FOR the village chief of Gun-ob in Lapu-Lapu City, allowing families to bury their dead at the cemetery in the barangay was a humanitarian issue.
“We don’t choose who gets buried there, especially amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic. It was already a cemetery when Lapu-Lapu was still a municipality,” said Barangay Captain Eleonor Fontanoza in Cebuano.
Fontanoza said the barangay prioritized indigent families who sought their help.
However, Lapu-Lapu Mayor Junard Chan said the City never gave the barangay permission to reopen the cemetery, which had been closed in 2015 because it was already full.
“The City Government had no idea this was going on or that most of those who were recently buried there died from Covid-19. Some were not even from the city,” he said in Cebuano.
Based on the inventory conducted by the City on Friday, July 24, 2020, a total of 219 bodies have been buried in the cemetery since the health crisis began in March. It has yet to determine how many died from Covid-19.
“The barangay captain did not even bother to check if the bodies were buried following health and safety protocol of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF). The IATF said that if a patient died from Covid-19, the body must be sealed before it is buried,” Chan said in Cebuano.
According to the joint memorandum released by the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the Department of Health (DOH) on April 16, the body of a Covid-19 patient must be cremated or buried within 12 hours after death.
If the body is to be buried, it must be in an airtight, tightly sealed steel coffin.
Chan said the newly buried bodies would have to be moved since burial niches were not prepared properly. Aside from being buried on top of each other, the bodies are only separated by hollow blocks and wood. He said residents have been complaining about the stench.
The mayor plans to seek the assistance of the National Bureau of Investigation 7 and the Philippine National Police in moving the bodies.
“The bodies were not even embalmed. Many of them were Covid-19 victims. Some of them have been buried for a month, and their burial niches were not properly sealed. That is why the whole area smells of death,” Chan said in Cebuano.
The City Government also received complaints that some remains were dug up and burned without coordinating with families or that each burial cost between P12,000 and P15,000.
However, Fontanoza denied the barangay charged for the burial in the public cemetery.
“Some persons petitioned the barangay, and we sat down with them in a conference. That was when we were told that someone at the cemetery was charging. However, we clarified that the barangay was not collecting any money. We were there to assist families who were burying their loved ones,” Fontanoza said in Cebuano.
Meanwhile, the barangay captain said she never thought the issue would garner so much attention and asked for public understanding.
“We never received a single centavo for the burial. For us here in the barangay, we were extending public service. The bodies had to buried; otherwise, these would be returned to the community. If the body belonged to a Covid-19 patient, then the public would have been more at risk,” Fontanoza said in Cebuano.
The mayor said the issue of the Municipal Cemetery was already brought up to the IATF. It is possible Fontanoza will soon receive a show-cause order from the DILG.
Chan said the City will also file criminal and administrative charges against the barangay captain.
He said the cemetery has already been closed. Those who want to enter need to coordinate with the City and wear personal protective equipment. (NDT / PJB)