TikTok’s latest darling is not a fashion influencer, or an edgy young comedian, or a food reviewer (although one is born every day it seems)—it’s—hold your caskets, an embalsamador. He is Fernando “Bong” Malgapo Jr., a licensed embalmer whose video posts have been TikTok favorites in recent months.
On his TikTok account called Kamorgue, which currently has over 279,000 followers and 3.2 million likes, he answers all sorts of questions related to his job—from the amount of formalin injected to a dead person’s body to the grossest thing he had to do in the line of duty to personal creepy encounters.
The Malgapos of Nueva Ecija have been in the funeral business since the 1970s. It was Bong’s lolo who started the family enterprise, later passed on to his children. Bong, now 25, works in his uncle’s funeral business, Nonong Malgapo Funeral Service, which is based in the municipality of San Antonio. He got his feet wet in the biz at age 17 when he would assist in funeral services. “Nakikita ko kung paano nila ayusin ang patay, paano nila ito pine-preserve, mine-makeupan, pinapangiti. Namamangha ako,” he tells ANCX.
But while admittedly fascinated in the work, he was originally bent on becoming a minister in the Iglesia ni Cristo. So after high school, he enrolled at the College of Evangelical Ministry in Quezon City. Unfortunately, after two years, Bong’s mother passed away, so there was no one to support his education. Bong lost his father years earlier.
A relative would offer to send Bong to a DOH-accredited review center to study embalming in 2015, and that’s how he got into the profession. He got his license as an embalmer in 2017.
Knowledge in human anatomy is very important in the practice, says the embalmer, but so is guts—the guts to take on the actual morgue work. “Nung pinagsolo na ako, na kami na lang ng patay sa morgue, talagang lakasan na ng loob,” Bong recalls. “Hindi ako natatakot sa patay. Ang ikinatatakot ko, kapag hindi ko nai-preserve nang maayos ang patay at mabulukan ako.”
In the beginning, it took him five to six hours to embalm a body. Now he can finish one in an hour or two. “Kasi gamay mo na, alam mo na ang mga senaryong pwedeng mangyari. Kaya napapabilis ang trabaho,” he says. The maximum number of bodies he’s done in a day is nine. “Talagang maghapon magdamag yun. Pero meron naman akong helper nung time na yun. Kasi baka ako sumunod dun kapag tinapos kong mag-isa yun,” he says with a laugh.
One of the most difficult parts of the embalming process is injecting the formalin. “Magkakaiba ng kaso ang bawat patay,” he says. “Merong patay na kamamatay lang pinaembalsamo kaagad, madaling gawin yun. Yung iba naman, dose oras ng patay, kumbaga sa isda, bilasa na. Hindi agad tumatalab ang formalin kapag ganon.”
At the height of the pandemic, he knew the job was extra risky for those like him working in the funeral biz. “Talagang buwis buhay din kami nun,” he says. If the body came from a hospital, this was usually wrapped and placed in a cadaver bag. So they only had to cremate or bury the body. But if the patient died at home after undergoing home quarantine, this means it’s the embalmers who need to wrap the dead. Thankfully, his uncle’s funeral parlor have not received Covid patients for almost a year now.
Bong says he never thought mortuary work would interest people on TikTok. One afternoon in July, he just decided to post a video of himself while having coffee at work. He felt nostalgic and remembered his deceased father who died of a heart attack while working abroad. When netizens found out Bong is an embalmer, they started asking him questions about his job.
So far, his most watched video on the platform, with over 10 million views, features his answer to the question: “Kuya, totoo po bang may mga gumagalaw pa rin na patay habang ineembalsamo sila?” Bong said he’s seen some and that this usually happens among patients who died of a heart attack. The rest of his answer is on this link.
Bong says he’s been getting a mix of positive and negative comments, which is understandable. “Kasi pag sanay ka sa patay, wala ka ng pandidirihan talaga. Minsan nakikita nila sa video wala akong gloves humahawak ng patay. Hindi naman natin sila masisisi. Hindi sila sanay sa ganon. Maraming hindi marunong gumamit ng magandang salita,” he says.
The positive remarks are mostly from satisfied clients. “Yung iba, naserbisyuhan na namin ang kamag-anak nila, at sinasabi nila, ‘Magaling gumawa yan,’” he says. “Ang tinitingnan kasi talaga sa gawa ng embalmer yung mukha. Kung paano mag-ayos ng facial expression ng patay, paano mag-makeup. Ika nga ng iba yung parang natutulog lang.”