Zamboanga City’s mortuaries struggle to cope with increasing COVID-19 deaths

Frencie Carreon
Zamboanga City’s mortuaries struggle to cope with increasing COVID-19 deaths

COVID-19 DEATHS. Body bags at the Zamboanga City Medical Center (ZCMC) holding COVID-19 fatalities.

Photo courtesy of Zamboanga City Medical Center

Zamaboanga City has recorded 75 deaths from October 1 to 17

Mortuary workers in Zamboanga City have their hands full as more people have been dying of COVID-19 in the city – at least 75 in just over two weeks.

Coffins were selling fast in the last few weeks in the city – which doesn’t have a crematorium – because of the rising COVID-19 deaths, personnel from various funeral service companies said on Monday, October 18. 

Jodex Francisco of the Villa-Arcega Funeral Homes said they produced at least five new coffins daily last week alone because of the increase in demand, and then they ran out of cheaper ones over the weekend.

The cheapest coffin with a basic design costs P12,000 at Villa-Arcega.

Of the 75 COVID-19-related deaths logged by the City Health Office from October 1 to October 17, 16 were recorded on October 2, the highest so far in a single day.

The state-owned Zamboanga City Medical Center (ZCMC) has registered an average of six to seven COVID-19-related deaths in the hospital in the last two weeks.

Ivan Espiritu, a sales agent at St. Peter Funeral Homes, said they sold 50 caskets recently delivered from Oroquieta City in just three to four days.

His manager, Emmylou Mariano, said before the pandemic started last year, they only disposed of 24 caskets in two to three days, but the demand peaked starting in 2020 that they had to have a fresh supply from Oroquieta City every two days to cope with the growing demand.

La Merced Funeral Homes manager Dexter Enriquez said what they were seeing in recent weeks was a death rate similar to what they observed during the first wave of COVID-19 infections in Zamboanga in 2020.

“Parang first wave ‘yung rate ng death dito sa Zamboanga (The death rate here in Zamboanga is like that of the first wave),” Enriquez said. 

La Merced owns the biggest mortuary and funeral parlor in the city, and Enriquez said they have been referring some to Villa-Arcega Funeral Homes “to balance production.” 

Nancy Bernabe of Remedios Funeral Homes said their more expensive coffins were available but the families of those who prefer cheaper ones would have to wait for one to two days for their workers to produce coffins with basic design.

Zamboanga City has accounted for much of the single-day COVID-19 infections in the Zamboanga Peninsula, a region now in the Department of Health’s list of high-risk areas because the number of cases has overwhelmed local hospitals. –

Frencie Carreon is a Mindanao-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship.