Funerals and Burials: Rights of Legitimate Family, Impact of COVID-19 Crisis

The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) crisis obviously has grave impact on the whole world, the Philippines included. As far as the subject matter of this site, the COVID-19 has interesting implications on the least unlikely segment of Philippine laws — funerals.

The bigger issue in funerals is usually the fight between the legitimate spouse and the other family as to who is entitled to the possession of the body of the deceased. This is a settled issue. The law gives the right and duty to make funeral arrangements to the surviving legal wife.

The Civil Code provides that the duty and the right to make arrangements for the funeral of a relative shall be in accordance with the order established for support (Article 305; Title X of the Civil Code, which contains the provisions on funerals, has not been repealed by the Family Code). The order of preference provided in Article 199 of the Family Code is as follows:

  • (a) the spouse;
  • (b) the descendants in the nearest degree;
  • (c) the ascendants in the nearest degree; and
  • (d) the brothers and sisters.

The legal wife/husband has a better right over the other relatives of the deceased spouse. She/he definitely has a better right over the common-law partner of the deceased.

The Civil Code also provides that every funeral shall be in keeping with the social position of the deceased (Article 306). In the time of COVID-19, there is a uniform set of rules for everybody, regardless of social standing. The Department of Health (DOH), in Department Memorandum No. 2020-158, provides the uniform rules on the proper handling of the remains of suspect, probable and confirmed COVID-19 cases (see PUM and PUI No More: Shift of Classifications to Suspect Case, Probable Case, and Confirmed COVID-19 Case). The more pertinent regulations are:

  • Embalming of the human remains is not allowed. Wakes or any form of public assemblies are also not allowed. 
  • Suspect and probable COVID-19 patients who died with pending test results shall be handied similar to a confirmed COVID-19 case. 
  • Burial and cremation of the remains of suspect, probable, and confirmed COVID-19 patients are safe for as long as strict infection and prevention control measures are observed. 
  • The procedures for burial and cremation shall be done within 12 hours after death. However, burial of remains should be in accordance with the person’s religion and culturally-acceptable norms, to the most possible extent (e.g. in Islamic rites, cremation is forbidden or “haram”). 
  • For burials, remains shall not be taken to any place of public assembly. Viewing of the deceased is not permitted. During the funeral, only adult members of the family of the deceased may be permitted to attend. Remains shall be placed in a durable, airtight and sealed metal casket. For patients with Islamic faith, as stated above, remains shall alternatively be placed in double cadaver bag with the prescribed thickness.
  • For cremation, cremains shall be reduced to the size of fine sand or ashes and packed in a  cremains container before they are turned over to the relatives of the deceased.

Somebody might argue that these guidelines may go against the Civil Code provision that the funeral shall be in accordance with the expressed wishes of the deceased (Article 307). It is settled, however, that the wishes of the deceased must not be contrary to legal provisions concerning funerals and the disposition of the remains (Valino vs. Adriano, G.R. No. 182894, 22 April 2014, citing Toelentino). These regulations are contained in DOH Department Memorandum 2020-158 dated 22 March 2020.


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