It was early afternoon and the surge of people was already heavy, passing through manned checkpoints with women segregated from the men. Liquor, gambling items and musical instruments including karaoke machines were put at one side. It is bawal, forbidden to bring in these items into the Cemetery of Heroes, the Libingan ng mga Bayani in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City.
Boxcars, wall of valor, war memorials, Bataan Death March markers. These are just some of the reminders of the horrors of war, man’s cruelty to his fellow men and the Philippines wasn’t spared. After World War II, Manila was the second most destroyed city in the world. For Filipino Catholics, the first two days of November is very important as it marks All Saints Day and All Souls Day festivities. It is one of the most important holidays when almost the entire nation is moving back to the provinces: airports, bus terminals and ports are full of passengers going home to pay respects and remember their departed loved ones.
It is this time that cemeteries across the nation comes alive with people lighting candles, , flowers, offering prayers, and, for family reunions with food and drinks and a little bit of merryment.
But instead of going home to Cebu, I was just in Makati and visited the hallowed grounds of departed heroes.
The Libingan ng mga Bayani is a national cemetery for military personnel from privates to chiefs of staff. But presidents (Carlos P. Garcia and Diosdado Macapagal), vice presidents, chief justices, national artists, scientists and other people of same or accorded of such stature are also interred here.
From the center, where the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier can be found, the tombs are arranged in circular fashion with the inner core reserved for presidents and high ranking government officials. Several portions of the arcing arrangement are then reserved for national artists, bemedalled heroes, generals, chiefs of staffs and majority of the space, till the perimeter are for privates.
A walk around the cemetery grounds is a lesson in the country’s political and recent military history represented by the men and women who are interred there. For the high ranking persons, the tombs are stylized, either round, rectangular, or with ornaments. Majority are just plots in the ground with a cross on it.
There are also several monuments or pylons dedicated to specific conflicts where our soldiers have died. It includes the Korean Memorial Pylon where 112 Filipino soldiers lost their lives. There’s also the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Pylon and Philippine World War II Guerrillas Pylon.
Late afternoon and the influx of people continued. Several families placed plastic tarps and mats over their plots to spend either a few hours or overnight. Some were bringing in tents and food containers. At the sides are several stores selling food and drinks.
As dusk descended in the cemetery, candles were lighted that gave the place a rather solemn feel despite the chaos of visitors. Just like what it was in my town’s cemetery. Familiar. And it made me smile and at the same time, yearned for home and family.