By ALI G. MACABALANG
Maguindanao (2nd District) Rep. Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu intends to file a bill mandating the establishment of Islamic cemeteries across the country in a bid to resolve dilemmas usually besetting Muslim families in burying the cadavers of relatives in areas dominated by people of other faiths.
In a lunch meeting with selected journalists at his family’s resort here on Sept. 26, Rep. Mangudadatu announced his intention in prompt response to the prodding of The Philippine Muslim Today about suggestions for local government units (LGUs) in the country to establish decent graveyards for their Muslim constituents.
This writer earlier floated the idea of allocating funds for the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) to buy lots in non-Muslim municipalities and cities for use as decent graveyards for departed believers of Islam.
Dozens of concerned individuals, including NCMF spokesman Jun Alonto-Datu Ramos suggested other alternatives, one of which was for the Department of Interior and Local Government to oblige LGUs in setting up cemeteries for their minority Muslim constituents. But the problem on fund sourcing for the purpose surfaced in the exchanges of ideas over the proposal.
At the Sept. 26 informal interview here, Rep. Mangudadatu said he would take the cudgel to sponsor a bill requiring LGUs across the country, especially outside the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), to establish Islamic cemeteries and appropriating funds for the purpose.
The Maguindanao lawmaker, a former three-term governor, instantly ordered his legislative staff to conduct research on data and appropriate steps needed in the preparation of an enabling bill.
His legislative staff Beverly Ballito said she would coordinate with the NCMF and other concerned public entities to be able to identify municipalities and cities with Muslim residents and determine their size of population as a basis for commensurate legislative proposition.
Rep. Mangudadatu said it would an “honor” for him to sponsor an enabling bill, even as he expressed intention to encourage other Muslim lawmakers to rally his proposal as con-authors.
He said his office will take reference from a regional law in the defunct Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) that mandated constituent-LGUs to establish public Islamic cemeteries. The local edict – Muslim Mindanao Act 317 – was authored by former Assemblyman Khadafeh “Toy” Mangudadatu, the congressman’s younger sibling.
Issues about lack of Islamic graveyards in non-Muslim communities came to fore recently when a Muslim mother belonging to the Meranao tribe died recently after giving birth in Aklan province.
For reasons still unclear, the departed was declared as Covid-19 fatality and authorities in Aklan would not allow her burial at their residential compound, and even prescribed for her remains cremation.
Chaos ensued briefly, with a grieving relative resorting to posting her video in tears begging for immediate assistance in view of Islamic traditions to bury the dead within 24 hours.
Notified about the problem, NCMF officials hurriedly intervened in negotiation for a “win-win” solution. Aklan and NCMF officials reached a compromise leading to the burial of the Muslim cadaver in a space 50 meters away from a Christian cemetery in the Aklan town.
Similar dilemmas beset Muslim families in different parts of the country in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, with national and local government entities imposing preventive protocols that somehow run counter to Islam prescriptions on handling cadavers.
In some areas in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, the NCMF has successful in coordinating acquisition of lands via donation for use as Muslim cemetery.
Latest of the agency’s successes was the forging of a deal between Manila Mayor Franciso “Isko Moreno” Domagoso and NCMF Secretary Saidamen Pangarungan for the establishment of a Muslim cemetery in San Andres district. The city government allocated over P4-million for the cemetery with an Islamic center. (AGM)