COFFINS, ANYONE? Municipal officials Tina Torres and Mia Marquez check on the new caskets meticulously made by a Kapampangan craftsman (inset) at the Germel factory in San Vicente, Santo Tomas. Photos by Ric Gonzales
SANTO TOMAS, Pampanga – About 40 percent of the total 37,886 population of this town largely depends on the coffin-making industry once considered morbid and unaccepted by its own residents, Mayor Joselito Naguit disclosed on Wednesday.
The casket-making industry started at the height of World World II in the 1940’s when the country was invaded by Japanese soldiers and later freed by the American forces, said Naguit.
But since the 1970’s, he added, the industry has been accepted by the locals and visitors and allowed many of its some 63,000 households to become economically productive.
“Before, we hid when we made coffins. Now, we openly do them as they mean hard earned money for our people. Besides, someone has to do the caskets and Santo Tomas did it,” said the two-term mayor in the dialect.
He added that then Santo Tomas residents led by the late Aquino “Apung Quili” Tayag had seen the opportunity to earn from making coffins for the victims of war.
“And there were several woods then in Pampanga not being used other than for cooking,” said Naguit, who himself donated three drums of formalin that could be used for 1,000 dead bodies in Mindanao.
PAINFUL BUT NEEDED
This 4th class municipality hugged the media limelight when Gov. Lilia Pineda and the Pampanga Mayor’s League (PML) led by Candaba Mayor Jerry Pelayo decided to donate 500 coffins for the more than 1,000 victims of typhoon Sendong in Cagayan De Oro and Iligan Cities.
“It’s painful to donate coffins but we have no choice but to give respect to our dearly departed brothers and sisters. I hope it will ease the pain experienced by their families,” said Pineda in the dialect.
The provincial government’s donation was about P1.4 million, contributing to the income of this town which produces about 24,000 coffins monthly.
Naguit said they supply about 70 percent of the total coffin production of the country. As a result, he added, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) recognized the town some 60 kilometers north of Metro Manila as “Casket Capital of the Philippines.”
Public Employment Service Office (PESO) chief Mia Marquez said the coffin manufacturers received the order to produce 500 coffins at about 2:00 p.m. on Monday.
She added that they had to be finished all the orders within 12 hours so that the Philippine Navy could deliver them in hard-hit areas in Northern Mindanao early morning on Tuesday.
UNDER THEIR HOUSES
Punto Central Luzon on Wednesday afternoon visited barangay San Vicente, the top producer of coffins among the town’ seven villages.
Municipal official Mia Marquez said there are 62 coffin makers tagged as wood and metal crafts registered in their record.
Marquez quickly added that “more are the so-called backyard makers.”
In an interview with residents of San Vicente, they said “it’s normal to see houses which have small coffin factories under their houses.”
“That’s why some of our new visitors give a strange look when they see coffins brought out on the streets for curing under the sun,” they said.
The backyard and unregistered casket makers, they added, supply the demands of the prominent coffin producers in the town, including Germel Metal and Wood Crafts in San Vicente.
Acting Tourism Office chief Tina Torres said Germel’s stock of coffins of more than 10 were the first batches to be delivered in Mindanao on Tuesday.
Germel owned by Rogelio De Los Reyes had to complete the 49 coffins overnight as part of the 500 ordered by the PML and Pineda.
De Los Reyes had to hire more workers on top of his 10 regular staff to finish the order on time.
At Germel, some of their workers earn P300 to P350 per day considering the lowest allowed by law in the 4th class town is about P285.
Torres said “flat tops” and “OMB” styles of coffins had been manufactured for the flash-floods victims in Mindanao.
Flat tops cost between P3,000 to P4,000 each straight from the factory, said Torres. She added that they are the cheapest among coffins created by Santo Tomas craftsmen.
“Our makers do not really make Flat tops now. Their design, however, is easy to do considering we have to finish fast our orders,” said Torres in the dialect.
For his part, Naguit said “we also have to maximize the funds of the governor.”
Torres said the OMB caskets costs about P4,000 to P6,000 each from the factory.
Iligan and Cagayan De Oro folks were reportedly awed by the design of the coffins considering they are “donations,” said Torres.
But honestly, she added, OMB coffins are “one of the simple designs we do.”
Torres said coffins made out of metals are the in-demand orders of late. It’s factory price start at about P20,000 per piece.
Torres and Naguit were two of the officials tasked by Naquit to ensure the completion of the orders on time.
“Sadly, we can not ask our visitors to take home our major products for souvenirs such the case in other towns,” said Torres in a jest. “Our makers could not also offer ‘buy one-take one’ promos.”
Toress said that she and Ma. Lourdes Carmella Jade “Chingkit” Pangilinan, tourism officer of the City of San Fernando, met earlier for the planned “Kabaong (coffin) Festival” in Santo Tomas.
They decided to forgo the plan as “society may not accept it yet,” Torres said.