Life Among Death: Manila’s Cemetery Living Town


In Manila, the capital city of Philippines, thousands of poverty-stricken Filipinos have set up homes in its largest cemetery which sees an average of 70 to 80 funerals per day. They live among a sea of tombs, bones and rotting bodies.

Manila has a population of over 10 million. Living conditions are squalid and cramped for those that don’t earn enough for a decent living space, and for the others that can’t even afford staying in squalid and cramped flats, they take to the cemeteries.


Will this be the future for Singaporeans? Maybe not, seeing as how our cemeteries along with our ancestors are being dug up for redevelopment, we might be forced to stay in drain canals and risk being swept away to sea every time it rains.


It is estimated that at least 10,000 people live within the North Cemetery – the largest cemetery in Manila that spans 54 hectares, and the oldest cemetery in Philippines built since the 19th Century. Almost a million corpses have been buried here but the piles of bones and heaps of coffins do not daunt the grave settlers. 


The cemetery has literally been turned into a little city of the living dead. Mausoleums have been converted into convenient shops selling candies, canned food, instant noodles, candles, and even prepaid cards for handphones! Small restaurants are located within the cemetery as well that sells meals and drinks to hungry customers.


Ladders are erected (Hahaha! Cue penis jokes because I am childish like that!) against the cemetery walls for the convenience of the inhabitants that provide easier accessibility to main roads where jeepneys await to take them to their destination.


Attempts have been repeatedly made to relocate the cemetery inhabitants (the living ones, not the dead ones, just so we’re clear) to more pleasant living spaces but have failed miserably. Many resettled families choose to return to their cemetery homes on their own accord, complaining that their resettlement areas are too far from their sources of work, or schools, or markets. Others claim that the resettlement areas have no provision for water and electricity.

The grave dwellers can bribe their way into utilizing the electrical lines that the city government operates, and some entrepreneurs of bone city sell water taken from fire hydrants from pushcarts to the cemetery residents.


Over the years, the trend of disturbing the dead’s peace of living among them has rapidly spread. Other cemeteries in Manila are quickly filling up with the living unable to find proper accommodations elsewhere.


Looking on the bright side, at least majority of the neighbours are quiet.

Check out the video below of a short documentary on living with the dead in Manila.

Source Information: CNN Travel & National Geographic TV

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