Necropolis, the city of the dead. Like in any cultures, Filipinos have a deep respect for the departed ancestors. From prehispanic, Spanish colonial era to modern times, tribes and modern society, cemeteries in the Philippines provide an interesting aspect of its culture, architecture and other practices. In this list, I’ve compiled some noteworthy sites covering the modern era, notable architecture, tribal practices and even the quirky, gathered from years of extensive travels around the country.
1 Libingan ng mga Bayani (Taguig City, Metro Manila)
It’s a sprawling area where the remains of more than 49,000 Filipino soldiers, heroes, martyrs and statesmen, including National Artists are interred. It was first created in 1947 to specifically preserve the memory of the more than 33,000 soldiers who died during World War II. In 1948, President Elpidio Quirino signed Republic Act 289, “An Act Providing for the Construction of a National Pantheon for Presidents of the Philippines, National Heroes, and Patriots of the Country.” In 1954, then President Ramon Magsaysay renamed it into the Libingan ng mga Bayani, or Heroes Cemetery. Inside, it’s not only these line of crosses neatly marking the graves but for the statesmen and heroes, are interesting tombs and memorials.
READ MORE: Day of the dead at Libingan ng mga Bayani
2 La Loma, Chinese and North Cemeteries (Manila, Metro Manila)
The Camposanto de La Loma (opened in 1884) is the oldest Catholic cemetery in Manila; the Manila Chinese Cemetery is the second oldest, and reserved for Chinese citizens denied burial in Catholic cemeteries during the Spanish colonial period when it opened, and now houses several Chinese descent Filipinos, and; the Manila North Cemetery, now under the jurisdiction of the city of Manila. These three cemeteries, just adjacent to each other, combined is perhaps the largest in the country, and since it was spared the bombings of World War II which ravaged and reduced the city of Manila into rubble, the second most destroyed city in the world, it is a very important repository of architecture.
Cemetery architecture is the prime reason that I visit these three, from the early nineteenth century to art deco, to streamline modern, to modernist and current, its the best place to experience the different styles spanning the 20th century. And second, the remains of important men and women in Manila, some notable people including memorials are here. For the taphophile, these is a must visit place.
3 The Lumiang Burial Cave (Sagada, Mt. Province)
The Cordillera up north in Luzon, like Mindanao, was least conquered by the Spaniards and thus, tribal practices were preserved, including burial rites. In Sagada, many of its caves, like Lumiang Cave, have becoming burial grounds with coffins from tree trunks carved with emblems piled on top of each other. In Echo Valley, the site of the popular hanging coffins of Sagada even includes the death chair. If you’ll look at the cliffs opposite these hanging coffins, there’s even a small cave up high with these coffins stuffed at the opening. Other than Sagada, the Mt. Province, Benguet and Ifugao has several other traditional burial sites, usually found in caves and rock shelters of which Kabayan is famous also for its fire mummies.
4 Nagcarlan Underground Cemetery (Nagcarlan, Laguna)
Built in 1845 by Franciscan Fray Vicente Velloc, the Nagcarlan Undergound Cemetery is one of a few octagonal camposanot in the Philippines. It’s a National Historical Landmark and it’s underground crypt, the ony one in the country. The common Catholics are buried in the sprawling area within the walls while the underground crypts are reserved for the priest and elites of the town. It’s also a well preserved Spanish colonial era cemetery although interior paintings have faded.
READ MORE: Exterior of Nagcarlan’s Underground Cemetery
5 San Joaquin Camposanto (San Joaquin, Iloilo)
Perhaps, the most stunning of all existing Philippine cemeteries built during the Spanish colonial era, the Camposanto de San Joaquin in San Joaquin, Iloilo has been declared as a National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum last December 2015 as part of the San Joaquin Church Complex. It has an entrance arch leading to a grand staircase with an ornate baroque capilla at the center. Although the one in Janiuay, in the same province, is grander, the most grand staircase in any comparable constructions in the country and a bigger capilla, it is in bad shape and badly deteriorated.
6 Inday Potenciana Shrine (Anda, Bohol)
Tucked in the northeastern part of Bohol, Anda is quite popular for its extensive white sand beaches, cave pools and dive sites, second only to Panglao, although less tourists visit this place. But at its quaint cemetery is an interesting find. Here, at a mausoleum and serves as a shrine where the remains of Inday Potenciana. Local and believers come here to pay homage, sort of a pilgrimage, to ask for favors and buy water and oil said to be miraculous. Inday Potenciana was said to be a very kind and religious person and having died in an accident in Mindanao in 1953, her body has remained uncorrputed till now, except that the skin has darkened a bit, due to a foul up before. PIlgrims do claim that there prayers and wishes have been granted.
7 Ornate Sepulcher (Bogo City, Cebu)
It was an unxpected find, but while visiting the Catholic cemetery of Bogo City in Cebu, something which I always do whenever visiting towns to check if there are still heritage architecture, especially during the Spanish colonial era, I found this ornate sepulcher. I’m not sure if there are others like it but in my extensive travels and visits of cemeteries around the country, this is the only one of its kind. Made from coral stones, it is well preserved and quite unique.
READ MORE: Bogo’s antique sepulcher
8 Sunken Cemetery (Catarman, Camiguin)
It was in the 1870s when Vulcan Daan, one of the volcanoes of Camiguin in Mindanao, erupted and for this upheaval, the cemetery located at its foot was sunk underwater. When I first visited Camiguin in 1987 during a vacation with the seminarians of my alma mater, the site of the graveyard was marked with a simple cross. Today, a modern and massive cross that you can climb till the topmost stands proudly. Tourists can also go underwater or snorkel and see how marine life has conquered the area. It’s even possible to see coral encrusted busts that used to decorate graves.
9 Bud Bongao Sacred Burial ground (Bongao Peak, Tawitawi)
Bud Bongao stands proudly and massively, dominating the island of Bongao, the capital town of Tawitawi. It is also one of the most respected sites by locals with its guardian macaques scampering around its grounds, waiting to be given food and bananas. But the most significant in this sacred peak is the presence of three tombs that locals say are the remains of the first or followers of the preachers who brought Islam to the south. Upon reaching the well tended graves, the scent of perfume fills the area and the devotee enters these graves barefoot to pray or offer homage.
10 Sta Cruz Island Badjao cemetery (Zamboanga City)
One of the interesting graveyards I have seen in the country belongs to the Badjao, sea gypsies, in the south. Especially in Sta. Cruz Island, famous for its pink sandy beach, there’s a Badjao graveyard several meters from the main beach. It’s interesting as atop the graves of their dead are boat like grave markers complete with effigies with the face drawn on the head part. And, especially if its around the month of August, wherein they visit these graves, a cloth canopy can still be seen.
This is not only in Sta. Cruz but in other islands as well where Badjao’s have their traditional areas. I have seen the same boat like gravemarkers in Sibutu Island which is four hours from Bongao by boat and closer to Malaysia.
READ MORE: Boat-like grave markers at a Badjao cemetery