Cemeteries packed as millions honour dead in Philippines

PHILIPPINES - Millions of Filipinos filled cemeteries across the country on Friday, All Saints' Day, to honour their dead in typically festive fashion despite appeals from the Catholic Church to keep the day solemn.

Police in Metro Manila went on full alert, though the yearly observance was peaceful, with no untoward incidents being reported.

There was heavy security as well at seaports and airports, with many residents of major cities rushing to get home to their villages in the provinces in time for "day of the dead" commemorations.

The Christian tradition dates back to the ancient practice in Rome, which honors all saints and martyrs who died for the faith. All Souls' Day, the day after, is often when those wanting to avoid the crowds of All Saints' Day visit the cemeteries to pay their respects.

But while the day of the dead is supposed to be solemn, Filipinos use it to plan family gatherings at the tombs, where drinking and even open-air karaoke singing sessions are held.

Family reunions

"It's like an annual family reunion to remember our departed loved ones," said 34-year-old housewife Mary Jane Mendoza, who went to the packed public cemetery in Barangka, Marikina City, to visit the tomb of her baby, who died last year from pulmonary illness.

"We've packed enough for a picnic for the whole day," she said, as she and her four other children struggled through a maze of narrow pathways in the cemetery.

The Catholic Church discourages partying on what is supposed to be a solemn day, but Filipinos tend to make a fiesta out of any occasion.

In Manila on Thursday, the Church praised a Halloween parade of children dressed as saints and angels.

But in Laoag City in Ilocos Norte province in the country's far north, the annual "Iloca-locano" Halloween festival, with a parade of vampires, witches, fantasy and action characters, went through despite rains brought by Typhoon "Vinta."

Power lines downed

Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos, dressed as a crowned spider, led the parade, which did not last long, as Vinta started to blow across the province on its way out of the Philippines.

There were no festivities in Cagayan province, where Vinta knocked down power lines on Thursday night.

The National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP) said damage to power lines cut electricity to Paoay and San Nicolas towns.

Lilibeth Gaydowen, NGCP spokesperson for north Luzon, said the Laoag-Marcos line was also damaged but repairs were completed at 9 a.m. Friday.

With the repairs finished, power was restored in Laoag City as well as in the towns of Piddig, Carasi, Sarrat, Marcos, Banna, Nueva Era, Dingras and parts of Vintar and Solsona.

Major roads were impassable, however, with toppled trees and landslides blocking the way.

In southern Luzon, day of the dead commemorations went peacefully, with thousands of police deployed to ensure security at seaports, airports and bus terminals.

In Camarines Sur province, security was signficantly tighter in Pili town and surrounding municipalities after nine inmates escaped from the Bicol penal farm in Tinagis village on Wednesday.

Pili Mayor Alexis San Luis said police tightened security in his town because they believed the escaped inmates were still there. Few travelers

In Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, Quezon), police noted fewer people were traveling to Mindoro and other provinces in the region on Friday.

Chief Supt. Jesus Gatchalian, Calabarzon police director, said only about 300 people departed from the port in Batangas City and there were no delays in vessel departures.

Gatchalian said All Saints' Day commemorations in the region were peaceful, with 4,000 police officers deployed to the cemeteries to ensure security.

Minor road accidents were reported in the provinces of Laguna and Cavite.

In Naga City, hundreds of people visited the graves of the late Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo, who died in a plane crash in Masbate province last year, and Sen. Raul Roco, who died in 2005.

In Bicol province, police reported peaceful day of the dead commemorations.

In Mogpog town, Marinduque province, girl and boy scouts helped the police in maintaining order in cemeteries.

Apartment-type tombs

In Marikina's Barangka cemetery, final resting places are called "apartment-type tombs" and are stacked on top of one another, reaching several meters high.

Mendoza, whose daughter's grave is on top, had to make the perilous climb up the structure just to light a candle and say a prayer.

Senior Insp. Eduardo Cayetano, chief for investigation of the Marikina Police, said 100,000 people were expected to flock to Loyola Memorial Park, but the day of the dead commemoration was peaceful.

The Catholic Church, meanwhile, put up a special website for the millions of Filipino workers abroad who could not come home to visit the graves of their dead.

Found at www.undasonline.com, the site is operated by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and allows those unable to make it home to offer special prayers for their deceased.

Visitors to the site simply have to list the names of their loved ones, and click a "prayer request" button.

Priests in Manila can then say a prayer on their behalf free of charge.