More local governments closing cemeteries on 'Undas'

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — More cemeteries across the country will not see activities in the usual “Undas” tradition to prevent further spread of COVID-19.

As of Friday, eight local governments in Metro Manila announced they will close cemeteries to the public for a few days during the week of All Souls' Day.

These are Manila, San Juan, Valenzuela, Mandaluyong, Pateros, Malabon, Makati, and Parañaque. Cebu City in Central Visayas issued a similar order.

Manila Mayor Francisco "Isko Moreno" Domagoso was first to announce on Tuesday his directive to shut cemeteries and columbaries from Oct. 31 to Nov. 3.

It is on these days, he said, when huge numbers of people converge on cemeteries to pay respects to their departed relatives.

Moreno said he did not want large gatherings, but cemeteries can accept a limited number of visitors prior to Oct. 31.

Meanwhile, Mandaluyong Mayor Menchie Abalos, Valenzuela Mayor Rex Gatchalian, and Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella are ordering a longer closure, from Oct. 30 to Nov. 3.

Labella made it clear in his executive order that interment and cremation services should continue even on these dates.

For Pateros, Marikina, and Parañaque, it will be from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2.

Besides the three-day closure, Marikina Mayor Marcy Teodoro said his city will implement regulated cemetery visits from Oct. 15 to Nov. 30.

This means that relatives who intend to pay respects to their deceased loved ones must first acquire a visitor’s pass from the cemetery and choose from available dates in order to regulate the number of visitors. Only 30 percent of a cemetery’s capacity will be let in, Teodoro stressed.

The mayor added that the public may process their cemetery passes as early as Oct. 1. However, he reminded that those below 21 years old and those above 60 years old are still not allowed to go outside, as per the guidelines of the COVID-19 Inter-Agency Task Force, and thus would not be allowed a cemetery pass.

Other local governments are still studying whether to follow suit.

Taguig Mayor Lino Cayetano said on Wednesday that discussions among the city council members and other sectors in the city are still in progress, but that they "plan" to likewise adopt the same measure.

“We already got commitments from our Catholic cemeteries,” Cayetano said. “We will work closely with our private cemeteries also, but the key is to give alternatives like a longer window and limiting capacity even before or after All Souls’ Day.”

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines supports the closure of cemeteries, saying it's "more circumspect" to do so amid the pandemic. CBCP urges the Catholic faithful to remember their beloved dead at home and join the online masses instead.

"They can also light candles even in the confines of their own homes," Fr. Jerome Secillano, spokesperson for the CBCP, told CNN Philippines.

Metro Manila has the most COVID-19 cases in the country, more than half of the 252,964 infections nationwide as of Friday.