Espinoza: Detaining cadavers by funeral parlors would soon be illegal?

Once it is approved by the Cebu City Council, the proposed city ordinance authored by neophyte councilor, lawyer Rey M. Gealon would outlaw the practice of some operators of morgues or funeral homes of not releasing cadavers for burial just because the mortuary services are unpaid yet.

In the explanatory notes, the measure states that “the burial of dead persons is regulated by law as declared in Presidential Decree 856 or the Code of Sanitation of the Philippines and the business of funeral establishments is subject to the regulatory and police power of the State.”

Gealon’s proposed ordinance further states that “the policy of the State as provided in Section 1, Article XIII of the 1987 Constitution to give highest priority to the enactment of measures that protect and enhance the right of all the people to human dignity, reduce social, economic, and political inequalities, and remove cultural inequities by equitably diffusing wealth and political power for the common good; and Section 458 (a) (4) (ix) of Republic Act 7160 or the Local Government Code provides that the Sangguniang Panlungsod shall regulate the establishment, operation and maintenance of funeral parlors and the burial or cremation of the dead, subject to existing laws, rules and regulations.”

In a related development, House Bill 1292 that Makati Rep. Luis Campos Jr. authored seeks to penalize any morgue or funeral home employee or officer who refuses to release a cadaver as security for the payment of the mortuary services with an imprisonment of up to six months and a fine of up to P50,000. Campos said that “it is cruel and inhuman for morgues and funeral homes to hold hostage the remains of the deceased for financial gain. It is a shameful and anti-poor business practice that should be condemned by Congress.”

Section 1 of Gealon’s proposed ordinance states that “it shall be unlawful for any establishment engaged in rendering funeral, burial or interment, cremation, memorial, and other allied services to refuse or to deny to render their services to bereaved families, who have engaged their services but failed to settle their balance, bill or other payables when the refusal or denial would result in the delay of the burial of dead persons.”

Section 2 further provides that “the establishments covered under the preceding section shall complete the rendition of their services to ensure the burial of dead persons in accordance with sanitary regulations upon the execution of a promissory note covering the unpaid obligation.”

Gealon’s legislation and House Bill 1292 have a similar provision, which is requiring the surviving family to execute a promissory note for the release of the cadaver for burial. But in Gealon’s proposed city ordinance, the promissory note shall be “secured by either a mortgage or by a guarantee of a co-maker, who will be jointly and severally liable with the bereaved family or next of kin of the deceased for the unpaid obligation.”

The penalties and fines, however, vary. In House Bill 1292, the imprisonment is up to six months and the fine is up to P50,000. In Gealon’s proposed city ordinance, the penalty of imprisonment is six months but it must not exceed one year and the fine is only P5,000, but failure to comply with the mandate of the proposed city ordinance is a ground for the cancellation or revocation of the business and sanitary permits of the funeral home.

These two proposed laws are undoubtedly pro-poor and an enhancement of the Sanitation Code since it would be unsanitary to keep those unclaimed cadavers.