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Living in Deadlands

The public cemetery of Navotas, a municipality located directly north of Manila, serves as a regular burial place, but at the same time is the center of a slum neighborhood extending down to the seashore. The entire area is called Bagong Silang, which means 'newborn” in Tagalog language. Those who live within the walls of the cemetery – about 500 families crammed in an area of 5,600 square meters - sleep, eat, and bathe atop the concrete blocks of tombs, where they built their makeshift dwellings. The slums and the graves form a tightly woven urban tissue where life and death cohabit. The cemetery itself provides jobs to some residents, e.g., grave cleaning. Others make a living as fishermen or divers for pearls and corals, but many are jobless and have to scavenge garbage dumps. The crime rate is very high. The average income for a family is about 100 peso (slightly more than 2 US dollars) per day. There are no toilets or running water, and squalor is everywhere. Due to a lack of space, crypts are reused (usually after five years from the burial), so human bones are scattered throughout the cemetery among other garbage. Despite the subhuman conditions, the cemetery residents prefer to live among the graves than further away from the port where employment is harder to find. Their main concern is the constant threat of being evicted to another part of Manila where a sustainable livelihood is even less possible than here.

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