Metro Manila mayors agreed to close all cemeteries in the National Capital Region during the yearly observance of All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days to prevent mass gatherings amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic.

Metro Manila Council (MMC) chairperson and Parañaque City mayor Edwin Olivarez said the mayors and 8 Cabinet secretaries, during a meeting on Sunday, agreed to the Oct. 29 to Nov. 4 closure of all public and private cemeteries, columbaries and memorial parks. The closure is considered a first in history.

“Pinagkasunduan po ito para unified, iisang policy lang ang i-implement natin sa darating na Undas,” Olivarez, said in an interview over ABS-CBN’s TeleRadyo.

Metro Manila Development Authority general manager Jojo Garcia Jr. said curbing the spread of Covid-19 was the primary reason for the Metro Manila mayors’ decision for the closure of cemeteries.

“Mayors have unanimously agreed on this. But when it comes to the guidelines, we still haven’t decided yet. We will meet at 8 p.m. tonight and by tomorrow (Monday), we would have the decision,” Garcia said in an interview with the Philippine Star.

Earlier, the City of Manila announced the closure of all cemeteries in the city from Oct. 31 to Nov. 3. He said authorities might “fail” to enforce physical distancing with the massive number of people visiting cemeteries during those dates.  Under Executive Order 38 signed by Manila Mayor Isko Moreno issued Executive Order 38 allowing only interment and cremation services for non-Covid cases under strict health protocols during the period.

Olivarez said Metro Manila mayors agreed to have policemen and barangay officials watch over cemeteries before the 5-day closure to ensure that health protocols are strictly followed.

He added that vendors will be allowed around cemeteries before the closure, while drinking liquor and gambling are still banned.

More than 80% of Filipinos belong to the Roman Catholic faith who typically visit cemeteries during the All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day holidays to offer prayers and flowers for their departed loved ones.  Some even stay overnight and sleep at their loved ones’ gravesite.

Metro Manila remains under the stricter General Community Quarantine until Sept. 30. Rommel F. Lopez