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Court rejects Osmeña bid to stop cemetery closure

By: Ador Vincent S. Mayol November 29,2014 - 01:07 AM

A Cebu City judge yesterday denied the plea of former Cebu City mayor and congressman Tomas Osmeña to stop the closure of the Doña Pepang Cemetery which City Hall plans to convert into a heritage park built around his family mausoleum.

“This court is not convinced that a TRO (temporary restraining order) should be issued as there is no urgency that would cause serious damage to the petitioner,” said Judge Alexander Acosta of the Regional Trial Court Branch 9.

On Sunday, a public consultation will be held in City Hall with affected families who have mortal remains of loved ones buried in the Roman Catholic cemetery, that used to be owned by the Cebu Archdiocese.

In his ruling issued in open court, the judge accepted the assurance of Collin Rosell, chief of the Cebu City Division for the Welfare of the Urban Poor (DWUP), that the city government will not remove any graves until after the consultation is held.

Mayor Michael Rama earlier ordered the transfer of all graves in the cemetery, except for the Osmeña Mausoleum,  in order to implement a 2008 plan to rehabilitate the area and develop an Osmena Memorial Park.

No more burials were allowed in the area after All Saints’ Day last Nov. 1.

Notices were posted requiring all mortal remains in the cemetery to be transferred by Nov. 30, 2014.  Settlers were also told to vacate.

Osmeña filed the legal action, arguing that Mayor Rama has no right to disturb the present condition of the cemetery which is named after the late wife of former president Sergio Osmeña Sr., Estefania Chiong Veloso.

During yesterday’s hearing, Cebu City Attorney Jerone Castillo showed in court a letter which Osmeña sent to then Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal on July 16, 2008, manifesting his desire to “put up a beautiful park” at Doña Pepang Cemetery.

A Memorandum of Agreement was later signed between the Archdiocese and Cebu City swapping the cemetery for another city-owned property.

“It was former Mayor Osmeña himself who, during his time, requested to convert Doña Pepang Cemetery to a beautiful park. Now, what happened? He’s opposing Mayor Rama’s plan to improve the place,” Castillo said.

The city attorney said he could not understand why Osmeña is now objecting to rehabilitating the area.

“Imagine the place being beautified. It will be best for Cebu. That place is where the first Cebuano president, Sergio Osmeña Sr., was laid to rest. And if there are informal settlers in that area, where is the historical value there?” Castillo said.

“There can be no historical value for a place with eyesores. Imagine if we allow informal settlers to reside at Plaza Independencia.”

“The city has no intention of destroying the cemetery. We don’t want to desecrate the place. What we’re doing is just implementing an earlier order of the court,” he said.

In an earlier case, Castillo said another court had granted the request of the Archdiocese of Cebu to remove informal settlers residing in the cemetery Castillo also questioned why the complaint wasn’t filed by informal settlers or the families of those persons buried at Doña Pepang Cemetery.

“Honorable Osmeña is not the real party in interest… There’s no document showing that the settlers authorized honorable Osmeña to represent them,” he said.

This question was echoed by the judge.

Benjamin Militar, legal counsel of Osmeña, said his client is filing the case in his capacity as citizen, resident, and taxpayer of Cebu City.

The judge wasn’t satisfied.

“What is his right to represent the settlers? If I have to go by your answer, does that mean the petitioner (Osmeña) can represent all informal settlers in the Philipipines? Can he file cases whenever there are eviction cases? Why not represent other informal settlers aside from those living inside Doña Pepang Cemetery?” the judge said.

DWUP chief Rosell said the city government has been coordinating with informal settlers residing inside the cemetery.

“They are well attended to based on the provisions of the Urban Development and Housing Act of 1992. All requirements have been complied with. That’s why not a single settler filed a case,” he said.

Mayor Rama said he was glad the city was given a judicial venue to present its side and defend itself.

“I’m glad that the TRO they wanted was denied. I’m thankful that the judge and the court of justice again prevailed over trial by publicity. I’d like to congratulate my legal team, DWUP and whoever were there,” Rama told reporters yesterday.

“There was nothing to be worried about getting destroyed. There is no destruction, there is enhancement, there is uplifting, upgrading and there will always be the rule of law,” Rama said.

He thanked Osmeña for initiating the “noble” project.

The mayor said he would attend the public consultation with affected family members at 10 a.m. Sunday at City Hall’s Social Hall.

“We want to talk to the relatives about the plans and more importantly, we want to hear from them on how they can help the city with this project,” Rosell said. /With reporter Jose Santino Bunachita

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TAGS: Cebu City, Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña, cemetery, Doña Pepang

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