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TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines (UPDATED) – Fr Isagani Petilos blessed the first dead he saw at the back of the Sto Niño church in Tacloban City, an hour after the storm surge receded on November 8, 2013.
Over the weeks that followed, he blessed hundreds of cadavers in temporary processing areas on the outskirts of the devastated city – one in Barangay Basper, the other in Barangay Suhi.
As a priest, he had been administering funeral rites widely observed in the predominantly Catholic in the city and across the province.
On December 15, more than a month after Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) struck, Petilos blessed the first 20 dead bodies at the Holy Cross Memorial Park in Barangay Basper, the designated final resting place of Yolanda victims in the city.
“While I’m blessing them, I can still imagine how they died, how they struggled. The most painful thing is that these cadavers have no identities at the moment, only numbers,” Petilos said.
Speeding up the burial
Under fire for failing to bury the remaining dead bodies in Tacloban City two months after the typhoon struck, authorities are speeding up the processing of cadavers brought to temporary mass graves.
On Saturday, January 4 – almost two months after the disaster happened – 952 bodies still await burial, according to rehabilitation czar Ping Lacson.
In their rush, they changed their deadline for finishing the burial of the remaining bodies not twice, but thrice, within the past 3 days.
On Sunday morning, January 5, Tacloban City administrator Tecson Lim said they will probably finish by Monday, January 6.
By Sunday afternoon, Lacson said authorities have finished burying most of the bodies – except for 49.
“There are only 49 bodies left after the NBI requested not to bury them today so they won’t exhume anymore in order to complete the process. They promised to complete everything tomorrow,” Rehabilitation czar Ping Lacson said in a text message.
Lacson earlier said it would be over before Sunday.
Then, another date popped up. “It’s been moved to Tuesday (January 7), weather permitting,” Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr of the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) said on Saturday, January 3, reiterating the new deadline Lacson has set.
The tedious process of identifying the dead is delaying the burial according to authorities.
“We have followed the international standards of laying them side by side in one layer,” Lim earlier said, stressing that this is to pay proper respect for the dead.
According to Lim, this will also allow the families to exhume their dead relatives for proper identification in the future.
Final resting place
As early as December 2013, the Tacloban City government bought a 6,500-square meter lot at the Holy Cross Memorial Park in Barangay Basper which would serve as the final resting place of the Yolanda victims.
“We have a resolution from the Sanggunian authorizing us to purchase the same from the donations we got,” Lim told Rappler in an earlier interview.
Based on the city architect’s estimate, about 2,500 bodies can be buried in the lot which cost the city government about P7 million, Lim told Rappler.
But not all the dead will be buried at Holy Cross yet. On Sunday, January 5, Lim said the burial team is still speeding up work at the Suhi site, where 558 cadavers will be buried temporarily.
At least 266 bodies – processed and unprocessed – were laid to rest at the Suhi gravesite as of Sunday morning, bringing the total number of buried bodies to 576 since January 2.
To date, at least 2,500 died and about 800 went missing in the city due to Yolanda, according to Lim. – Rappler.com