We saw Tobby near the entrance of Manila North Cemetery, waiting for the arrival of the dead. His old mountain bike’s saddle was covered with a green plastic bag because its foam got wet and it felt uncomfortable sitting on it.
“Ginagamit ko itong bike na ito para makasunod ako sa mga libing tapos bumubuhat ako ng mga patay,” the 30-year-old Manileño told First Bike Ride.
What does he mean by that? Why is there a need to carry the dead?
“May mga libing kasi dito na hindi binubuhat ng mga nakiki-libing ‘yung ataul. ‘Yun ang diskarte namin,” he explained. “Minsan kasi malayo sa kalsada o mataas ‘yung nitso kaya mahirap i-daan ‘yung kabaong. Kami ang magta-trabaho para maingatan ‘yung patay kasi alam namin kung paano bubuhatin.”
He used to paint building walls but the pandemic made it hard for him to get work. For the meantime, he settles for this job because he needs to earn. He said that his bike gives him an advantage to score clients because competition in the cemetery can be tough.
Bicycles give convenience to everyone living inside the 54-hectare cemetery. We went around and it was huge. There were many makeshift houses—we even saw sari-sari stores and basketball courts.
“Importante ‘yung bike kasi mahirap ‘yung transportation dito eh,” Tobby said. A bicycle is the most affordable vehicle for them. “Mahalaga rin siya sa akin dahil mahirap sumakay ngayon kasi ilang jeep lang pinapayagan bumiyahe ng gobyerno.”
He’s been living here for a long time and he encouraged us to bike around Manila North Cemetery often. He said that it’s really peaceful and added that “tahimik ang pamumuhay dito.”
It feels surreal cycling here especially that there are so many tombs around but there’s truth in what Tobby said: it’s calm, quiet and refreshing. Cemeteries should really live up to its function of being a place where people rest in peace.
At the end of our conversation, someone approached Tobby and said, “pahiram ako ng bike mo, may kukunin lang ako sa labas.”
Tobby looked at us and smiled, “sabi sa inyo mahalaga bike dito eh.”