MANILA -- The Archdiocese of Manila has taken the initial step needed for the early transfer of the title of a portion of the 92-year-old cemetery or campo santo in Novaliches, Quezon City to the Diocese of Novaliches.
The archdiocese has hired a team of geodetic engineers to undertake a survey of the Church-owned portion of the Novaliches public cemetery at the request of Novaliches Bishop Antonio Tobias, through Fr. Antonio Labiao, Vicar General for Pastoral Affairs of the Diocese of Novaliches.
Antonio Ramirez, manager of the Properties Administration Department of the Manila Archdiocese, said the result of the survey will be submitted for validation by the Quezon City Planning and Building Office.
Earlier, some 300 families owning mausoleums in the cemetery have questioned the legality and propriety of the Quezon City government's ongoing dismantling of mausoleums and tombs of their loved ones at the Novaliches cemetery.
Specifically, they claimed that the ownership of the questioned portion of the old cemetery belongs to the Diocese of Novaliches and not the city government.
However, the city government currently asserts otherwise.
They must show their supposed lot title to us. Unless this is done and found authentic, we will consider whatever papers they present to us as fake and just ordinary pieces of paper, former Quezon City Civil Registrar Ramon Matabang told the Philippine News Agency (PNA), in an interview last November regarding the actual status of a portion of the old Catholic cemetery in Novaliches, a former town now divided between Quezon City and Caloocan City.
Incidentally, Matabang retired from government service this year.
During the interview, Matabang was shown a letter from the Diocese of Novaliches indicating that the Catholic Church owns a portion of the Quezon City government-administered Novaliches cemetery.
Also shown to him was a 44-year-old typewritten agreement between the Our Lady of Mercy Parish Church of Novaliches and a local resident on the perpetual use of a burial lot within the cemetery, subject to regulation by both the Church and the government.
The document, dated Jan. 11, 1974, was signed by Rev. Fr. Pedro A. Hilario, then parish priest of Novaliches, and Benjamin Estrella, whose family resides at the Novaliches Poblacion.
The agreement gave the Estrella family perpetual right to use a 20-square-meter lot within the cemetery as burial ground for members of the family. Inquiries made by this writer showed that there were several other native families of Novaliches possessing similar agreements.
However, Matabang said although many people from Novaliches have actually presented to his office documents from the Novaliches church allowing lifetime use of a portion of the cemetery, they have not been able to present actual title to the lot.
Without presentation of the actual lot title, we consider such agreements as mere scraps of paper, he said.
The issue on the ownership of a part of the old Novaliches cemetery came to the fore after more than 300 families from the former town questioned the legality and propriety of the ongoing project of the city government to dismantle the mausoleums and tombs of their loved ones and transfer the remains to small apartment-type niches.
Many tombs and mausoleums at the graveyard have already been dismantled during the past eight years.
Many residents criticized the destruction of the tombs and mausoleums and placement of the remains of the deceased in sacks as a desecration of the memory of their loved ones.
In a letter to Tobias last June 9, 2018, Reynaldo Estrella, president of Kasamahan or Samahan Para sa Panghabang Panahong Paggamit ng Lupa sa Sementeryo (association on the perpetual use of lots at the cemetery), asked about the present status of the old Novaliches Catholic cemetery.
Estrella attached in his letter the agreement between his late father and Fr. Hilario.
In response, Rev. Fr. Marlou V. Lemaire, head of the Properties Department of the Novaliches Diocese, said in a letter dated Sept. 1, 2018 that although the local diocese has jurisdiction over the cemetery lot, the title is still under the name of the Manila Archdiocese.
He added that the archdiocese is still working for the transfer of the title to the Diocese of Novaliches.
Novaliches was created as a town during the Spanish regime in September 1855. When Rizal province was established in 1901, it became one of the 32 towns of the infant province.
In 1903, Novaliches was reduced to a barrio and made an annexed of the then town of Caloocan, now a city. That annexation also entailed the transfer of the Novaliches cemetery and church to Caloocan.
On July 17, 1948, with the enactment by Congress of Republic Act No. 333 making Quezon City as the new capital of the country instead of Manila, both the Novaliches church and the cemetery also became territories of Quezon City.
The Diocese of Novaliches was created by Pope John Paul II on December 7, 2002. (PNA)
Source: Philippines News Agency