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Gallery: Life among the dead -- Manila’s cemetery residents
How thousands of Manila’s poorest have made their home among the graves
In the Filipino capital, the lack of adequate housing has forced many migrant settlers to seek out an unusual home -- the city’s cemeteries.
The biggest of these, North Cemetery, has become something of a living village.
Mausoleums that house the bodies of the dead also act as family homes for the living. And as more people arrive in Manila from outside seeking work, and as more people die, the crunch for space is getting worse.
Mario Pormales, 52, came to North Cemetery several years ago because it brought him closer to his work, as a gravestone mason and caretaker for the graves.
He earns US$10 for each gravestone he marks, often earning up to US$150 in a week, good money for locals in Manila.
Unofficial estimates reckon as many as 10,000 people live in North Cemetery, which covers 54 hectares and is the oldest cemetery in the Philippines, dating from the 19th century.
Alongside prominent names from Filipino history -- including literary masters, artists, politicians, war heroes and even former presidents -- these people live out lives that look quite normal, were it not for the gravestones and crypts.
Mausoleums have been converted into shops, selling candies, canned sardines, noodle packs, candles and even prepaid cards for mobile phones.
Elsewhere a small informal restaurant sells meals and drinks.
Makeshift ladders grip to the cemetery walls to convey inhabitants to major roads where jeepneys await.
And now the phenomenon is spreading. Other cemeteries situated within the Metro Manila region are also becoming home to residents unable to find regular accommodation elsewhere.
Privately run cemeteries for the wealthy have so far escaped this incursion by the living.
Various attempts have been made over the years to remove the residents living in the cemeteries, to no avail.
Many resettled families often opt to return to their graveyard residences, claiming that their resettlement areas are too far from their sources of work, or from any schools or markets.
Others complain that the resettlement areas have no provision for water and electricity.
For many, the mausoleums offer sturdier protection from the elements than the low-cost housing in resettlement areas.
Cemetery residents can also tap (after a bribe) into the electrical lines that the city government operates.
Some entrepreneurial residents sell water taken from fire hydrants from pushcarts to the cemetery residents.
Lawless and fearful
For others, living here is a sentimental choice. One elderly resident lost her husband years ago and with no children and no relatives to speak of, the lady finds her peace living out her days beside her husband’s grave.
But there is a dark side to these living cemeteries too.
The informal village in the Manila North Cemetery is also a hub for illegal activities like drug dealing, and often serves as a safe haven for criminals.
For the residents, there is little protection against these lawless activities.
Every day they live in fear that the authorities will try to evict them once again without warning.
But not everyone regards cemetery residents as a nuisance.
Every year in the last week of October, Filipinos take a Roman Catholic inspired holiday to remember the dead.
Cemeteries all over the country come alive during these days, as relatives of the dead spruce up the graves of their ancestors.
The residents of the Manila North Cemetery become part of these traditions by providing services for visiting relatives who own the mausoleums they call home.
While some temporarily move out during these times, others have become an accepted presence.