MANILA, Philippines — All mayors in Metro Manila have agreed to close cemeteries in their jurisdictions during the observance of All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days to prevent mass gatherings amid the coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19 pandemic, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) reported yesterday.
According to MMDA general manager Jojo Garcia Jr., the decision was reached through the agency’s chat group with the local chief executives ahead of their meeting last night where uniform guidelines for the observance of Undas were crafted.
“Mayors have unanimously agreed on this. But when it comes to the guidelines, we still haven’t decided yet. We will meet at 8 p.m. tonight and by tomorrow (Monday), we would have the decision,” Garcia told The STAR.
The closure of cemeteries in Metro Manila is a first in history as All Saints’ Day celebration in this predominantly Catholic country traditionally draws millions of people visiting the graves of their dead.
Garcia said the decision to close cemeteries was reached to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The mayors were expected to iron out the guidelines, including the days covered by the closure and possibly, the adoption of measures that several cities have enforced such as San Juan’s ban on trick or treating and Marikina’s use of cemetery passes.
Manila was the first city to ban visitors in all private and public cemeteries, memorial parks and columbaries from Oct. 31 to Nov. 3.
Under Executive Order 38 signed by Mayor Isko Moreno, only interment and cremation services for non-COVID cases will be allowed under strict health protocols during the period.
In San Juan City, aside from banning visitors in cemeteries and columbaries, trick or treating and other Halloween activities were also prohibited under Executive Order 49 signed by Mayor Francis Zamora yesterday.
Zamora said Halloween festivities, which are part of Undas, are banned in the city, including gated subdivisions, condominiums, parks and malls.
Mandaluyong Mayor Menchie Abalos issued a similar order yesterday, reminding her constituents that the ban on mass gatherings remains in effect under general community quarantine or GCQ.
Marikina Mayor Marcelino Teodoro said the same measures would be implemented in the city during Undas.
Teodoro said the residents would be allowed to visit their dead from Oct. 15 to Oct. 30 and from Nov. 3 to Nov. 30.
Marikeños are required to secure passes from the city government to limit the number of persons in cemeteries.
Teodoro said senior citizens and children would not be allowed to head to cemeteries. Bringing of food and drinks and setting up of tents are also prohibited.
Metro Manila remains under GCQ until Sept. 30.
Even if Filipinos would not be able to observe Undas due to the COVID-19 threat, the Philippine National Police (PNP) said it would still be enforcing measures to ensure that health protocols are not violated.
PNP deputy director for administration Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar said police commanders nationwide have been ordered to coordinate with local government units (LGUs) in crafting protocols for the Undas break.
Eleazar said early preparations are underway, especially in big public cemeteries to help LGUs map out their plans.
“Early preparation is necessary in order to give the LGUs, the local police and other concerned agencies enough time to come up with the best plans to protect the people from infection,” he said.
Police chiefs were also directed to coordinate with local officials in securing public and private cemeteries on the days leading to All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days to prevent mass gatherings.