A Cemetery Adventure

by alex

It ended with us in interrogation.  Apparently they didn’t much appreciate outsiders seeing (let alone shooting photos and vids of) the random bits of human remains just lying about.  

Sitting in the overly air-conned office of the head official he told us about how he’s done a great job in keeping the cemetery clean.  I stared blankly at his unusually black Erap-style coif while he told us that he didn’t appreciate journalists (as he kept calling us) coming in and misrepresenting his work there.  He insisted that they do a sweep every three months of the cemetery for random human bones and burned them.

This part of the cemetery is for the poor. They pay a 'rental' fee for the 'apartment' block. Something like P1500 for 5 years. If you don't pay, you get evicted. This is where we saw the bones...

It seemed to me that this older man with unnaturally dark hair flipped back and inflated with some extra-body mousse (or whatever) was saying “see, I keep the place tidy.  When the poor dead can no longer pay their rent and are evicted,  at most their remains are only left out in the open in eroding sacks for three months max!”

It was never our intention to find, let alone record human remains.  We came to the cemetery to shoot both the tombs of the rich, and the poor that live in their mausoleums.  About 4000 poor families live in Manila’s North Cemetary (resting place of some of the biggest names in Philippine politics and other rich folk).  They are often there with the knowledge of the rich families whose mausoleums they inhabit.  They keep the place clean in exchange for the living arrangements (and sometimes they are even paid for their caretaking services (P50/mo.).


Grave of famous Filipino boxer Pancho Villa. Pancho "rose from obscurity to win the World Flyweight boxing championship in 1923, earning acclaim in some quarters as "the greatest Asian fighter in boxing history". He was never knocked out in his entire boxing career, which ended with his sudden death at the age of 23 from complications following a tooth extraction." (from Wiki)

This is the Arroyo-Tuason site. Yes, that's right, they have a Egypt meets Disney theme. The mother of President Gloria M-Arroyo's husband is buried here.

The tomb of Fernando Poe Jr, the actor turned politician that ran against the current president in the last election.

It wasn’t until we walked past an open “apartment” tomb (concrete structures made up of stacked coffin-sized slots, that kindof resemble those capsule hotels in Tokyo) that had a skull (with hair lying next to it) out in the open that we really started to ask questions.

It was soon after that discovery, that we were discovered.  Cemetery officials in motorcycles had tracked us down and we were briskly shuttled off to Manila’s North Cemetery offices.

We were questioned.  We were questioned again.  Then they called in Mr. Top Dog Erap-hair.

They wanted to watch our video, but soon after playing the batteries ran out.  So they said that they would have to hold the tape until we could show them what we recorded (so that it could be deleted I assumed).  But eventually this changed to them wanting to fully confiscate the tape.

So a tape was surrendered.  It’s unfortunate, but it could have been worse.  Everyone was quite polite during the whole experience (though there was a definite feeling that it could have gotten a bit more interesting).

Suffice to say, it was an interesting day.  For me, not a wholly new experience, I’ve had one or two run-ins with officials and am not too freaked out by it, I wonder how  Vince felt though…

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All photos: ©2010 alex felipe  / All Rights Reserved.

Please contact the photographer with use inquiries.

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Stayed tuned all, vids and pics of our cemetery visit to come at Kultura 2010!

Ever wonder how much it costs to die in Manila?  Ever wonder how they can have so many names on one burial site that clearly should only fit one casket?  Some interesting stuff to come…



  1. I’m not surprised. When I was in the Philippines, there was a lot of controversies in that cemetery. Ninanakawan ang patay tapos tinatapon kung saan saan ang patay. There was even an incident where a dead body was taken out of the coffin in front of the family kasi daw hindi nakapagbayad ng renta. Those officials are just trying to hide the evidence of their corruption. You should go to the media and report this as anonymous. The program was ABS-CBN Triple XXX or SOCO (I don’t know if it’s still showing, ang host ay si Gus Abelgas.)

  2. sounds exciting! adrenaline rush much? I want to join your adventures too! I’m in Manila from April 14 to May 3. Let’s meet sometime in between, shall we?

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