Thursday, October 31, 2013

Tourist-ing at the Manila North Cemetery before Undas

Undas is the Pinoy term for All Saints’ Day, 1st of November, a national holiday, when families visit their dearly departed in public cemeteries, private memorial parks, and, of late, columbaries where they say prayers, light candles, adorn graves and tombs with flowers, and have a picnic, this one a matter of convenience or a borrowed Chinese custom. 

In Manila and other cities, people who hate traffic jams around burial grounds make their visits on the eve of undas or Halloween, when pranksters spook every one with ghoulish costumes to remind of ghosts and supernatural elements that prowl in the night, or on the day after, the All Souls’ Day, the religiously correct undas because in the Roman Catholic liturgy, this is the “Commemoration of All Faithful Departed.”  In Latin American countries, All Souls’ is their Day for the Dead, a national holiday.
Flower & candle stalls before the entrance to the Manila North Cemetery

October 28, elections day was traffic-light, so we decided to visit the Manila North Cemetery, one of the oldest and biggest cemeteries in Manila. In comparison, undas traffic here is super-heavy, and we’re speaking of hordes of visitors to a burial ground of 54 hectares.  It was an afternoon visit, so it was quite hurried, there was not much time to tarry, and the light was getting insufficient for the camera.

We returned on the 29th and 30th, but early enough in the afternoon and we had time to read inscriptions and take photographs of interesting places, people and things.  Motor vehicles were still allowed to get, tricycles were ferrying visitors who do not like to walk under the shady trees.

This was our first time visit to Manila North as tourist; we've come here before for the funeral of a friend.  We relied on residents here for directions and locations of gravesites of interest. They know the place like the face of their palms. They are caretakers of mausoleums, homes to their families throughout the year except on undas, when they store their household goods (some have washing machines too) in a temporary shelter and take leave for the visiting owners. 
We went visiting tombs of historical, political and popular figures.
The memorial to the 24 Boy Scouts.

 The memorial monument to the 24 boy scouts who died in a plane crash in 1963 on their way to Marathon, Greece for the 11th World Jamboree is found at the entrance, before the gate.  We met a priest who said he was to have been part of the delegation but he got sick.  He pointed out who among them were his classmates and friends after offering prayers and blessing the site. 

Presidents Sergio Osmena, Manuel Roxas, Ramon Magsaysay and Diosdado Macapagal are buried here, but we missed Macapagal's gravesite.  

Magsaysay's tomb has a Philippine flag representation and a wall inscribed with one of his quotable statements. “The president should set the example of a big heart, an honest mind, sound instincts, the virtue of healthy impatience and an abiding love for the common man,” he continues to implore from his grave.   Visitors today may want to check if the incumbent executive comes up to these measures.
In memoriam: Ramon Magsaysay.
Statesman Claro M. Recto's tomb also has a background wall containing his words, which are more philosophical:  ‘I am like the old man who plants a tree in his yard knowing that he may not sit in its shade.  I shall be content if future generations shall repeat with Tasio the philospher in the Noli Me Tangere: “No todos dormian en la noche de nuestros abuelos”[Not everybody slept in the  night of our forefathers].’ 

In memoriam:  Claro M. Recto.

The tomb of Gatpuno Antonio Villegas has also a background wall that contains his prayer.  The nearby tombs of two other mayors, and that of Arsenic or Arsenio Lacson, which is in another site, do not have statement walls.
Prayer of Gatpuno Antonio J. Villegas.

Heroes are entombed in the Mausoleo de los Veteranos de la Revolution (Mausoleum of the Veterans of the Revolution), which we found very colorful amidst several Philippine flags draped from poles on both sides. This was designed by Arcadio Arellano, and built by the Manila city government and Asociacion de los Veteranos de la Revolucion in 1915. The remains of several veterans of the 1896 revolution and of the Philippine-American war are entombed here like those of Comandante Tomas Arguelles, Gen.  Pio del Pilar and Gen. Mariano Noriel.

Mausoleo de los Veteranos de la Revolution

One would not miss the Bautista-Nakpil gravesite with an beautifully sculptured obelisk.  This is where the remains of Gregoria de Jesus (d. 1943) and her husband Julio Nakpil (d. 1960), heroes of the revolution, were buried. She was the widow of Gat Andres Bonifacio, and he was a Katipunan military commander and well-known musician-composer. 

This is where Gregoria de Jesus and her husband Julio Nakpil were buried.
 Heroes too were the first American teachers in the Philippines, collectively called Thomasites, who were at the forefront of the public school system that the Americans introduced upon the departure of the Spanish colonial masters.

In memoriam:  the first American teachers in the Philippines.
The American Teachers’ Memorial was erected in 1918 in “memory of the American school teachers whose mortal remains lie beneath this hallowed ground known as the American little teachers plot and those others who rest in unknown and unmarked graves in various parts of the country, as a token of the Filipino people’s esteem of their dedications and self-sacrifices.  The first group of American teachers numbering about 48 arrived in the Philippines on board the SS Sheridan in July 1901. The succeeding 540 educators arrived on August 21, 1901 on SS Thomas leaving behind their homes and family and worked tirelessly for the education of the Filipino people and the improvement of the educational system in the country.”

In memoriam: Francis Burton Harrison
Harrison Street and Harrison Plaza may just be place names to many Filipinos today.  They do not know that these are memorials to Francis Burton Harrison, the American Governor General of the Philippines from March 1913 to September 1921.  He was known to be pro-Filipino, an advocate of Philippine independence.

He willed to be buried in the Philippines. Hence, when he died in 1957, his remains were brought back to the Philippines; he was buried at Manila North Cemetery.

In memoriam: Pancho Villa
The name Francisco V. Guilledo does not ring a bell to Filipinos, but Pancho Villa certainly sounds like a knock-out bell.

His grave lies along Main Street of Manila North.  It cannot be missed because it features his bust, ‘Pancho Villa’ clearly etched below it, and behind is an angel figure holding a belt proclaiming he is the world flyweight champion.  He was the first Filipino boxer to gain that title. 
The historical marker tells us that he was 24 when he died on 14 July 1925.  He started as a handyman in the stable of Francisco Villa, and he first won in a boxing match in 1918 at the age of 17. He gained world fame in December 1921, and was champion from 1922 to 1925. Ring Magazine added his name to the Hall of Fame in 1961.

The Poe mausoleum may be far from the cemetery gate, at the last loop from Main Street, but one can walk for the exercise rather than take a tricycle ride. 

In Memoriam: Fernando Poe, Jr.
This is where popular movie actor Fernando Poe, Jr, better known as FPJ and Da King, is entombed.

In the Pinoy’s recent memory of Philippine politics, he was cheated in the presidential elections of 2004.   If it was an appeasement, Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo granted him posthumously the National Artist of the Philippines for Film award in May 2006.  It was confirmed by Pres. Benigno Aquino III and the family received it in July 2012.

To Filipinos who will visit his resting place on undas, Ronald Allan Kelley Poe or FPJ will always be the King of Filipino Movies.  To them, as inscribed on his tomb, he will always be alive in their hearts and memories (lagi ka sa aming puso at alaala).

That’s the same spirit that makes the Filipino spend a day with their faithful departed: a loving memory.  Happy Halloween, everyone!

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