MANILA— San Juan City on Friday started implementing scheduled and regulated visits in its cemeteries and columbaries to allow the public to pay respects to their departed loved ones before memorial parks are shuttered to prevent crowding amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The city’s local government mandated a reservation scheme in all cemeteries and columbaries city-wide from October 16 to 28 and from November 5 to 15.
People will have to reserve slots to enter the St. John Memorial Park and San Juan City Cemetery and columbarium at the Sanctuario del Santo Cristo and St. John the Baptist Parish, among others. This can be done online or through phone.
All accepted reservations will be given confirmation slips which they need to present at the cemetery’s entrance.
Among the first ones to enter the San Juan City Cemetery on Friday were Orick San Pedro and her daughter.
San Pedro said she's sad because visiting cemeteries during Undas has been a tradition and it was about spending quality time among relatives while remembering their departed loved ones.
“Cousins, magkakapatid, nagba-bonding dito, nagpi-prepare ng food... Pero sa nangyari ngayong may pandemic, siguro after ng kung kailan closed ang cemetery, tsaka kami dadalaw. 'Yun nga lang, batch, batch na lang.” San Pedro said.
(The immediate family and relatives of the departed have used this time to bond by preparing food, among others. But because of the pandemic, maybe we will just visit once cemeteries open again but in batches.)
Visits in the city's cemeteries are allowed from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m., but it will only be limited to 2 hours per batch and only 2 per family will be permitted to enter.
- 7 a.m. to 9 a.m.
- 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.
- 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
- 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
- 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
- 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
- 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
- 9 p.m. to 11 p.m.
San Juan City Mayor Francis Zamora said multiple reservations would be allowed but only 2 persons each family were permitted to visit at a given schedule.
Each batch can only accommodate 270 people or less than 30 percent of the cemetery’s capacity to ensure that physical distancing will be followed.
“‘Yong bilang ng dumarating ‘di pa umaaabot ng 270. Pero we expect na ang mga petsa na malapit sa Undas ay medyo marami [na] kasi closest [ang mga ito] to actual Undas dates,” Zamora said.
(Those who earlier visited the cemeteries were less than 270. But we expect that more people will visit as the date of Undas nears.)
“Puwede naman gumawa ng multiple reservations. ‘Di tayo naglilimita kung ilang beses niyong gustong dumalaw. Bawat pamilya, 2 miyembro lamang puwede dumalaw nang sabay sapagka't ang ibang nitso ay maliliit. Magsisiksikan sila,” he added.
(We allow multiple reservations and we don’t limit how many times they want to visit. But the visits are limited to 2 people per family because some burial niches are small. It could get crowded.)
The mayor also said walk-in visitors would be accommodated as long as their preferred schedule does not exceed the 270-person limit per batch.
He added that 15 minutes before the 2-hour limit is up, a public address system would remind cemetery visitors that they only have several minutes remaining to leave so that the next batch could come in.
Cemetery management officers will also roam the areas.
“Kung sakaling may gustong magwalk-in at di nakapagpa-reserve... Kung ang time slot ay ‘di pa puno, puwede silang papasukin. Basta hindi lalagpas sa 270,” Zamora said.
(If some people wish visit but failed to reserve a slot, as long as there's a slot available in that batch, they would be allowed to enter provided that the people inside won't exceed at 270.)
Alvin Francia was one of those walk-in visitors.
Francia explained he wasn’t aware he needed to reserve for a slot, but added he would make a reservation for Oct. 28, hoping to visit the grave of his parents again.
“Tinignan ko lang kung malinis. Nilinis ko na rin at winalis 'yung sa loob. Magpapa-schedule ako kung kailan uli ako makakabalik para matirikan sila ng kandila,” Francia said.
(I just wanted to check if the burial niche is clean. I already cleaned it. I will schedule my next visit so I could pay my respects to them.)
He said visiting cemeteries was not the same anymore, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. He described it as "difficult."
“Mahirap. Hindi na nakakadalaw mga kamag-anak. Di tulad dati nagkikita-kita mga magkakamag-anak. Ngayon mahirap kasi. Di tulad dati, ganito matao na rito. Wala naman tayong magagawa. 'Yan ang protocol ng gobyerno eh.”
(It was difficult. I could no longer visit my relatives. We used to meet each other to visit the cemetery. Around this time before, this place was already crowded, but we can't do anything because it's the government's order.)
Aside from the scheduled visits, health and safety protocols will also be observed.
Visitors need to undergo thermal scanning and sign a health declaration form before they are allowed to enter the cemeteries. Wearing of face masks and face shields is also strictly enforced.
Meanwhile, selling food, candles and flowers in the cemeteries is prohibited.
The inter-agency task force leading the country's COVID-19 pandemic response earlier ordered the closure of public and private cemeteries nationwide from October 29 to November 4 to avoid mass gatherings during All Saints Day and All Souls' Day that may further spread COVID-19.