CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines – This one is for the books.
Seven couples exchanged “I do’s” and vowed “till death do us part” surrounded by the dead.
Cagayan de Oro Mayor Rolando Uy officiated the wedding of the couples at the city hall-owned public cemetery just days before thousands started flocking there in time for All Saints’ and All Souls’ days.
For the first time in two years of public health restrictions, the local government has opened the public cemeteries for the Undas tradition.
“They were the ones who wanted to get married there,” an amused Uy said after the couples tied the knot in a mass wedding ceremony witnessed by the newlyweds’ families and friends, and local officials on Friday, October 28.
Uy said most of the couples had lived together for years and raised families without getting married.
Abigail Malalis, staff at the City Information Office, said the couples were at home at the Cagayan de Oro Memorial Park because they either lived there or near the cemetery in Bolonsiri in the village of Camaman-an.
Some also grew up in the cemetery and were used to sleeping on tombs. Most of them also work either as cemetery vendors or caretakers.
“They’re informal settlers who were about to be relocated by the city government. Because the cemetery has a special place in their hearts, they chose to get married there before they are moved to a relocation site,” Malalis told Rappler.
City hall earlier asked the couples to get married first before they could become beneficiaries of its housing program in Pagatpat, another village east of the city’s biggest public cemetery.
The newlyweds are the following:
- Jether Daayata Agbayani and Jecelma Acuno Zayas
- Mae Jor Ancla and Trisha Jane Aba
- Roland Bartolata Jr. and Amormia Lascuña
- Mark Angelo Catungal and Ojela Mie Carpio
- Devie Boy Tagbo and Jessa Mae Quijada
- Carlos Patricion Salazar and Christy Gabales
- Androcols Zayas and Linda Villanueva
An amused Uy gave each couple a lechon, a wedding cake, a bottle of wine so they could celebrate their marriage, plus a sack of rice.
The mass wedding was held the same day local officials formally opened a new cemetery chapel and launched an online burial booking system for the memorial park that was given a facelift by the local government.
City hall has also built a new crematorium, a columbarium, and six of a dozen planned viewing chapels in the public cemetery that was expanded by the local government.
But just like other cemeteries, spooky tales about the dead and ghosts abound in the City Memorial Park, especially after many of those who died of COVID-19 in the city were hurriedly buried there.
Nearly 1,000 people have died of COVID-19 in Cagayan de Oro since the pandemic hit in 2020.
Just before Friday’s mass wedding, two cemetery caretakers said they found themselves dashing out of the cemetery after they saw what they described to be a ball of fire.
They said the dogs in the cemetery barked for hours before the alleged sighting.
The caretakers tried to rationalize their experience, saying they were among those who buried many COVID-19 victims there since 2020 sans religious rites because of public health restrictions.
The public cemetery is also the site of a mass grave of hundreds of still unidentified people who died in the floods spawned by tropical storm Sendong which flattened entire communities and brought Cagayan de Oro to its knees in 2011.
One of those who got married, Androcols Zayas, said stories about balls of fire, ghosts, white ladies, and other creepy things in the cemetery don’t bother them anymore.
“We’ve been here for years. Nothing happened to us,” he said. – Rappler.com