Filipinos pack cemeteries to remember the dead

Manila (AFP) –


Filipinos poured into cemeteries by the millions on Friday for a rite to remember their dead, blending expressions of grief and faith in Catholic-majority Philippines with a party-like ambiance.

Vendors hawked cartoon-themed balloons and police seized karaoke machines at graveyard checkpoints, while inside families swept tombs clean and prayed before candles as part of All Saints' day.

The ritual, celebrated on November 1, stretches back centuries to ancient Rome and honours saints. But in the Philippines it is also a day to pray for -- and most importantly remember -- the deceased.

Among the mass of people at a Manila cemetery was 17-year-old Clarissa Limbing, who had come to visit the mother she lost to cancer six years ago.

"When we don't visit them, someone from the family gets sick and we know it's her making her presence felt," Limbing told AFP. "It's important."

Carlito Ortiz, 50, paid his respects to parents who had died when he was still a teenager.

"I feel that my parents want me to see them," he said. "I do it so their souls may rest in peace."

With offices and schools closed, dense crowds carrying bouquets as well as bags heavy with picnic supplies and the odd bottle of beer poured through graveyards.

Cemeteries in the Philippines range from quiet fields of wooden crosses to dense "apartment" tombs stacked metres high in the capital, which is home to some 13 million of the living.

Many tombs were freshly whitewashed and drizzled with the melted candle wax and topped with religious icons.

Church officials in Asia's Catholic outpost emphasised the reflective aspect of the day, insisting people interested only in "drinking, merry-making, chatting" do so elsewhere.

"If you're going there just merely for a reunion, without praying for the dead, it defeats the purpose," said father Jerome Secillano, spokesman for the nation's Catholic Bishops' conference.

The annual pilgrimage to the cemeteries triggers a mass exodus from the capital, with millions traveling back to their home provinces where relatives are buried.

Bus stations, airports and roadways were thick with travelers, while police were deployed in large numbers across the country.