When one speaks of La Loma, 2 things easily come to mind. LECHON. And the old cemetery.
I joined a guided tour organized by the Museum Foundation of the Philippines with no less than Architect Manuel Noche guiding us through the flamboyant architecture and interesting history of this urban cemetery.
The great divide between rich and poor is very evident here. In death, as in life, the rich enjoy the prominence, the grandeur, the prime slots. One “street” in this city of the dead counts a number of mausoleums big enough to house several of the squatter-families of Manila. Prominent family names adorn the fronts of many of these flamboyantly designed mausoleums for the rich and famous. It’s like a “who’s who of Philippine High Society”.
A big pseudo-baroque chapel dedicated to Saint Pancratius within the cemetery which served as its funerary chapel from 1884 to 1962 is now fondly called “Lumang Simbahan” (literally translated “Old Church”). Rich and famous dead lying side by side in their private, marbled resting havens – – truly a city for the dead spanning 54 hectares of land in this former capital (Quezon City) of the Philippines. Spared from the ravages of war where much of Manila was bombed out during the 1945 Battle of Manila, but not spared from serving as execution site during the Japanese occupation. Just the same, Campo Santo de La Loma is a significant link to Philippine history and architecture. After all, this 2nd oldest cemetery (1884)counts among its buried citizens the important icons of history, the old rich and famous, religious leaders and the simply famous. And yes, you read that right. 1884. Second oldest public cemetery, according to Architect Noche. Paco Cemetery spanning only 4 hectares IS the oldest (1822).
Despite the heat, we trudged on dripping with enthusiasm and sweating with history lessons from our architect tour guide. If it were any cooler, i dare say these photos may remind one of the old cemetery tours done in Paris, Buenos Aires, and New Orleans.
All of 54 hectares within the metropolis. You’d think one should find better use for this land in this time and age. But it is an important piece of our history. I’m sure the hoi polloi would be interested to read up on the history of some of the prominent families interred here. Them are some of the aristocratic families of old. The illustrados. The hacienderos. Viejo familias. Their names ring familiar as many industries, companies, schools, even streets are named after them.
As we moved from mausoleum to mausoleum, from one gravesite to the next, we can’t help wonder how squatter-families live here. As we stood in awe viewing the grandeur of some architectural designs and sculptures, we also didn’t miss the empty gravesites where little children play nearby and where laundry hangs from a rope loosely hung between 2 trees. Mixed emotions here. I feel for these impoverished families, yet I lament that this “open air museum” seems to have been taken over by illegal occupants. I really hope our government finds a suitable relocation site where these families can resettle.
I know there are some who go visit on their own, but guided tours are best if one wants to appreciate the place’s historical and architectural significance. You may google all you want but you may miss out on some historical tidbits. Besides, it’s good to visit as a big group. It’s more fun!