Business development threatens American cemetery

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MANILA, Nov. 2, 2012—A massive business development in the heart of Metro Manila is threatening to erase the solemnity of a historical landmark that occupies a chapter in the nation’s history.

The Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, a mute testimony to the valor of those who perished during World War II, is slowly losing the solemnity of the place due to massive development that transformed the surrounding areas into a “booming city”.

Bert Caloud, the facility’s assistant superintendent, in an interview said the solemnity within the cemetery and memorial has been somewhat reduced since developers began building high-rise structures, one of which stands at the back of the chapel.

He explained, when former President Fidel V. Ramos decided to convert the northern portion of Fort Bonifacio into Global City, they already had apprehensions that high-rise buildings would get into the picture.

But he acknowledged that they are only responsible for the cemetery and the government has the right to do what it thinks best outside the facility.

“We take care of what’s inside the cemetery and memorial while the Philippine government remains responsible for what’s going on outside the facility,” he said philosophically.

Over 53,000 soldiers who died during World War II are either buried or memorialized in the facility.

Those buried in the cemetery include some 4,000 unidentified servicemen.  Names of some 36,000 missing in action troopers have been included in the memorial.

He said there were about 4,000 Filipinos who served under the Philippine Scouts.

According to Caloud, remains of some 570 Filipino soldiers are interred at the cemetery.

On All Saints’ Day, relatives and friends of those buried in the cemetery come and visit the graves.

While the Americans do not celebrate All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days, Caloud said they respect Filipino culture and tradition.

“We’re open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. every All Saints’ Day,” he said.

He added that Filipinos who frequent the cemetery and memorial are already known to them and have begun to visit since Friday, October 27.

Caloud said the American government first thought of building its cemetery on where Balintawak Market now stands but their predecessors found the area too small as it was just 77 acres.

“The American government renegotiated with then President (Manuel A.) Roxas for a bigger area which is now the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial which is slightly over 150 acres,” he added.

The cemetery chapel nestled at Metro Manila’s highest peak of 140 feet above sea level but it may no longer be seen since a still unoccupied building purportedly owned by a Korean business entity now stand at the background.

With its well-maintained lawn, the cemetery is a sight to behold during summer, Caloud said.

“[But] at night, we’re a black spot within a sea of lights for plane passengers about to land at NAIA,” he commented.

Aside from maintaining the facility in Metro Manila, they also attend to memorials at Cabanatuan City in Nueva Ecija, at Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea and Saipan.

“We will soon dedicate two other cemeteries in South Korea and Solomon Islands,” he added.

He explained their predecessors tried to source marble headstones from Romblon but ended up using the ones from Italy.

“We tried using locally-produced marble but it did not pass the stringent standards of our head office,” Caloud explained.

He said they have enough funds from American Senate and Congressional appropriations.   (Melo M. Acuna/CBCPNews)

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