Old Cebu graveyard gives way to the living | Inquirer News

Old Cebu graveyard gives way to the living

By: - Day Desk Editor / @dbongcac
/ 04:06 AM October 31, 2011

The century-old municipal cemetery in Barangay Lorega, San Miguel, here used to be the graveyard of famous Cebuanos and World War II veterans.

Now, the city stands to lose its oldest burial ground with its conversion into a housing site for families living on it.

Cemetery caretaker Arsenio Puentenegra, 50, said the disappearance of the Lorega cemetery would be a loss but the living needed shelter more than the dead. “We need a place to live in,” Puentenegra said.


The cemetery, which covers about 9,000 square meters, was built in 1936. But long before then—in fact, as early as 1912—it was already being used as a graveyard, based on imprints found on one of its oldest tombs.


The cemetery was named after Cebuano revolutionary leader Gen. Enrique Lorega and the San Miguel warehouse, which was a landmark in the area.

It was the first cemetery in Cebu and famous Cebuanos and World War II veterans were buried there. Among them were Lorega, Sen. Don Vicente Sotto, Gen. Arcadio Maxilom and Maj. Oscar Salis, a pilot who died in a plane crash during the war.

Their remains were transferred to other cemeteries after the living started occupying the cemetery and building makeshift homes in the 1970s.

Structures were built on top of old tombs, with some residents using the tombs as beds inside their shanties. Others use the tombs as tables or part of the stairs.

Hideouts of criminals


The city has counted 500 families living in 329 illegal structures inside the cemetery.

The cemetery also gained notoriety after it was used as hideouts by criminals. Some drug addicts also used to hold pot sessions there and police later declared it a drug-prone area.

But the presence of drug addicts was not the reason the city wanted to convert the cemetery into an urban poor housing site, Councilor Alvin Dizon said.

Transferring the dead

Dizon, who heads the city council’s committee on housing, said the presence of the cemetery in a middle of a thickly populated area was a violation of the Sanitation Code. The code requires that a cemetery should be 25 m away from a residential house and 50 m away from a water source.

Last year, the city government started removing the 3,012 cadavers buried in the cemetery.

So far, 400 tombs have been removed, covering an area of 690 sq. m. The Gawad Kalinga (GK) has started building a 60-unit, medium-rise condominium project for the urban poor.

The building is expected to be completed this November at a cost of P12 million—P10 million from the Priority Assistance Development Fund of former Rep. Raul del Mar and P2 million from a nongovernmental organization, Action for Nurturing Children and Environment.

Rent: P300 a month

The Cebu City Local Housing Board said families living at the cemetery had been identified as beneficiaries of the condominium project. They will have to pay a rent of P300 per month.

The city government plans to build more medium-rise condominium projects at the back of the GK building, according to Department for the Welfare of the Urban Poor head Collin Rosell.

The National Housing Authority has offered the city a loan of P78 million for the housing project.

“When the city starts its condominium project, we will have to demolish the rest of the tombs,” Puentenegra said.

400 sacks of bones

The remains taken from the 400 tombs demolished in December have been stored at a temporary bone chamber located at the back of the GK condominium.

Each of the 400 sacks containing bones has been marked with the name of the deceased, as well as dates of birth and death, for tracking purposes.

Puentenegra said a wooden cross had been put up near the bone chamber’s main door so that relatives of the deceased could light candles there on All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day.

Japanese tombs

The Lorega cemetery still has about 2,000 tombs to be demolished, he said.

One of the tombs belonged to a 1-year-old Japanese girl, Shizuka Kanegae, who was born on April 4, 1919, and died on Nov. 29, 1920.

The cemetery has other tombs belonging to Japanese soldiers who lived and died in Cebu during the war, Puentenegra said.

He said a group of Japanese recently visited the cemetery and asked him to keep the bones of their deceased relatives once their tombs were demolished.

“They wanted to collect the bones and bring them back to Japan,” Puentenegra said.

Give it to the living

An urban poor group whose members live inside the cemetery opposes its conversion into a housing site.

Members of the Kamansi Lawis San Roque Pahantom Association (Kalapasa) wrote City Councilors Margarita Osmeña, Lea Ouano-Japson and Edgardo Labella and asked them to preserve the area as a cemetery.

The Cultural and Historical Affairs Commission (CHAC) supports the conversion of the cemetery into an urban poor housing site.

Quoting from the CHAC report, Councilor Dizon said there was no reason to keep the cemetery because it did not have a historical value. “Also, renowned personalities buried in it are no longer there,” Dizon said.

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It is about time the cemetery should be given to the living, he said.

TAGS: Cebu

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