Kenneth Laridad, 25, is a construction worker who supplemented his family’s income during Undas by working part-time as a gravedigger or sepulturero. He was introduced to this job three years ago by his uncle and earns more than P1,000 for a few days cleaning around 10 graves.
However, like the other sepultureros, he will not have much additional revenue this year due to the pandemic. Before All Souls’ Day and All Saints’ Day, the local government mandated that all cemeteries be closed to the public from October 29 to November 2, and if there are customers, they come in small numbers.
“Para ito (kinikita) sa mga pambili namin. Dati nakatambay lang naman kami—depende rin kasi sa nagpapalinis, kung mabait ang may-ari. Ngayon ay madalang na at bilang na lang ‘yong pumapasok, ilan na lang ‘yong mga tao na pumapasok at iwas din,” Laridad said Thursday while waiting for his regular customer at the Old Cemetery.
Laridad, who seemed unhappy and gloomy, claimed he had only cleaned two graves, earning just P250 compared to what he used to make before the coronavirus outbreak wreaked havoc on everyone’s life.
“Dalawa pa lang nga kami tapos bukas magsasara na. Wala rin kasi, dati na mga ganitong oras ay nakakarami na kami pero ngayon wala talaga,” he said.
Bayani Dawal, 62, who has worked at a private cemetery for 10 years, has seen the same volume of visitors since 2020. Some families choose to clean their loved ones’ graves on their own rather than hiring someone to do it for them.
Dawal is unsure whether the situation would remain the same in 2022, but he is aware that residents are beginning to restrict their Undas visits as a precaution due to COVID-19.
Public cemeteries, memorial parks, and columbaria may open at 30 percent capacity before the five-day closure was ordered. Visitors will be restricted to 10 members of the immediate family and must adhere to minimum health regulations.
“Sila na rin mismo ang naglilinis ng puntod nila, noong una naghahanap pa talaga sila ng maglilinis. Pero ngayon, natuto na rin sila, sila na lang naglilinis,” he said.
“Umiiwas na rin sa lakad-lakad nila rito, gusto talaga nila na ‘pag dadalaw sila kapag kaunti ang tao. Hindi tulad dati na may mga kubo-kubo pa rito, ngayon wala kasi nga dahil sa pandemya,” he added.
Children working at cemeteries
Young people like Ivy, Michael, and Sherilyn may be spotted at the New City Cemetery continuously asking visitors if they need their cleaning services so they can earn extra money from Undas for their families.
Michael, 13, was first exposed to painting and cleaning graves when he was just eight years old. He continued to work as a gravedigger upon the suggestion of his friends in order to have money for his needs.
“Naglilinis na kami dati pero noong nagka-pandemic hindi muna kami naglinis, ngayon puwede na basta mag-face mask lang. Nakakaisang libo ako (noon), nasa 50 ang nalilinisan,” he said.
“Kami naman ay naglilinis at minsan nagpipintura– binibigay ko kay mama (yong kinikita),” Ivy said.
Ivy and Sherilyn both indicated a desire to earn at least P200 cleaning graves after days of labour, while Michael has already earned P500 through repainting the graves his customers had hired him to do so.
Despite the uncertainty over how long the pandemic will last and if limitations will be lifted, Ivy is not giving up hope of increasing her client base next year.
“Marami na siguro ‘yan,” she said.
“Baka marami na ‘yan,” Michael added.