Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu has assured residents of Cebu City on the government’s diligence in making sure the construction of a cemetery for deceased coronavirus disease (COVID-19) patients will meet the “highest health and safety standards”.

“We have to ensure the development of roads leading up to here. There are trees here in the area, most of the mango trees. If the city can find a way to minimize the cutting of trees, the better,” Cimatu said in a statement.

The environment chief, who was designated by President Rodrigo Duterte to oversee the national government’s intervention to address the COVID-19 crisis in Cebu City, released a statement amid fears on the effects of the cemetery to the environment.

The environment head, along with Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella and city and environment officials visited the cemetery site recently.

He noted that the two-hectare proposed burial site is outside of the city’s protected area, and is far from residential areas.

“Out of all the sites we looked at, this is the best one,” Cimatu said.

Labella said Barangay Sapangdaku is a good site of choice for the COVID-19 cemetery.

He assured the residents that the city government will secure permission from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) before introducing any development to the lot situated in the two sitios of the village.

The city, Labella said, will not proceed with the site development unless the DENR gives them the green light.

“There has to be an ordinance approved by the council for the construction of that cemetery.” 

“I have certified as urgent the ordinance for the new public cemetery in Sapangdaku. There has to be an ordinance approved by the council for the construction of that cemetery,” he said.

The city government decided to move the burial site for COVID-related deaths to Sapangdaku after environment groups opposed its construction in Sitio Catives II in Barangay Guba.

According to them, any development in Guba is illegal as it is within the protected area defined under Republic Act 9486 or the Central Cebu Protected Landscape Act. It is also within the Kotkot-Lusaran Watershed Forest Reserve by virtue of Presidential Decree 1074, as amended.

Environmentalists also said the recent cutting of trees in Sitio Catives II had no prior approval from the Central Cebu Protected Landscape – Protected Area Management Board (CCPL-PAMB).

Meanwhile, Melquiades Feliciano, who is assisting Cimatu on the COVID-19 interventions, thanked the City Council and residents of Barangay Sapangdaku for approving the construction of the cemetery in the area.

“This is an urgent undertaking that directly addresses Cebu City’s public health and safety.” 

“The IATF-EID (Inter-Agency Task Force for the management of Emerging Infectious Diseases) is grateful for the help and cooperation of the Sapangdaku residents and the City Council. This is an urgent undertaking that directly addresses Cebu City’s public health and safety,” Feliciano said.

The cemetery in Sapangdaku aims to address the current backlogs being experienced by crematoriums in the city.

The move to build a cemetery exclusively for COVID-19 fatalities is a result of the proactive approach being adopted by the city’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) with the guidance coming from IATF-Visayas led by Cimatu.

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