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Quezon City columbarium consoles bereaved with hotel-like amenities, service  |


Quezon City columbarium consoles bereaved with hotel-like amenities, service 

Francine Medina -
Quezon City columbarium consoles bereaved with hotel-like amenities, service 
Aeternitas Chapels and Columbarium's hotel-like amenities (clockwise from left): an atrium with Italian tiles, an elevator, comfortable rooms with mini-kitchens and a soon-to-open coffee shop.
Aeternitas Chapels and Columbarium

MANILA, Philippines — We are survivors. We lived through the harrowing deaths and destruction wrought by COVID-19. Novelist Arundhati Roy described the pandemic as a portal that will forever change the way we look at life — and, to most, the way we look at death.

But while we weep over the loss of loved ones, we also smile while reminiscing the good times spent with them.   

That’s the paradox businessman Orly Francisco felt when he envisioned Aeternitas Chapels and Columbarium — a nine-story building that offers a cool ambiance and a warm vibe to ease the pain of losing loved ones.

Francisco believes one’s passing is a cause to honor and celebrate the person’s life rather than to continuously grieve and be depressed. He wanted a comfortable and safe place where the bereaved could gather and receive visitors with convenience.

The amiable, self-effacing Francisco, whose rags-to-riches life story is also filled with miserable and joyful moments, said in the vernacular: “I want people to feel the convenience when they’re here. The most sensitive people are those who are grieving. They’re already filled with sadness and, most of the time, they feel more sadness at the wake. I want to give them the best service possible.”

Symbol of eternity

Most motorists and pedestrians passing on Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City probably have no idea what’s inside the hulking building that is Aeternitas, which sits beside St. Peter Parish Church.

One can’t miss the cream-color edifice with its grand stained-glass window bearing the image of Aeternitas — the divine symbol of eternity in ancient Roman religion — that stretches from the ground floor all the way to the top.

Fr. Gerry Tapiador, Francisco’s friend who was, at the time, St. Peter parish priest, thought of the name Aeternitas. Tapiador had previously advised Francisco — who had been buying and selling properties — to hold on to the lot since he can make good use of it someday.

Aeternitas’ hotel-like lobby is spacious — and quiet in a relaxing way. The feel of luxury is palpable while walking on Italian tiles, the flooring material on all floors of the building.

Café chairs and tables are spread at the atrium, which is decorated with fresh foliage. A water feature, a fountain, to enhance the calming atmosphere is in the works. A coffee shop will open soon.

Francisco’s love for botanicals is evident as potted plants line one side of the building, evoking a sense of the outdoors seeping in. The lighting is sunshiny, as all rooms have floor-to-ceiling windows.

Floors 2 to 6 have more than a dozen funeral chapels, each with its own spacious veranda with potted bamboo plants. Each chapel also comes with LED Smart TVs which come in handy for online streaming of wakes that are now part of the new norm. Modern paintings in muted palettes tastefully decorate the chapels as well.

Condo-quality bedrooms are a feature of each chapel. It comes with a nice bed, clean beddings, a fully equipped mini-kitchen, and toilet and bath.

The building is pet-friendly with house rules.

Deluxe services

But what sets Aeternitas apart, besides the spacious layout, is its deluxe services. A trained tribute planner will listen to the needs and wishes of the bereaved family and advise on how to hold the wake and funeral without any hitches.

Aeternitas staff are within reach for the duration of the wake, aside from the chapel manager, a housekeeping team, and even a butler who will serve as personal assistant to the bereaved family.

Francisco explained that, in times of sadness like a death in the family, moments spent with grieving members count — not the in-between organizing chores that come with consoling family and friends.

Zest for life

Francisco, who turns 70 in July, looks fit with a healthy regimen, which includes windsurfing, walking, biking and golf. His zest for life is inspiring as he generously shares nuggets of wisdom gained from a long history of doing odd jobs for survival.

Growing up in Pritil, Tondo, he recalled his mother waking him up at 3 a.m. so they can go to Divisoria to buy wholesale fruits which they will then resell per piece.

He sold fruits and all sorts of goods, moonlighted shining shoes and delivered newspapers. “I developed my instinct to read people and figure out what they need. That’s how I made money,” he recounted.

By age 7, Francisco was a practicing entrepreneur with a proficiency in math. He said that, from elementary through high school, he was able to support himself financially and can afford to give his mother money for household needs.

His father was a struggling visual artist and there were eight children to feed, so every little help to augment the family income mattered. Francisco was the fifth child in the brood.

By 12 years old, Francisco had P50,000 saved from hard work. In 1983, he found himself in Saudi Arabia, where the sight of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) breaking down in tears after losing money entrusted for fellow Filipinos to hand-carry to the Philippines gave him the idea to engage in money remittance.

Francisco made it big helping OFWs send money safely to their respective families. He now finds it funny that he was once a “double zero” — literally “walang-wala” as in dirt poor.

All the years spent hustling for a living led him to reflect: “When someone says that something can’t be done, I'm challenged to find the solution. Until I find the solution, I won’t quit.”

Investment opportunity

But besides his dream of redefining funeral services and wakes in the country, he also advocates people to grow their money through investments.

The death care industry is expanding in the Philippines, according to a report by international market research group Euromonitor International. In 2015, the Philippine mortuary service was an P18.23 billion business. It is projected to be worth P23.62 billion soon.

The increase in customer demand is inevitable, and the shortage of burial spaces in urban areas is pushing costs and the value of memorial lots and vaults to rise.

As a man always brimming with ideas to make money, Francisco said Aeternitas is a conducive space for departed loved ones, but it’s also a "profitable, long-term investment for those who are living.”

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