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Life inside the cemetery slums of the Philippines

The Manila North Cemetery was inaugurated in 1904 and is one of the largest and oldest in the Philippines. Sconfined rows of graves that seem stacked on top of each other and mausoleums of all kinds extend for 540,000 square meters, hosting about a million dead and at the same time about six thousand people living in the largest cemetery in the metropolis.
With its twelve million inhabitants, Manila is one of the most densely populated cities in the world. Many Filipinos have moved to live from the countryside to the city in search of better opportunities. Unfortunately, finding a job is not easy and, over time, people arrived from the countryside have gone to increase the communities that live in the slums of the capital.
Some of these slums have developed within public cemeteries. People live in shacks built with salvaged materials over the tombs, or inside mausoleums furnished with beds and furniture. The basic necessities are scarce: clean water, sanitation and electricity are almost completely absent. The families take the electricity illegally from the public line, and inside the cemetery there are only two or three wells of water.
This condition, albeit with lower numbers, is the same in other cemeteries of the city (such as that of Pasay City) and other major cities of the country, such as the cemetery of Cebu City, the capital of the Central Visayas region, where about a thousand people live in the public cemetery.
In the North Cemetery of Manila, the first barracks emerged in the early 50s. Many people were born and raised in the cemetery where they also started their own business, such as Maricar De La Cruz: "I was born and raised in this place, I've lived here for forty years. With my husband we opened a shop where we sell many different things". Maricar lives here with her three children of six, eight and eleven years old.
Some members of the community work as guardians, paid by relatives of the dead for the maintenance of the tombs. Others, like Leni Cabaña, do the same without an agreement, in the hope that the family of the deceased give them a small fee. "The days here are all the same: I clean the graves, so if the families come to visit their relatives they find them clean" explains Leni, sitting on a tomb with her son in her arms. Her companion raises pigeons with a friend in a large aviary. "So we make a living," concludes Leni.
Other residents work as bricklayers to build tombs, or make candles with recycled wax for the people who go to visit their loved ones; others engrave the tombstones, a very fruitful job given the number of funerals that are celebrated every day: about eighty.
The density of the tombs is so high that it often prevents funeral cars from getting to the place of burial: it is common for relatives and friends of the dead to carry the coffins on their shoulders, climbing on the gravestones and making their way through the houses.
The cemetery is a small town with shops, bars that provide wifi, karaoke or video games, ice cream vendors and street food, basketball courts. Many have chosen to live on the graves of their family, many others in the mausoleums of unknown people.
In these homes, those who can afford it watch television. The numerous children play among the tombs, where it is easy to run into bags of human bones and torn clothes of exhumed and abandoned bodies, waiting to be incinerated. Since the tombs are generally rented for five years, if the relatives of the dead stop paying for the space, the cemetery administrators exhume the remains
creating new spaces. In the cemetery there are also groups of children without families, who are often stunned by the glue used as drug and are dedicated to begging in the streets of the metropolis.
In 2016, the war on drugs started by President Duterte and which cost 12,000 lives in the country has created a sense of fear in the community. Here numerous police and extra-judicial killings have taken lives from dozens of people, often suspected of somehow dealing with drugs. According to the PNP Filipino police, the cemetery was home to a large number of methamphetamine pushers, because many people were involved in drug dealing to survive due to poverty.
In 2018, the situation seemed to be calmer due to a balance between the decrease in police operations, a drop in extra-judicial killings and the fear generated in the previous two years, which prompted many drug users to turn themselves in for not being executed.
Over time, several mayors have tried to displace the community inside the cemetery, as told by Joalberto Locañas who has been living in a mausoleum with the family for over twenty years: "Some time ago, they destroyed the houses to send us away, but the situation now is quiet, the mayor lets us live here. It is not easy, we are here because we are poor and we have no other places to go".
Overview of a part of the North Manila cemetery, where houses were built above the tombs.
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Overview of a part of the North Manila cemetery, where houses were built above the tombs.
Children play outside one of the many mausoleums used as dwellings in the North Manila cemetery.
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Children play outside one of the many mausoleums used as dwellings in the North Manila cemetery.
A family watches television inside a house built inside a mausoleum.
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A family watches television inside a house built inside a mausoleum.
A boy sleeps inside a mausoleum.
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A boy sleeps inside a mausoleum.
Two children in a house inside a mausoleum. Their family has chosen to live in the mausoleum of relatives for more than ten years.
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Two children in a house inside a mausoleum. Their family has chosen to live in the mausoleum of relatives for more than ten years.
A group of children plays in the streets of the cemetery in Cebu City, where they live with their families
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A group of children plays in the streets of the cemetery in Cebu City, where they live with their families
Boys play basketball in front of the graves where the basket was placed.
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Boys play basketball in front of the graves where the basket was placed.
A boy sniffs glue in the Pasay City cemetery.
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A boy sniffs glue in the Pasay City cemetery.
A man cleans the path that leads to the houses above the tombs.
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A man cleans the path that leads to the houses above the tombs.
A girl returns from school in the Manila North Cemetery, where she lives with her family.
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A girl returns from school in the Manila North Cemetery, where she lives with her family.
A family prepares lunch in a house built over the tombs in the Manila North Cemetery.
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A family prepares lunch in a house built over the tombs in the Manila North Cemetery.
An ice cream seller in the streets of Manila North Cemetery.
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An ice cream seller in the streets of Manila North Cemetery.
Bricks, vases and brick molds stored on a grave next to a craftsman's home in Manila North Cemetery.
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Bricks, vases and brick molds stored on a grave next to a craftsman's home in Manila North Cemetery.
A boy works in the cemetery where he lives with his family.
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A boy works in the cemetery where he lives with his family.
A woman works by producing candles inside the cemetery in Cebu City. About one thousand five hundred people live here.
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A woman works by producing candles inside the cemetery in Cebu City. About one thousand five hundred people live here.
An inhabitant of the Cebu City cemetery works inside the cemetery.
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An inhabitant of the Cebu City cemetery works inside the cemetery.
A man works as a carpenter in the cemetery where he lives with his family. The man over time has succeeded thanks to his abilities to build a spacious house among the mausoleums and the tombs.
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A man works as a carpenter in the cemetery where he lives with his family. The man over time has succeeded thanks to his abilities to build a spacious house among the mausoleums and the tombs.
A woman works at her home in the Manila North Cemetery.
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A woman works at her home in the Manila North Cemetery.
The owner of a store built among tombs and mausoleums of the Manila North Cemetery. The man lives there with his wife and three children since over thirty years.
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The owner of a store built among tombs and mausoleums of the Manila North Cemetery. The man lives there with his wife and three children since over thirty years.
Children play and watch videos online in an internet point built among the tombs.
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Children play and watch videos online in an internet point built among the tombs.
Maricar De La Cruz: She was born and raised in this place, Maricar lived in cemetery north Manila for forty years. With her husband she opened a small store. Maricar lives here with her three children of six, eight and eleven years old.
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Maricar De La Cruz: She was born and raised in this place, Maricar lived in cemetery north Manila for forty years. With her husband she opened a small store. Maricar lives here with her three children of six, eight and eleven years old.
M. Cabaña has been living with his wife and children in the North Manila cemetery for several years. He raises pigeons and hens inside the cemetery.
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M. Cabaña has been living with his wife and children in the North Manila cemetery for several years. He raises pigeons and hens inside the cemetery.
A goat jumps between the graves in the cemetery of Cebu City, where goats are bred by several inhabitants.
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A goat jumps between the graves in the cemetery of Cebu City, where goats are bred by several inhabitants.
The remains of some exhumed bodies, abandoned under the tombs. Since the tombs are generally rented for five years, if the relatives of the dead stop paying for the space, the cemetery administrators exhume the remains creating new spaces.
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The remains of some exhumed bodies, abandoned under the tombs. Since the tombs are generally rented for five years, if the relatives of the dead stop paying for the space, the cemetery administrators exhume the remains creating new spaces.
A man works as a stone engraver in the cemetery of Cebu City.
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A man works as a stone engraver in the cemetery of Cebu City.
Caloocan city Tala cemetery Manila metro _ Relatives and friends during the burial of Bely Joe A. Batingal, 20, killed by gunshots by a group of vigilantes on the morning of November 6, 2016, on suspicion of being linked to drug-related crimes.
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Caloocan city Tala cemetery Manila metro _ Relatives and friends during the burial of Bely Joe A. Batingal, 20, killed by gunshots by a group of vigilantes on the morning of November 6, 2016, on suspicion of being linked to drug-related crimes.
A family has lunch in a house built over the tombs in the Manila North Cemetery.
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A family has lunch in a house built over the tombs in the Manila North Cemetery.
An elderly lady sits outside the mausoleum where she lives with her family in Manila North Cemetery.
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An elderly lady sits outside the mausoleum where she lives with her family in Manila North Cemetery.
Leni Cabaña has been living with her husband and children in the North Manila cemetery for several years. Her husband raises pigeons and hens inside the cemetery.
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Leni Cabaña has been living with her husband and children in the North Manila cemetery for several years. Her husband raises pigeons and hens inside the cemetery.
A man prepares lunch for his son in the mausoleum where he lives and works as a stone engraver in Manila North Cemetery.
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A man prepares lunch for his son in the mausoleum where he lives and works as a stone engraver in Manila North Cemetery.
A little girl watches videos on her smartphone. Her family built their house between two mausoleums and some tombs. The family has lived there for over forty years and owns a small store.
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A little girl watches videos on her smartphone. Her family built their house between two mausoleums and some tombs. The family has lived there for over forty years and owns a small store.
A woman writes a message with her phone while her daughter is sleeping on the tombstone where they live.
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A woman writes a message with her phone while her daughter is sleeping on the tombstone where they live.
Inhabitants of the cemetery spend their time talking on the graves near their homes.
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Inhabitants of the cemetery spend their time talking on the graves near their homes.
A woman cares for her son on a tombstone in the cemetery of Cebu City where she lives alone.
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A woman cares for her son on a tombstone in the cemetery of Cebu City where she lives alone.
Children play in front of the graves in Cebu City cemetery.
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Children play in front of the graves in Cebu City cemetery.
Little girls play in a mausoleum in the Manila North Cemetery.
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Little girls play in a mausoleum in the Manila North Cemetery.
Mother and son eat over a grave in the Manila North Cemetery.
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Mother and son eat over a grave in the Manila North Cemetery.
Inhabitants of the Manila North Cemetery.
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Inhabitants of the Manila North Cemetery.
Inhabitants of the shacks built above the tombs.
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Inhabitants of the shacks built above the tombs.
Clothes left to dry among the tombs in the Manila North Cemetery.
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Clothes left to dry among the tombs in the Manila North Cemetery.
A home among the tombs and mausoleums of the Manila North Cemetery.
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A home among the tombs and mausoleums of the Manila North Cemetery.
The owner of a store inside a mausoleum.
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The owner of a store inside a mausoleum.
Boys play volleyball in the streets of the Cebu City cemetery.
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Boys play volleyball in the streets of the Cebu City cemetery.
A group of children have fun dancing and playing in the streets of the Manila North Cemetery, where they live with their families.
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A group of children have fun dancing and playing in the streets of the Manila North Cemetery, where they live with their families.
Children play outside a mausoleum in the Manila North Cemetery.
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Children play outside a mausoleum in the Manila North Cemetery.
A child walks among the tombs of the Manila North Cemetery.
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A child walks among the tombs of the Manila North Cemetery.
Clothes left to dry among the tombs of Manila North Cemetery.
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Clothes left to dry among the tombs of Manila North Cemetery.
A child jumps among the tombs of the Manila North Cemetery.
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A child jumps among the tombs of the Manila North Cemetery.
Inhabitants of the Manila North Cemetery.
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Inhabitants of the Manila North Cemetery.
Clothes left to dry among the tombs in the Manila North Cemetery.
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Clothes left to dry among the tombs in the Manila North Cemetery.
A woman outside her store built among the tombs in the Manila North Cemetery.
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A woman outside her store built among the tombs in the Manila North Cemetery.
Overview of part of the North Manila cemetery, where houses were built above the tombs.
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Overview of part of the North Manila cemetery, where houses were built above the tombs.
A woman spreads clothes over the tombs where several houses have been built.
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A woman spreads clothes over the tombs where several houses have been built.
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