Nestled between two massive landmarks—the Ayala Center and Century City—and wrapped inside cracked and crumbling concrete walls, the old Makati Catholic Cemetery for some weeks has been under development assault.
For years it had become an ignored and neglected spot, whose memories have been blurred by time, a serene sanctuary away from the roar of an overmotorized city.
Kalachuchi trees in full bloom dispersed a delicate perfume. Families, sardined within a community among the dead, eked out their days, heedless of the unsympathetic rush of current culture nearby. Amid the tall trees, they went about their daily chores inside makeshift houses under leaf-filtered light and the kerosene lamps at night.
The landscape is going to be altered irreversibly—its essential spirit, that of an affirmation of life’s fleetingness—and soon wrested out of everything except for the memories and ghosts.
Pssst, hello there! A yellow bulldozer, demolition equipment, and wrecking crew are busy changing the surface of the land. The overturned earth has caked and turned to a toughened crust. The kalachuchis and the old trees were sawed down to make way for a new, state-of-the-art columbarium to inter the more elite community of spirits.
The once-loved dead, now forgotten and left behind under talahib-choked graveyards, a lot of them unmarked will be forever past and gone.
Squatters who initially refused to be bulldozed away were forced to abandon their homes and said goodbyes to their spooky connections.
Pssst, hello? It is a panorama of destruction, with hints of otherworldliness and repose especially at nights with only a vaguely-lit moon shining upon the area, and some torn-up plastic bags stuck in what is left of the dry rot trees whipping in the occasional breeze.
Peeking inside the ravaged cemetery, we sense the lingering here-ness of the dead ones’ absence yet on a less lamentable perception, the wreckage is but an essentially flowing circumstance of urban ecology.
In contrast, the Manila South Cemetery in the abutting neighborhood is alive and happily embraces the flood of people, dead or alive, within its fold.
Life cannot be easily appreciated until death is understood. It is impossible to see one without seeing the other because both are inextricably bound together.
We think of death only as something of a mathematical possibility, that it is what happens to somebody else we knew who won’t be coming back. A loved one dies, we hoard the pain of our loss, sort out our feelings. Gradually, the emotional kinship wanes with time and the wound metamorphoses itself into a well-loved closed book.
We die, of course, but at least, we reckon, not right away because we’ve got better things to do and places to go. In life we are just transients; thinking about death, without necessarily dwelling on it, is useful because it lets us focus on life and all the rainbow colors of living it.
Photos by Diana B. Noche
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