Cagayan De Oro City

Cagayan de Oro councilor gets schooled for Bible use in cemetery project debate

Herbie Gomez
Cagayan de Oro councilor gets schooled for Bible use in cemetery project debate

cagayan de oro councilor zaldy ocon.

Zaldy ocon FB page

The plan is to close the nine-hectare cemetery and develop an adjacent 10 hectares into an environment-friendly memorial park

Cagayan de Oro councilors on Monday, October 18, engaged in a heated debate about a multimillion-peso cemetery project that ended with one legislator reciting scriptures and another schooling him about why it was unacceptable for him to turn the meeting into a Bible study session.

The project, estimated to cost over P350 million, would require the exhumation and transfer of the remains of thousands to a planned columbarium within a 19-hectare city hall property in Bolonsiri in the village of Camaman-an.

The plan is to close the nine-hectare cemetery and develop an adjacent 10 hectares into an environment-friendly memorial park.

Councilor Edgar Cabanlas called out his fellow legislator, Zaldy Ocon, for warning the city council about the “wrath of God” if it allowed the exhumation of the remains of the dead at the present cemetery.

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Ocon, a self-professed Catholic faith defender, cautioned the city council against the plan and asserted that the local government would be courting the ire of God if they proceeded with the “desecration” of the 39-year-old cemetery.

He called the cemetery “sacred ground,” citing biblical passages as bases for his assertion.

Ocon also told members of the city council to “memorize the verses,” particularly 2 Kings 23: 17-18, Ezekiel 37:1-7, and John 5:28-29.

The Old Testament passages were anecdotes while the New Testament verses were about the resurrection doctrine, and Ocon interpreted these as divine commandments.

“I am not against the project, per se. What I am saying is that we should leave the bones alone because the cemetery is sacred. Let’s buy another piece of land and then develop it into a cemetery,” Ocon said.

Councilor Cabanlas, a lawyer, called out Ocon and asked him not to bring dogma into the city council.

“That is why we have the separation of Church and State. It means we can’t legislate based on our religious beliefs,” Cabanlas said.

“Let us not throw Bible verses into our discussion about a government matter, about something that’s of public interest. There was a time when religions and governments mixed but soon, people saw that it was not a good thing and changes were made,” he said.

Cabanlas told Rappler on Tuesday, October 19, that faith-based legislation discriminates against citizens with religious beliefs that differ from what legislators hold. 

He said faith-based legislation was like imposing a specific dogma on citizens who have different religious belief systems.

He said it would also be discriminatory toward those who have no religious beliefs. 

Cabanlas pointed out that citizens, regardless of religious beliefs or the absence of it, should enjoy equal rights and deserve laws or government actions that don’t tend to favor specific religions.

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Over Magnum Radio on Tuesday, Monsignor Rey Monsanto, a consultor of the local Catholic Archdiocese, said Ocon’s assertion that the remains of the dead should not be dug up was not part of the Catholic dogma.

“The Church had the remains of holy people exhumed before they were declared as saints. We would frown on grave robbers, of course. Normally, we don’t exhume. So it depends on the reason for the exhumation,” Monsanto said.

Another councilor, Jocelyn Rodriguez, said she was opposed to the project because she didn’t want city hall borrowing from a bank for a project that won’t benefit the living.

Rodriguez said city hall should instead spend money to aid people suffering as a result of the pandemic.

The project was conceptualized as a result of a 2019 report by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) that the present public cemetery was already reeking with the embalming chemical formaldehyde that endangers the area’s groundwater. –Rappler.com