NRCP Interfaith Prayer (NRCP Panalangin ng Bayan)

Notes to the production:

The National Research Council of the Philippines’ “Panalangin ng Bayan: An Interfaith Prayer” is an expression of the co-existing faiths in the archipelago. It is in five Philippine languages–Ifugao, Tausug, Sama, Negrense Ata, and Tagalog–and articulates the common desire for unity, cross-cultural understanding, strength to sustain effort for day to day subsistence, knowledge, hope, and love.

The prayer begins with incense smoke that morphs to clouds caressing the mountains at sunrise. This introductory visual gesture is backed up by sustained synthesized harmonies that usher in the newly composed chant in Ifugao by Rica Daya Aquino set to text supplied by Judy Baggo. Behind the singer’s chant intoned by Arjay Viray are Ifugao houses bathed by early morning mists. Then the scene shifts to work in wet rice agricultural fields, the backbone of Philippine economy for hundreds of years. The musical hook on the textual line “Be with us always” comes to the foreground now, with meter and rhythm signifying the dreary toil of human labor in the fields.

The image is immediately followed by views of the sea and the activity of fishing. Dr. Filemon Romero (former Chancellor of Mindanao State University in Tawi-Tawi) recites the Islamic greeting and the Tausug and Sama prayer by Mucha Shim-Quiling. These texts are accompanied by the ever popular melodic strain of the Sama folk tune leleng and arranged in the style of the regional syncretic kroncong (Malaysians pronounce it as keroncong). The image of the mosque (drone footage courtesy of Ricardo Antenor) and Quranic acclamation marks difference in faith. The prayer of male Elders inside the Sama langgal (indigenous prayer house) of Tabawan Island is a rare sight but the brotherhood of Elders is actually a very prevalent Filipino cultural practice. The solidarity of the Council of Elders mirrors the culture of deference to the ancestors whose memory endures in the present.

Then the sequence goes to the rainforest, the home of the Ata in Negros Island. This sequence begins with a camera pan of the green space that is a familiar Philippine woodland sight (though threatened by resource extraction that is also seen later). It ends with the numinous image of the current pantribal leader of the Ata communities in Negros Island, Rostom Bornea, who recorded a prayer of praise to the Almighty that Nils Emerson Flores here sings. The vision pays homage to the role that these most marginalized Filipinos have played in supplying traditional medicinal herbs to others who do not have access to the forest products and of their precious labor in the sugarcane fields of Negros Island. Living in places of low population density in out-of-the-way places, the Ata still practice the earliest form of horticulture in the archipelago. Images of planting pervade the section and, consequently, the music transforms into a more dynamic one with driving rhythm and a texture of hocket technique–a universal feature of precontact traditional Philippine music (I believe this practice has been with us, even before the contact with mediated Hindu-Buddhist cultures from Central Vietnam and Sumatra). Joshua CadeliƱa, along with the other already mentioned singers, provide a spirited rendition of the sonic background interlock.

The image of covid-19 masks floating on sea water is then interpolated to indicate the existential predicament of the human species, humble creatures on earth. (Note that in the original plan we wanted face shields to float on sea as a symbol of pandemic but we failed.) This is first presaged by the figure of the Nusantao (Malayo-Polynesian ancient sea people of the archipelago) riding the boat of existence towards the indeterminate horizon or future.

The music then shifts to Gregorian chant style representing Christian faiths. This was composed by Fr. Nilo Mangussad and sang by Thomas Virtucio. Representing humankind, we kneel for discernment and enlightenment (symbolized by fire) because we recognize the limits of our human mind. Though we live in fragile worlds of nature and society, we wager on the hope for a fervent national unity and strength. This strength is symbolized by the beauty of flowers surrealistically clinging to a rock in the flowing water of time.

The song ends with a female chorus, synthesizing previous thoughts. This final segment was envisioned to be a sing-along section like an upbeat praise song so as to inspire faith and hope. It is composed by John Christian Jose from previous melodic snippets and is rendered by his friends and other volunteers whose vocal sincerity exhudes like a perfume. The singers of this segment are sopranos Bernadette Mamauag, Mavel Bautista, Michaela Mari Sanares, April Glory de Guzman, Miah Canton; and altos Maria Blanca Krystl Buesa and Trisha Kaye Piao.

Fragments of prior musical lines, like a rainbow in the sky, form a clean mosaic of voices blending as a represention of the significant and immense diversity of Philippine speech communities wherever they may be on earth today.

Overall, this interfaith prayer speaks to the pursuit of the common good. 

It hails–Be with us all the time (in Ifugao, “He ay maki wada wada kidakami”) the presence of Divine Providence for national unity. It clamors for the desire for peace, understanding, love of and care for others, knowledge, unity, and protection of our environment. It enacts the call to action, of which the Divine Providence is the only and perfect embodiment and a bridge to the envisioned togetherness in the present and future.

The project was produced by Dr. Maria Alexandra Chua of the University of Santo Tomas and the NRCP President Dr. Greg del Pilar, NRCP Executive Director Dr. Marieta Sumagaysay, and NRCP Division of the Humanities Chair Dr. Hope Yu.