By Martin Sadongdong
Twenty-two-year-old Leo, a grave-digger, walked amid the mix of soil and trash towards a four-story high apartment-type wall holding the remains of at least 552 persons at the Pasay City Public Cemetery and Crematorium. They call this the “Duterte compound.”
“Those who were killed in Oplan Tokhang, those who were killed by riding-in-tandem gunmen, those who had long been buried – they are all housed here. I personally buried Siaron and that one on his right,” Leo told the Manila Bulletin during a visit pointing to Siaron’s tomb. Michael Siaron was gunned down during an Oplan Tokhang operation and got the attention of the local and international media when he was photographed being cradled by his live-in-partner he was shot on July 23, 2016.
Richard Casil, 19 who was gunned down two weeks after in an alleged pot session is buried next to Siaron. Casil’s photograph is posted atop his tomb stone. Three pieces of bread were left probably by relatives visiting him ahead of All Saints’ Day.
“His mother said he was just in the area when police responded. I don’t know, I don’t meddle with those things as long as I fulfill my job — to bury them. I have a total of four ‘alaga’ here who either died in police operation or killed by gunmen. My co-workers have their own ‘alaga’ too,” Leo said in Filipino.
Alaga, Leo explains is the tomb of the dead he takes care of. His two other ‘wards’ are RonieNaje, 48, and Jilmar Gaton, 17. Naja was attending a friend’s wake on October 6, 2016 when he was shot dead by unidentified gunmen. Police said he was a drug suspect who had surrendered under Oplan Tokhang.
Gaton, on the other hand was killed last August 9, 2017. Like Casil, he has a photo on a tomb he shares with five other relatives. He too, was a victim of the drugs war, Leo said.
People familiar with “Duterte Compound” which included a 17-year-old grave digger led Manila Bulletin to it. Even barangay officials know where it is.
‘No Duterte Compound here’
But the management of the Pasay City Public Cemetery denied the existence of the compound named after the President who ordered an all-out war against illegal drugs.
“There’s no such thing as ‘Duterte Compound’ here,’” said Maria Christina Tuazon, a staff of the cemetery.
“I don’t know why they call it that way. Probably it started last year, when a media network reported about it saying it was the Duterte Compound. Maybe they interviewed a couple of residents who told them that, but in reality, nothing,” she explained.
Tuazon said the building was a project of Pasay City’s lone representative Emy Calixto-Rubiano and Mayor Antonino Calixto, which started in 2012 and is currently on its fourth phase.
The third phase dubbed by the cemetery personnel as “High-rise, Apartment-type Niches” was inaugurated just last October 23, 2017.
The 3.6-hectare cemetery was built to accommodate the dead being buried in the area.
Tuazon said it is unfair for locals to call it the Duterte Compound since not all of those buried in the apartment are victims of the drug war. Naming it as Duterte Compound paints a negative image of President Duterte and his strong campaign against war on drugs, she added.
“This is a cemetery, of course we will bury the dead people there. May it be victims of the drugs war, or by unidentified gunmen. Also, they are not the only ones housed there, there are those who died during 1990s, or earlier buried there. Is ‘Tokhang’ already implemented during that time?” she said.
“Duterte compound or not, we have to keep this cemetery clean. This is one way of showing our respects to the dead, victims of drugs war or not,” Tuazon said.
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