Pasig Panchong - a homage to families
From the Desk
Tradition dictates that every November 1-2, we visit our dearly departed and celebrate the beauty of their former lives. It is a day of reunions and how cryptic it may be, a day of picnics and feasts in the serene tombs of the dead. A culture that brings us closer together while reminding us the mystery and shortness of life. Even before the actual date of the All Saints and All Souls Days, people flock cemeteries to clear up the gathering mosses and plants that grew vehemently at the sides of tombstones. Enterprising people offer services of cleaning graves and shining the marble carved names of our beloved dead - a way for us to remember them and honor their well lived lives. On top of it all, are our penchant desires for candles and arranged flowers, which we ludicrously guard from street dwellers who “vulture” candles for its wax and flowers they resell to late visitors.
The Panchong is the Pasig Catholic Cemetery – a place for the dead the local version of a churchyard for it is technically behind the Pasig Cathedral, the seat of Catholicism on this part of the town. Before you enter its eerily quiet confines, you will see a march of flower vendors, stores and stands that are open all year round. The flower shops became a well-beloved part of everyone’s lives as it created flower arrangements to celebrate people from “womb to tomb”. These stores also provide the Church endless supplies of flowers and arrangers who are all busy especially during May for the Flores de Mayo and December for the Feast of the Nuestra Senora dela Imaculada de Concepcion de Pasig.
Before herbal medicines became the talk of the town, strings of women peddle tree roots and dried leaves considered the pinnacle of the Filipino Traditional Medicine. Banaba, Pito-pito, luya among others inserted in bottles or dried to perfection to be used as a tea drink greet any passerby and remind them on the ancient belief of our forbearers that only nature can solve and heal bodily weaknesses and diseases. Sardonic as it may seem, some vendors also sell abortion drugs among others that solicit a very non-religious feel despite a very holy and churchly setting. Drinks and food of every kind are also available at the steps of the building silently guarding the Panchong and its “residents”. The second floor of this structure used to be a funeral parlor where countless wakes took place and liters of tears shed.
Why do we call Panchong “Panchong”? What’s with a name? Panchong is a Filipinized term of the “Pantheon” - a place for the Gods. From the Greek words Pan and Theon which mean "All Gods". In fact, when you go to Rome, there is a place called Pantheon with a very beautiful oculus atop its heavenly dome where the sun’s rays freely enter the ancient temple. It now serves as the Basilica of St. Mary and the Martyrs and perhaps one of the best preserved and celebrated Ancient Roman Buildings in the world.
However our Pachong is different because it was derived from the Spanish "Panteon". The Panteon has two meanings with the first one similar to the Greeks. The second relates something that is culturally present and passionately Filipino. Panteon is the Panteon de Familia - a Family Vault.
As you walk along the main road inside the Panchong, you will be greeted with enormous well intricate monuments that says a lot about the people who are now currently deposited on the "vaults". The imposing mausoleum of the Concepcions where Don Fortunato and his wife Victoria rest, stands on a quiet plot with a winged angel perpetually minding the fort. Stories of old says that onlookers patiently stand and wait for the arrival of actor Luis Gonzales who go to the tomb every November 1 together with his wife Vina Concepcion.
The beautiful but obviously old plot of Don Mariano Melendres, former Governor of Rizal Province sits at a side street where several mausoleums of the old Pasigueno families are lined up. Former Pasig Mayor Mario Raymundo's simple but unique crucifix-like resting place sits opposite the Art Deco mausoleum of the Sta. Anas. The simple square tomb of Ambassador Rodolfo Sanchez is on another side that is accessible because of its proximity to another gate.
A gold albeit fading statue of the La Pieta sits atop the family vault of the Reynosos. The Pieta may be a reminder not only to the Reynoso Family but to all families about the sorrow of death and the triumph of Christ over it. The Tomb of Carlos and Agapita Tech, the famous residents of Pasig's oldest house is perched at the inner lots but still near the gates of the cemetery.
Visiting the Panchong is a family affair. It is a reunion. A place where the living can visit and reconnect to their ancestors that taught them the beauty of strong familial ties and unity. Pasig's Panchong is an icon, a place of never ending stories. It is a glorious monument built for families and commemorates a bygone era. Vaults are made to guard something precious and irreplaceable. Panchongs act the same. It is a place for the Recuerdos de Amor - Memories of Love. Recuerdo with the root word recordar means to recall but the cor in recordar is for corazon - the heart. The Panchong is a place for the heart.
The Panchong may be dark at night but to the families of both the living and the dead it remains a bright spot. It symbolizes that indeed the torch of traditions are still being passed and carried triumphantly by the same people whose love is eternal.