It’s that time of the year once again when the Urban Roamer embarks on a different roaming adventure to visit not a place for the living, but a place for the departed ones. This time, it is a privilege for me to finally get the opportunity to visit the largest public cemetery in Metro Manila today: none other than the Manila North Cemetery.
Originally, the Manila North Cemetery was part of a bigger cemetery complex owned by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Manila that included what are now the La Loma Cemetery and the Chinese Cemetery. After the allocation of the property to the Chinese community in Manila for the building of their own cemetery, 54 hectares was parceled off from the original property for use as a public cemetery, a cemetery that will be open for anyone who wishes to be buried there, regardless of religious or ethnic background. (in contrast to the aforementioned cemeteries that were already in operation at the time) By 1904, with the American government set firmly in place in Manila, and the Philippines in general, the cemetery which was also known before as the “Cementerio del Norte” was opened.
Back in its day, it was considered one of the greenest and most beautiful spots in the city. (despite it being a cemetery) It was an oasis of lush greens and towering trees that gave shade from the sweltering heat. While today we may no longer see the lush greeneries thanks to war and “overcrowding” of the dead, it is comforting to know there are still remains of that old charm of Manila North Cemetery that still manages to allure the senses.
It is also a place of prestige of sorts too as many illustrious personages in history were buried here over the years: American governor general Francis B. Harrison; the Thomasite teachers; presidents Sergio Osmeña, Manuel Roxas, and Ramon Magsaysay; senators Quintin Paredes, Claro M. Recto; arts and entertainment icons Jose Corazon de Jesus, Amado Hernandez, Atang dela Rama, and, in contemporary times, Fernando Poe Jr.; as well as sports icons like the first Filipino world boxing champion Pancho Villa, or Francisco Guilledo in real life. There are also illustrious familes buried here like the Nakpils, Basas, Ongpins, and the Tuasons.
What also makes this cemetery unique is the presence of plots specially dedicated to those belonging to certain groups. Foremost of which is the Mauseleo de los Veteranos de la Revolucion that served as the final resting place for the fallen heroes of the Philippine Revolution. There are also plots dedicated to the Freemasons, the Boy Scouts of the Philippines, (a cenotaph to be specific, honoring the Boy Scouts who died in a plane crash in 1963 en route to the 11th World Jamboree) American war veterans, and even Jews.
And being a cemetery ran by the City of Manila, it should be no surprise to see prominent Manilenyos buried here as well: past mayors like Manuel dela Fuente, Arsenio Lacson, and Antonio Villegas; representative Ernesto Nieva; councilor and erst-while actor Larry “Pipoy” Silva. There is also a section of the cemetery that honors those that belong to the “Manila’s Finest,” those of its police force who died in the line of duty.
Like its neighboring cemeteries, the Manila North Cemetery is rich with so much architectural beauty, with different mausoleums found here built in various architectural styles.
Being a cemetery open to all walks of life as a final resting place, it also serves as a microcosm of sorts of our society today: a study of contrasts between the rich and poor as far as burial is concerned. Going beyond that, this also extends to the realm of the living as one could not fail to see the people who not only make a living but living here as well, calling this particular, unlikely environment as a place they have come to call home.
With all the problems the Manila North Cemetery is facing right now, there still exists a certain charm in the place that perhaps is a factor as to why many still wish to buried there. I hope that the time will come that the Manila North Cemetery may be able to someday reclaim its old glory to become a place that we can be proud of again, regardless of being a cemetery and all.
© The Urban Roamer