

Victims 35 and 72 were among the 10 bodies that remain interred at the cemetery where the local government decided to temporarily keep the corpses recovered from the blaze pending their identification through DNA tests. Officials initially tagged the tombs with numbers.

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According to the cemetery caretaker, Lhito Santos, around 60 bodies have since been identified and exhumed for a second burial elsewhere.

As the country observed All Saints’ Day on Sunday, the Inquirer found that somebody had left a bottle of water and a string of sampaguita flowers on the tomb of Victim 72, while that of Victim 35 showed no signs that it had been visited for Undas.

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But Santos said Victims 35 and 72 have already been identified but that their families had not yet placed tombstones as they had yet to decide whether to have the remains transferred or keep them at Arkong Bato.

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Candles, flowers and snack food are products usually sold along the streets leading to the cemeteries on Undas.

In the year when the “AlDub’’ phenomenon swept the nation, however, the range of merchandise offered something for the fans on their way to the gravesites.

Customized T-shirt designer Reyna de Jesus cashed in and hawked AlDub-inspired T-shirts costing P50 each at her stall outside Manila South Cemetery in Makati City.

De Jesus outperformed most of the vendors in the area, including those who sold underwear, towels, toys, kitchen utensils and cell phone accessories. When the Inquirer found her late afternoon, only two of the 50 AlDub shirts she prepared remained unsold.

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Also at Arkong Bato, Valenzuela City, the day supposedly reserved for prayer and reflection for the departed was not without a whiff of politics.

A number of “volunteers” were seen handing out fans bearing the faces of city officials, particularly Mayor Rex Gatchalian, Rep. Wes Gatchalian and councilors led by Councilor Lorie Natividad-Borja.

At the cemetery entrance, tarpaulins bearing the image of candidates in the 2016 polls greeted the visitors. Among them was that of former Metropolitan Manila Development Authority chair Francis Tolentino, now a senatorial candidate, who wished everyone “A Safe and Blessed Undas 2015.”

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Around 1.8 million people flocked to Manila North Cemetery, which took on a “Divisoria-like” atmosphere because of the sheer variety of promotional gimmicks by merchants allowed to set up stalls near the entrance and on nearby streets.

A major funeral service company, for example, offered a photo booth which resembled a pink coffin.

Stalls put up by a school fraternity and a councilor offered free drinking water and medical assistance.

Amid the commercialism, volunteers from the Buddhist group Tzu Chi Foundation urged the crowds to dispose of their trash properly as they set up garbage bins that segregate recyclables.

A group from the St. Joseph Ministry of Ecology also called on visitors to join the Catholic Climate Petition inspired by Pope Francis and addressed to global business and political leaders.

As of 3 p.m., the Manila Police District had confiscated 88 bladed weapons and other objects deemed dangerous from cemetery visitors.

At least two children were reported missing in the cemetery and have yet to be found at press time.

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TAGS: AlDub, Kentex fire, Metro, news
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