Widow to sue town mayor, et al over hubby's burial

April 11, 2020
Improper burial
The body of Aris Alba placed inside a body bag while being burried in a hastily dug hole. Photo by GEMI FORMARAN

 LUCENA CITY--- The widow of a patient under investigation (PUI) who died on Monday assailed the town mayor of Gumaca, Quezon for allegedly ordering the improper and indecent burial of her husband's remains without informing her.

Kate Alba, 25, said they will be filing legal action against Gumaca town Mayor Webster Letargo, Municipal Health Officer Dr. Maria Estelita Soriano and other health personnel of the hospital where her husband was confined on Sunday (April 5) and eventually died the following day.

In a phone interview, Kate also cried foul over the incident that happened at Gumaca District Hospital where her late husband Aris, 25, was allegedly mishandled by its personnel forcing him to be combative and go wild shortly before he passed away at around 7:00 p.m.

In a phone interview, Kate alleged that she was saddened upon learning that her busband's body was immediately brought at the public cemetery hours after he passed away without informing her, allegedly on orders of Letargo to Soriano and the latter to the personnel of Funeraria Salvaña.

This was confirmed by Mabini village  chief Ramon Reynante Castillo who is also the president of Association of Barangay Captains (ABC)- Gumaca and god father of the couple.

Castillo said Letargo and Soriano told him in separate phone conversations that they indeed ordered the immediate burial on reasons that the deceased was a PUI and that they were running out of time.

"Pero papayagan daw naman po ang viewing ng mga kaanak sa paglilibing basta huwag lang bubuksan ang body bag kung saan nakalagay ang bangkay ni Aris. Dapat daw po ay mailibing siya within twelve hours", said Castillo.

But Kate said the actual burial transpired at around 11: 00 a.m. on Tuesday.

In a video footage sent by Kate, his husband's remains placed in a body bag was seen while being carried by four Personal Protective Equipment- wearing men in a stretcher and was eventully burried in a shallow and hastlily dug grave.

Kate alleged that several violations were clearly violated by personnel of the municipal government.

The widow was referring to Interim guidelines on the management of human remains for PUIs and confirmed COVID-19 cases under memorandum circular 2020-063 issued by the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG).

A lawyer who voluntered to extend legal assistance to the family but requested not to be named disclosed that the general guidelines have been violated since the family members of the deceased were not informed of the body's whereabouts and burial arrangements.

He said that the manner in which the remains were disposed without following protocols particularly not placing the remains in a sealed casket, and deprivibg the family  of the right to be informed and oppurtunity to make burial arrangements, trample on the inherent dignity of the dead for the sole reason that he was a PUI.

The lawyer mentioned the family's claim that they did not receive a death certificate and was not able to secure a burial permit considering that they were not informed of the circumstances.

"The footage shows that the deceased was only placed in a body bag which could or could not be airtight while the guidelines require that the deceased shall be placed on a sealed casket. It also obviously shows that the grave was less than 1.5 meters deep, the depth required in the guidelines", said the lawyer.

The fact that the remains were improperly disposed of shows disrespect to the dead and wrongful interference to the right of the family to make funeral arrangements, he said.

The lawyer said any violation from issued guidelines can be prosecuted under "Bayanihan to heal as one act".

On his part, Mayor Letargo explained that there could be some lapses on what happened but it was part of their judgment call.

"It so happened that such incident was something very new to us and we must admit that we were not that much prepared, but we have done our part", said Letargo.

He said time element was a big factor why some lapses might have occured in the process.

"When I learned that the cadaver of the deceased was still in the hospital at around 2:00 a.m.because no funeral parlor wanted to have it picked- up, I decided to get it using our personnel who brought it at our public cemetery, then I requested the owner of Funeraria Salvaña to have it burried immediately. And it was only the following morning that digging of a grave was done by our hired laborers. And yes, due to complications and time element, we were not able to provide a casket. But we had no intension to disrespect the deceased and his family", he explained.

He also clarified that the family had been informed contrary to the claims of the widow.