IN the Cebu Chinese Cemetery in Barangay Carreta, Cebu City, the living share their lives with the dead. For more than 40 years, many families have considered the old mausoleums in the cemetery as home.

Jocelyn Balucos, 31, said she and her family have been living within a mausoleum that its owners had abandoned. Balucos, a housewife, said that in the past, she and her family would share a meal on top of a tomb.

Eventually, they had the mausoleum all to themselves after the owner decided to remove his deceased relative’s remains and transfer these to another place.

Another transient, Emmanuel Bargamento, lives in the mausoleum owned by the Siao family.

But Bargamento, 50, clarified that he was only using the mausoleum as a storage area for his cooking utensils and foodstuffs for his small carenderia business.

Bargamento is a resident of Barangay Tungkop in Minglanilla but decided to transfer to the cemetery a year ago to be close to his family’s small carenderia across a mall in the North Reclamation Area.

As the population of settlers in the cemetery increases, various complaints have surfaced, such as informal settlers taking over mausoleums and, recently, grave robbing.

Caretaker Allan Obina told SunStar Cebu that while the number of settlers has more than doubled in the past four decades, majority of the residents there are children of the original caretakers.

Obina said that his father was previously the caretaker of the cemetery, and that after the man’s death, his duties were passed on to him.

When his father was caretaker, Obina said, only 75 families were allowed to live there. Most were caretakers hired by the Chinese-Cebuano families to guard their mausoleums. Now, more than 200 families live in the Cebu Chinese Cemetery.

Obina said that the Asociacion Benevola de Cebu, owners of the cemetery, have agreed to allow the caretakers to live there provided they continue to maintain and guard the graves.

More than 1,000 graves and mausoleums are currently spread across the cemetery’s 4.4 hectares.

As caretaker, Obina said, he is in charge of what goes in and out of the cemetery.

Kung naa’y ipaukay nga mga nitso, dili makasugod ug kawot ang mga laborer kung dili moagi sa akoa (Anytime a tomb has to be dug up, the laborers have to clear it with me first),” Obina said.

In turn, Obina communicates with the Asociacion Benevola de Cebu. He’s also tasked with keeping the peace within the cemetery. That means he has to prevent residents from building houses on top of mausoleums, keep the graves safe from robbers, and discipline residents who desecrate the tombs they live around.

Despite his best efforts to curb trouble, it sometimes finds its way in the cemetery, such as when one of the informal settlers desecrated one of the graves to look for jewelry and other valuables.

Obina blamed “outsiders” who transferred to the cemetery following the demolition of their homes.

Kaming mga taga menteryo dili man mi manghilabot; kana ra silang wala natawo dinhi maoy kusog mangita ug gubot (Those of us who’ve been here for a long time do not cause trouble; it’s only those who weren’t born here who keep causing it),” he said.

As one sign that the community has long been established, access to electricity and power is no problem, at least for some of the settlers.

Around 20 empty mausoleums have electric meters on them, Obina said. Those without electricity pay a fee to those with electric meters so they can avail themselves of power.

As to water, they get it from a single faucet, for which they pay P3 per pail.

Even with the presence of so many informal settlers, Obina said they never forget to respect the owners of their temporary homes.

Every Nov. 1 and 2, illegal settlers vacate the mausoleums they’re currently living in to make way for visitors who want to pray for their loved ones and bring flowers or food.

The settlers, Obina said, clean the mausoleums themselves.

Obina said they respect the dead so much, they treat them as part of the family.

Mas kulba pang makigkuyog sa buhi kay sa sa patay (It’s more frightening to live among the living than among the dead),” he added.