By Minka Tiangco
Forty-six-year-old Virginia Castro claims that she fears nothing.
As one of the many caretakers and residents in Tugatog Public Cemetery, she confessed that she is used to death.
In her 10 years of residency at the cemetery, she works as a caretaker and spends 12 hours a day tending to graves.
She sleeps in a mausoleum with her partner, Robert Bustamante, 50. Together, they look after 15 graves and earn about P7,000 every month.
But one of the rare instances when she felt afraid was when her son was born.
“Maraming nagpapatayan dito, eh. (There are many people who kill each other here),” she said. “Baka madamay pa siya. (He might get involved).”
Virginia shared that most of the people who were killed, either by police or unidentified gunmen, were drug addicts or pushers–but some were killed for no apparent reason.
“’Yung mga naka-maskara, kahit sino mang ma-tsempuhan, pinapatay. (The ones wearing masks, whoever they chance upon, they kill),” she said.
When her son turned a month old, Virginia took the time to discuss with Robert about their son.
Virginia only reached 5th grade before she dropped out of school. She was a sidecar driver in Monumento, Caloocan City before coming to the cemetery.
She and Robert were content with their lives in the cemetery. They had a mausoleum and a small shanty to stay in and earned just enough to eat. They even had two dogs, Diane and Payat, to keep them company.
But this was not the life that they wanted for their son.
So they sent him away to Pampanga to live with Virginia’s aunt and to study. Now, the couple barely sees their son.
“Hindi ako nakilalang nanay non, eh. (He doesn’t recognize me as his mother),” she said. “He just calls me ‘Virgie.’”
But still, she cares for him, even from afar. Virginia said she sends some of her earnings to her aunt to aid in her son’s schooling and other expenses.
“Kahit walang matira sa akin, basta sa anak ko meron. (Even if I am left with nothing, as long as my son’s needs are fulfilled),” she said.
She, however, refuses to move out of the cemetery, despite the killings.
“Sanay na kami, eh, ‘wag lang kami madamay. (We’re used to it, I just wish we don’t get involved),” she said.
“This is where we grew up so we’re used to living in a cemetery,” she said in Filipino. “But we don’t fear the dead, we fear the living.”