Garden of Life

When Mayor Benhur Abalos reassumed office in Mandaluyong three years ago, after just a term in Congress, one of the problems he faced was morbid.

The city’s public cemetery was running out of space for the dead.

The public cemetery was already crowded, with tombs piled high on top of each other and tiny graves of children scattered every which way, even along walkways.

The public cemetery was squalid, unkempt and dirty. The Mandaluyong cemetery was certainly not a place where the dead can rest in peace or in dignity, or so says Mayor Abalos.

“Itong pagbalik ko lang [as mayor]…it’s almost full. Every time may ililibing, they just try to find remains na abandoned and then they destroy the niches, tinitibag nila ‘to, pull out the bones, libing na ‘ron. So if you’re going to look at the old conditions, pataas, pababa, kung minsan along the road may mga babies pang nilalagay. So we’re facing a problem na halos occupied na lahat plus the fact that you got at least bodies at an average of close to 1,000 a year approximately and storage of about 4,000 bones, yung mga nakuhang buto na nakabodega,” the city mayor said.

The 2.7-hectare Mandaluyong cemetery has 5,744 apartment niches, 1,720 bone crypts and 253 private “apartments.”

As of June this year, 65.1 percent or 5,024 of the cemetery’s total capacity of 7,.717 was occupied. With the rate of people dying in the city, an average of 913 a year since 2004, it was expected the cemetery would be filled to capacity in 10 years.

And capacity was not the only problem of the cemetery.

He decided to optimize the land area by transforming the old cemetery into a “one-stop shop” that offers four services for the dead. The facility he named “Garden of Life Park” has a cemetery, an environment friendly crematory, columbaria and a chapel.

Abalos takes pride in transforming the public cemetery into the Garden of Life Park, a first of its kind in the Philippines run by a local government.

Located in Barangay Vergara, the once dark and squalid Mandaluyong Cemetery metamorphosed into a neatly constructed and well-lighted Garden of Life Park with a serene landscape and picnic area for those who cherish the memories of departed loved ones.

“I purposely made that so that the old concept of a scary cemetery, a dark cemetery, a cemetery full of ghost will be left behind. What is important, a cemetery should always be synonymous with paradise with paradise, with heaven, with God. That is the image I would like to give our people. Hindi ghost, kalokohan yan. Kasi ang ghost is something negative. Pakita natin it’s something positive. There’s love in the cemetery, there’s peace and there is paradise,” he said.

The Garden of Life Park has 5,744 apartment niches, 1,720 bone crypts, 253 private apartments, and two columbaria. Columbrium 1 has 2,990 ossuaries while Columbarium 2 has 1,025.

Abalos said that to address congestion in the cemetery, the city government decided to limit the stay of the dead to just five years to allow room for other families needing burial spaces.

He said that after five years, the families are given the option to transfer the remains or have them cremated.

He cited studies that show only bones remain after five years.

“Kung papa-cremate ka, may vault kami for you, may columbarium, which is also accepted by the church,” Abalos said.

Abalos admitted there were many who did not agree with the five-year limit.

“Before kasi ang problema mo diyan ang mga ginagawang ataol merong pataas, patong-patong, meron sa kalye so you will have to remove some of them. So ang ginawa ko nagpagawa agad ako ng body crypt good for five years. When you’re there you must sign a waiver that after five years, you must then move your dead to make rooms for others kasi araw-araw may namamatay rin eh. So far napapaliwanagan naman namin ng tama, at nakukumbinsi naman namin,” he said.

He said public cemeteries get congested because people lay claim to being owners of burial lots.

“Once people cling to the old belief na aking itong lupang ito, walang pwedeng magpaalis sa akin, etc., yun ang mabigat. If that kind of belief would persist and continue, there would come a time wala ng sementeryo at punong-puno na lahat,” Abalos said.

The city government has spent less than P50 million for the first phase of the project, and does not plan to spend more as it expects its one-stop shop to generate revenues to bankroll the next phases of development.

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