The Manila Chinese Cemetery (founded in 1879) is the second oldest cemetery in Manila after Paco (1820), and was designated as the resting place for the Chinese citizens who were denied burial in Catholic cemeteries during the Spanish colonial period. In later times, however, even the Chinese who had converted to Catholicism were allowed to be buried in this cemetery. The place was also designated as a burial ground for people who died of communicable diseases.
Chinese cemetery -south gate entrance arch
The cemetery was once featured in several international programs like Ripley’s Believe It or Not, Lifestyle of the Rich and Famous in the 1980’s and on several international travel guidebooks.
a family mausoleum with dragon design and pagoda
The Chinese Cemetery is part of the three-cemetery complex of Manila; namely: Campo Santo de La Loma (La Loma Cemetery) 1884, Cementerio del Norte (North Cemetery) and Cementerio ng mga Instik ( Chinese Cemetery). During the nineteenth-century, only the Catholics were allowed to be interred in La Loma. The paupers, non-Christians, victims of communicable diseases, and enemies of the colonial government were relegated to the Chinese Cemetery for burial. The Chinese cemetery also sits on the highest elevated portion of the district.
Through the years, as more of the Chinese rich interred their dead here, the cemetery was acquired by the Philippine- Chinese Charitable Association, Inc., and became a private cemetery. Prime movers are Don Carlos Palanca Tanchueco ( Tan Quien Sien) , Lim Ong which contributed in purchasing both the present Chinese cemetery lot and Chinese General Hospital .
Joaquin Saez Co Guanco mausoleum
A typical family cannot just buy a burial plot outright at the Chinese Cemetery; the family must properly coordinate with the Philippine- Chinese Charitable Association that had control of the site, proper measures, paper works must be done in order to secure a family burial plot . Some Filipino- Chinese may even consult the services of Feng Shui expert before the actual interment of the family members. Many believed that choosing a proper place for graveyard is very important for the welfare not only of the dead but also for the future generation of the clan.
A family plot can only be leased for twenty-five years then can be renewable for another 25 years and so on. However, if one had achieved exemplary accomplishments in life — toward the betterment of the society while living, that person could be rewarded a burial site for free as in the mausoleum for Chinese martyrs and fire volunteers.
an emptied family mausoleum
For those families unable to afford a continuance of the lease once due for renewal, they are no longer allowed to do any more maintenance work on their respective grave site or mausoleum. However, the cemetery administrators will not evict the buried by digging up and disposing the remains, because they might only attract bad luck into their life. Instead, a grave site or mausoleum will be left untouched to decay with time.
According to Mang Jun Nolasco one of the tomb caretakers, there used to be over 600 caretakers at any given time in the Chinese cemetery. They lived in nearby places. This was some sort of a profession; some of us here are already tomb caretakers for more than 40 to 50 years! However in recent times their numbers had decline to barely 250. The cost in maintaining a family mausoleum relatively high, imagine you need to pay a renewal fee to the association which happens when the term lease expires, then the association will measure the family plot –The association charges a typical fee of Php 1,400 per square meter, excluding renovations, re-painting and others.
Most of the families who moved out of this place would just buy plot outside in a modern memorial garden. At least they own the lot.
Chinese Fu-Dogs made from ceramic
There are about ten security guards on bicycle patrol and another ten security guards on foot patrol. They guard some of the vital vantage points of the cemetery, the perimeter walls bordering (North Cemetery), main gate, and temple. Sometimes vandals would cross the walls from North cemetery to Chinese cemetery. The 30 feet high adobe wall separates the Chinese cemetery to the North cemetery.
A Chinese Fu-Dog guardian of family mausoleum – made of ceramic
Located near the main entrance was the pyramid-shaped monument (a significant symbol to Free Masons) now stands on the original site of his resting place at the Chinese Cemetery. Apolinario Mabini, “the Sublime Paralytic“, and as “the Brains of the Revolution.” Is one of our country’s national heroes.
Apolinario Mabini grave with pyramidal- shaped monument and historical marker
He was buried inside the Chinese cemetery for the aforementioned criteria: he was a Mason; hence, a non-Christian; he died from cholera (a communicable disease back then) ; and his insurgent writings and involvements in the 1896 and Filipino-American 1898 revolution deemed him enemy of the state. Upon his death on May 13, 1903, he was buried in the Chinese Cemetery, His remains were later transferred to his hometown in Tanauan , Batangas to a permanent gravesite.
Apparently, Apolinario Mabini had a street named after him near his gravesite.
This is the simple De Vera family mausoleum located within Ceng Chong Road a few blocks from the YU– Chu Family mausoleum (more popularly known as Regal mausoleum) within the cemetery.
De Vera family mausoleum
My grandfather was Mr. Federico De Vera of Sorsogon and Samar province (August 18,1909 to December 20, 1956) Chinese- Filipino origin. ( Mother’s surname is said to be Hernandiso )
My maternal grandfather is a farmer, trader and worked before in Rialto Studio . During the Japanese occupation, my grandfather was a guerrilla intelligence spy. Being married with 8 children at that time, he choose to stay as an underground spy with few actual combat encounters against the invading Japanese forces in Sorsogon province. There was also one incident that he was spotted by 2 Japanese soldiers while boiling peanuts and was fired-upon twice, Luckily he escapes towards the creek by diving .
frangipani blooming beside the family tomb
Mrs. Toribia (Tankiko / Tangkeko / Tangueco ) Lim -De Vera hails from Bulan , Sorsogon (May 17, 1910 to November 20, 1983) is of Spanish – Chinese –Filipino origin. However, According to family members, De Vera family surname belongs to the Chinese (So) surname clan.
My maternal grandmother is also a farmer, plant lover, herbalist , entrepreneur. She also knew how to drive a car (at the time when very few knew how). She can speak in Spanish, Bikol – Sorsogon, Tagalog, English, Mandarin and Hokkien.
grandparents pictures on top of the gravestone
Colorful ribbons signify a recent visit made by family members or friends. These colorful papers are pasted all over the tombstones and mausoleum.
She maintained 3 general merchandise stores about 6×6 square meters in Matnog, Sorsogon in the early 1940’s which sold a variety of school supplies, candles, candies, light bulbs, rice, canned goods, dress, dried fish, abaca, cigarettes. It is said to be one of the biggest in Matnog area before they were ransacked by the Japanese during the closing days of the second world war.
According to some old relatives, her family is a distant relative of the Realonda – Rizal’s mother.
tomb stone marker
This family mausoleum was built on December 1956, when my grandfather died of a sudden heart attack. The simple cross and old frangipani tree that severed as point of reference. The family mausoleum is not grand or ornately built compared to nearby mausoleum but the simple architectural structure would imply the simplicity and the income bracket of the family.
There were other relatives from So, De Vera , Ymaz , Lim , Chan , Kho, Dy family clan and some victims of the infamous Ruby Tower earthquake who were also buried within the cemetery.
Yu-Chu family mausoleum
Locate in between Kong Teh and Ceng Chong road is UNO High School ( Filipino- Chinese School ) founder Don Domingo Yu Chu family mausoleum – . This prominent Filipino- Chinese educator, businessman , philanthropist , copra magnate envisioned founding a school to educate the youth thus UNO school is his lifetime dream. He also help to established Chang Kai Shek College . The family mausoleum is more popularly known as Regal mausoleum ( since Regal is the film company Mrs. Lily Y. Monteverde) .
Don Domingo Yu Chu monument
The family mausoleum is one of the most popular mausoleum in the cemetery . The big green tile roofs and massive structure almost 3 to 4 stories high, with tombstone marker made from carrara marble and granite are all imported from Italy . Big Chinese fu-dogs guard the main entrance and a statute of the family patriarch Don Domingo Yu Chu stands . This is also one of the most massive structures within the cemetery.
Ma Mon Luk mausoleum with his two wives
This mausoleum with a huge crown on its top belongs to famous restaurateur Mr. Ma Mon Luk ( Mami King ) . His two wives are also buried here on either side of him. Ma Mon Luk was a salesman, showman ,cook and hopeless romantic; his was a life worthy of a telenovela (soap opera). He worked very hard and started to peddle his goods , people used to call his mami ( gupit) in pre-war Intramuros and Binondo areas. Some of his first clients were students from Colegio de San Juan de Letran , Ateneo and Filipino- Chinese.
At least three Ma Mon Luk restaurants are still operational in Benavides ( now called Masuki), Quezon Boulevard
near Quiapo church and Quezon City Quezon Boulevard near Banawe.
While some of his descendants opened another mami chain called Masuki which had 3 to 4 stores in operations – Benavides ( original Ma Mon Luk ) , Greenhills , Ortigas .
Chamsamco family grave
A family mausoleum which caught my fancy was the Chamsamco family built in 1947 with the famous swastika equilateral cross . Archeological evidences of this design may be traced back from the Indus valley region dates back from the Neolitic period. This is widely used in Eastern and Dharmic religion such as Buddhist, Hindusim, Jainism.
modern style family mausoleum
The Chinese cemetery is a repository of various architectural marvels from simple tombstones, ornate, art deco, modern, traditional , hybrid , classical .
Manila Chinese Cemetery
Location :Felix Huertas Street corner Aurora Boulevard
Transportation : jeepney ride, tricycle , ( LRT- Blumentritt station) , pedicab
Opening Hours: 7.30 am to 7.00 pm daily.
Note: Tour guides are available ( offered by the cemetery) rates differ from Php 300 to Php 500 individual or group.
But if you knew someone with dead relatives or friends just hop along with them.
Video taping is not allowed . ( permission must be sought)
* The author occasionally does a free walking tour around the area upon request by close friends or relatives.