For Westerners, or any other foreigner for that matter, the words ‘gambling’ and ‘dead bodies’ will never go in the same sentence. Gambling will never be associated with dead bodies just as century eggs will never be associated with hamburgers. However, this is not the case in the Philippines. The dead is used as an excuse to gamble during wakes. What is even more surprising is that despite it being illegal, it remains evident in the society.
The practice of mourning for the dead has remained the same in all social classes in the Philippine society. Each family is given an ample amount of time to grieve for the loss of their loved one. Traditionally, wakes were held inside the homes of the lamenting families but nowadays, mourners prefer to hold wakes in funeral homes or chapels, as they believe that the spirit of the departed may remain in their homes. In addition, holding wakes in funeral homes are more convenient due to the fact that employees who are tasked to assist clients are always within reach. Unfortunately, not everyone can afford renting a room or chapel for their departed loved one thus, they still choose to hold wakes in their humble abodes.
Many lower class Filipino families rent tents from their respective barangays and position them outside their homes as there is usually not enough space inside. This practice already appears normal in the Philippine society. What seems out of the ordinary is that there is always a large wooden table beside the casket with alcoholic beverages and playing cards on top. To add to the strange aura, these families often mourn for more than a week, which exceeds the normal duration of wakes. There are times when these wakes even reach months.
So what’s the explanation behind this mystery?
I got the chance to interview a man who grew up in the “slum” area of Pasay City. He is in his mid-thirties but asked to not be identified in the article for security purposes. He explained that the reason for the large wooden table with liquor and playing cards on top is so that the mourning family can invite their guests to gamble with them. They do this in order to earn money to pay for the expenses of the wake.
In middle to higher class families, guests would usually give abuloy to the family of the deceased, but lower class families, knowing that most of their connections come from the same class as they do, result to gambling in order to earn money to pay for expenses. This act, however, is obviously illegal in the country so how do these families get away with it.
My interviewee narrates that the people with authority who usually monitors these wakes are none other than the barangay. Families of the deceased would usually give some of the day’s tong or income that came from the game to the people who work for their barangay to escape the law. Bribery, for short, is practiced.
But how do they get these wakes to last for months?
Technically speaking, it would be impossible to keep the dead inside the casket for months if you do not have enough money for maintenance, but how do these families do it? My interviewee shared that although there is always a casket on display, the person inside is not always the same. Often times, the person inside would only stay there until 2 weeks, and then if ever someone in the community dies, neighboring families would talk to the family of the deceased and ask if they could borrow the body for a week so that they would have a reason for gambling. Likewise, they would have to give the barangay an incentive so that the government unit will be able to defend them from higher officials if ever they are questioned. “Nagdadalamhati pa yung pamilya”, he said is usually the lines that barangay officials would reason out to higher officials when they are questioned.
This practice is obviously wrong but it still openly practiced. How do they do it? Now you know. Has anyone ever attempted to stop this practice? Maybe, but this practice is still very much evident in the “slum” areas in the metropolis until today.