House bill protects grievers vs abusive morgues

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Five members of Congress have jointly proposed new legislation seeking to safeguard grievers against potential abuses by funeral homes, amid reports that crooked agents of the law have established lucrative rackets taking cuts from mortuaries that have been claiming the dead bodies of victims of fatal road accidents and violent crime.

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The proposed Griever’s Protection Act, or House Bill (HB) 5036, seeks to criminalize and punish the harassment or exploitation of families who have lost loved ones, and who are unable to pay for the services of the morgues that retrieved the remains of their departed kin.

Makati City congressmen Luis Campos Jr. and Monsour del Rosario 3rd, together with their Manila counterparts Manuel Luis Lopez, John Marvin Nieto and Rosenda Ann Ocampo authored the bill.

“The loss of a loved one is already an ordeal in itself, considering the emotional and financial hardship associated with taking care of the dead. We must not allow death care providers or rotten agents of the law to take advantage of the families of the dead,” Campos, a deputy minority leader, said in a statement on Sunday.

“The proper burial of our departed is deeply enshrined not only in our culture, but also in our faith. Those who prey on family members of the dead for extra financial benefit deserve to be punished for violations against basic human decency,” he added.

Under the bill, the following acts committed against a person who just suffered the death of a family member shall constitute a violation punishable by up to six months in prison plus a fine of up to P150,000:

• Compelling by force, intimidation, deceit or any other means a person to undertake the services of a morgue, crematorium or any other death care provider;

• Charging excessive fees for services rendered by those in the death care sector that are well above the “fair value” or average amount charged by those providing the same services in the same city or municipality; and

• Failure to provide the nearest kin of the deceased prior written notice of the cost of services.

Public officers who commit any of the infractions face additional administrative penalties.

While still campaigning for President, Rodrigo Duterte had implied that he expects morgues to boom once he carries out his war on drugs.

“If I become President, I advise you people to put up several funeral parlor businesses because I am against illegal drugs,” Duterte told journalists in a chance interview in November 2015.

Under HB 5036, family members shall have the right to select which death care provider shall cater to needs of their deceased.

Family members shall refer to “spouses, legitimate ascendants and descendants, relatives by blood within the fourth civil degree, and brothers and sisters, whether full or half-blood.”

In instances when the deceased is a victim of a crime, was involved in an accident or any other instances where the family is not promptly notified of the death, “only the most basic services required to preserve the body may be rendered by the morgue retrieving the body.”

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