Gravedigger Agustin Medina earned over P5,000 last year, cleaning and painting tombs a week before All Souls’ Day. This time, however, he only earned P400 from two customers because of the coronavirus disease that caused the temporary closure of all cemeteries in Puerto Princesa.
“Sa ngayon wala, nasa P400 lang, wala ngayon, naano ‘yong tao sa COVID. Wala halos nagpalinis. Pangalawa pa lang ito simula noong nakaraan, depende kasi sa tao kung magkano hindi naman pilitan ito. Hindi rin natin masabi pero kasi hanggang [October] 28 lang, sa [October] 29 ay sarado na lahat,” Medina said.
Medina, who does his job in the biggest cemeteries in the city, said he understands the direness of the situation and the need for people to be safe from COVID-19, but he cannot help lamenting the loss of what he could have earned from the special occasion.
He told Palawan News he was hoping to at least earn over a thousand because although people will not be seeing their dead loved ones, they would have their tombs painted and cleaned.
“Kahit sana makahigit isang libo, pangkain lang,” Medina said.
“Hindi na katulad noon na ako ang gumagawa ng nitso, ako ang humuhugot ng patay, ngayon ay taga-paint na lang ako ng lapida. Ito talaga ang hanapbuhay ko. Ang simula talaga namin diyan ay October 25, meron na ‘yan nagpapalinis,” he added.
Like him, Donato Aragon, a carpenter who sidelines as a gravedigger at the Old Cemetery since 2018, is also struggling for not having any profit this All Souls’ Day.
Aragon said he used to earn P500 per grave, but this time, he would be lucky if he can clean more than two graves.
“Ngayon lang talaga medyo hirap dahil pandemic. Dati maaga pa ay mayroon ng customers, October pa lang meron na nagpapalinis, pero ngayon halos wala. Medyo mahina talaga ngayon. Pangalawang linis pa lang namin ito,” Aragon told Palawan News while cutting grasses around a grave he was contracted to maintain.
“Ngayon hindi rin namin masabi kung makakarami kami kasi hirap sa pera,” he added.
As ordered by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease (IATF-EID), all private and public cemeteries, memorial parks, including columbariums throughout the country shall be closed to visitors from October 29 to November 4.
The IATF-EID said the number of visitors allowed to go should not be more than 30 percent of the venue capacity. They should wear face masks and full-face shields and practice physical distancing.
Flower, candle sellers feel the brunt too
Flower and candle sellers who depend on the occasion to earn additional profits are also feeling the brunt of the policy to temporarily close all cemeteries for a week.
Jennifer Paduga, who has been running a small flower shop for three years now in front of Loyola Memorial Park, said their accumulated sales at the moment are only 30 percent of what they earned last year.
Paduga said she also had to increase the prices of her flower arrangements by 20 percent because the cost of freight rose too.
Because of the pandemic and the temporary closure order, she said she had now learned how to sell her flowers online for those who will visit the cemeteries before October 29.
“Epekto talaga ng pandemya, bumaba ang sales namin. Noon ay mga second week ng October ay nag-start na ng booking arrangements, nagko-close na ako ng orders ng third week, pero ngayon ay open pa rin kami. Last week ng October ang dagsa ng mga tao, nag-o-open kami ng 6:00 a.m., pero ngayon wala pa, sobrang tumal. Ang laki ng epekto sa amin lalo na yong freight ng bulaklak, ngayon kasi ay nasa times three na,” she said.
“Marami-rami pa rin (ini-expect na bibili), mababawi naman kasi nag-increase din ako, yon ang bawi ko pero ang sales ay hindi na katulad dati. Meron akong nasa basket na dating P100 na ngayon ay P120, meron din last year P150 ngayon ay P200,” she added.
Emotionally hard for families
More than the gravediggers and the candle and flower sellers, the closure of the cemeteries on All Souls’ Day is much emotionally harder for those who cannot visit their dead loved ones.
Antonio Maruhay, 62, whose wife died due to cardiac arrest and was buried only on October 11 at the New Cemetery, said everything is still fresh for him so he wanted to visit her whenever he has the time.
But with cemeteries closed until November 4, he said there will be a gap in his daily visits.
“Hindi namin magagawa yong pagbibisita namin, kapag may pagkakataon lang, katulad ngayon na nakalilibing lang. Hindi namin alam kung kailan na namin mababalikan. Nailibing siya nitong October 11, wala na rin ako ibang binibisita rito. Medyo sariwa pa pero itong petsa uno ay hindi na kami magbalik dito. Magpahinga muna,” he said.
“Taga-Cebu ako, dito ay nagtrabaho sa city government. Noong nag-retire na ako, kung saan may plano na kami umuwi sa amin, saka pa nangyari ito. Araw-araw naman ako nandito, kung kailan na puwede na siya bisitahin uli, nandito kami uli,” he said.