Subli ng Karagatan: a Chant for the Sea Forest
[2015, Philippines] site-specific performance
Gary Williams © California Academy of Sciences
Rich Mooi © California Academy of Sciences
San Juan of Batangas marks the northeast corner of the Verde Island Passage, which separates the islands of Luzon and Mindoro, while connecting the South China Sea with Tablas Strait, the Sibuyan Sea, and the Cuyo Pass. The passage is called “the center of the center” of the world’s marine biodiversity, as it is known to have the most number of hard-coral species and the highest concentration of marine life—many of which are globally endangered species—than any other area in the world. In a study conducted in June 2015, more than 100 new species were discovered here in the Verde Island Passage, including a colorful array of sea slugs as well as living heart urchins, a fossil species that has been around on the seafloor since 50 million years ago.
However, this rich ecosystem is now under serious threat. As the country’s second largest and most modern port, the Batangas Bay is rapidly becoming a major oil refining center in the Philippines, while hosting many power generation plants. At the same time, the tourism industry is booming at an incredible speed along all the shorelines. Increased shipping, cargo and, human traffic in the Passage add tremendous stress on the environment. Moreover, a large-scale gold mining project has completed its exploration and applied for commercial operation*. If these developments were implemented without thorough examination and sustainable management plans involving all stakeholders, they could cause an irreversible damage to the land and the sea, and thus the people, for hundreds of decades to come.
“Subli ng Karagatan: a Chant for the Sea Forest” is a humble prayer that we humans may be able to act responsibly by being sensible to the right of all living forms to exist. In the piece, I have quoted the traditional chant melody of the Subli, which is a form of a prayer offered to the Holy Cross of Alitagtag (Mahál na Poóng Santa Krus) in Batangas. The spiritual dance and chant of the Subli still carry with them the hint of their root as an ancient ritual in which people danced and sung to a tree with miraculous powers. Only when we can imagine beyond here and now, communicate across differences, and listen to many a silent voice in the world around and within us, may we be able to hand this planet’s true treasures to future generations. Without the vibrant chorus of healthy corals, fish babies get lost underwater. Once the sea forest’s rich soundscape is forever muted, we humans too may not be able to find our way home on this earth.
“Subli ng Karagatan: a Chant for the Sea Forest” was composed through intensive workshop sessions with the elders of Sinala Subli Dancers and the students of SBC-PAO Repertory Brigid, a theater group at St. Bridgit College in Batangas. Before the ritual started, the high school students oriented the participants about the background of the Verde Island Passage and the diversity of organisms that lived inside the sea. Each participant was then invited to choose one organism and imagine the sound they might make. During the ritual, the participants were instructed to make these imagined sounds with their voices and contribute them to create a collective soundscape of an imaginary inner-sea world.
Sa lupa, hangin at dagat
Noo’y saganang wagas
Ngayo’y nanganganib na
Paano na ang bukas?
O Bathalang lumikha
Patawad aming samo
Dinggin ang aming dasal
Mabago aming asal
Para sa bagong mundo
On land, in air and under the sea
They exist together
Before, in full abundance
Now, they are under threat
How will tomorrow be?
O, Great Creator God
Forgiveness is our request
For our disrespect
Listen to our prayer
That we may change our ways
For a better world
I would especially like to thank Mr. Amado Ariel Hagos II and Fr. Dakila Ramos for their support and inspiration in this creation process.
*The gold mining project in Batangas had already completed its exploration and applied for a permit to start mining commercially, when the project was taking place in 2015. A year later, in December 2016, then Secretary Regina Paz L. Lopez of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources nixed the application putting the project on hold. The exploration area situated along the Verde Island Passage is still maintained by the mining company with the pending application.