Every year, we visit the graves of our friends and loved ones who have gone on before us. Traditionally, we bring flowers and candles to their burial place to commemorate them. We gather the family around and we say a prayer for our departed loved ones.
There are cemeteries in the Philippines that are interesting for different reasons – some for their historical heritage, others for the unique rituals that the town folk perform on the burial grounds and at least one for its unique concept.
1. Libingan ng Mga Bayani (Taguig, Metro Manila)
The Libingan ng Mga Bayani is more like a park with the large area it occupies. It is the burial ground of more than 49,000 Filipino soldiers, heroes, martyrs and statesmen, including National Artists.
It was created in 1947 to preserve the memory of more than 33,000 soldiers who died during World War II. President Elpidio Quirino signed Republic Act 289 in 1948, “An Act Providing for the Construction of a National Pantheon for Presidents of the Philippines, National Heroes, and Patriots of the Country. In 1954, President Ramon Magsaysay named it the Libingan ng Mga Bayani or Heroes Cemetery.
Visitors will find neatly lined crosses to mark the graves of statemen and soldiers as well as interesting tombs and memorials. The latest and controversial president to be interred here is former President Ferdinand Marcos.
2. La Loma, Chinese and North Cemeteries (Manila, Metro Manila)
Opened in 1884, the Camposanto de La Loma is the oldest Catholic cemetery in Manila. Second oldest is the Manila Chinese Cemetery conceptualized by Don Carlos Palanca. It served as the burial place for Chinese citizens denied burial in Catholic cemeteries during the Spanish colonial period. It also became the site of numerous executions in World War II. It is home to Chong Hock Temple, the oldest Chinese temple in Manila built in the 1850s. The mausoleums in the cemetery are notable for their architecture built in Fujian, Singaporean and Malaysian styles. Now, it houses several Filipinos of Chinese descent.
Together with the Manila North Cemetery, these three cemeteries, just adjacent to each other, is perhaps the largest in the country, when combined. The area was spared from the bombings of World War II which reduced the city of Manila into rubble; making them an important repository of architecture at that time.
The architecture to be seen here include different styles from the 20th century; from early 19th century, art deco, modernist and current architectural designs as well. The memorials of notable personalities in Manila are also interred here.
3. The Lumiang Burial Cave (Sagada, Mt. Province)
In Northern Luzon, places least conquered by Spaniards still have their tribal practices preserved, including their burial rites. One of these is Lumiang Cave in Sagada. This burial ground has coffins made from tree trunks, carved with emblems and piled one on top of each other at the entrance to the cave.
Echo Valley is where one can see the hanging coffins of Sagada including the death chair. The cliffs opposite these hanging coffins also shows a small cave with similar hanging coffins at its entrance. A tradition of the Igorots for over 2,000 years, the coffins are carved from tree trunks and the deceased are placed in them in fetal positions, believed to bring them peace. The coffins are suspended from limestone cliffs with rope and wire.
The height symbolizes the loved one’s ascent to heaven as well as the affection of the living for the dead. The greater the love for the individual, the higher the height of the coffin. The burial ground is also believed to bring good fortune on the remaining family members. The Mtountain Province, Benguet and Ifugao also have traditional burial sites found in caves and rock shelters.
4. Nagcarlan Underground Cemetery (Nagcarlan, Laguna)
The Nagcarlan Underground Cemetery was built in 1845 by Franciscan Fray Vicente Velloc. The underground crypt is located 15 feet below the church; the only one in the country and was declared a National Historical Landmark in 1981. The cemetery has an octagonal fence facing a chapel in a similar shape, making it one of the few octagonal camposanot in the Philippines.
The underground cemetery also served as the secret meeting place where KKK revolutionaries as well as patriots of the Filipino-American war, formulated their strategies.
Catholic members are buried in the large area within its walls while the underground crypts house priests and elites of the town. The interior paintings are already faded but the Spanish colonial architecture is well-preserved.
5. Familia Luzuriaga Cemetery (Bacolod City)
This cemetery is a world-record holder for being the only cemetery in the world located at the intersection of 2 highways. It is located where Lopez Jaena Street meets Burgos Street. It is locked year-round and closed to the public.
The cemetery is known to locals at Bangga Patyo or Cemetery Corner. The area where the Bacolod City Hall exists once belonged to the Ruiz de Luzuriaga family. They relinquished the area to the city government with only one condition: for the cemetery to remain where it stands; the request is honored to this day.
6. Sunken Cemetery (Catarman, Camiguin)
In the 1870s, one of the volcanoes of Camiguin, Vulcan Daan erupted. This caused the cemetery located at its foot to sink underwater. The site of the cemetery was marked with a simple cross.
Visitors go underwater and snorkel on the site. Rather than being creepy, marine life has flourished in the area with corals encrusting busts and tombstones that decorated graves. Today, a modern cross serves as the site’s landmark. The cross is massive and allows visitors to climb to its top and enjoy the view.
7. San Joaquin Camposanto (San Joaquin, Iloilo)
The Camposanto de San Joaquin in San Joaquin, Iloilo was declared a National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum on December 2015. It is part of the San Joaquin Church Complex. It features an arch at the entrance which leads to a grand staircase with a baroque style chapel or capilla, in the middle.
8. Inday Potenciana Shrine (Anda, Bohol)
In this cemetery, a mausoleum serves as a shrine for the remains of Inday Potenciana. She was said to be a kind and religious person who died in an accident in 1953. However, her body has remained uncorrupted ever since, although her skin has darkened a bit. Pilgrims visit her shrine to ask for favors as well as buy water and oil which are also said to be miraculous.
9. Badjao Cemetery (Sta. Cruz Island, Zamboanga)
In Sta. Cruz Island, Zamboanga City, a small cemetery is remarkable for its wooden grave markers that are shaped like boats, housing human effigies with smiles carved on their faces.
This grave site displays the long-held traditions of the seafaring Badjao people. The grave markers and effigies are meant to symbolize the deceased’ continued connections to the sea. The effigies have cloths wound around their heads to represent high-ranking individuals. The Badjaos visit the gravesite every August and they leave food and favorite posessions as offerings to honor their departed.
10. Cemetery of Negativism (Camp John Hay, Baguio)
The Cemetery of Negativism at Camp John Hay, Baguio houses no dead loved ones but is a place for to bury negative thoughts and feelings. It was conceived on November 11, 1905 and is apparently still unborn. A walk in the cemetery will show visitors technicolor cartoon animals and pun-filled epitaphs which encourages good vibes.