“Pagsambang Bayan”, a Critique of the Past and the Present

The play was one of the most daring critiques of Martial Law at the time it was first staged in 1977. It was the height of Martial Law, and the Filipino people was beginning to awaken. The play “Pagsambang Bayan” (People’s Worship) helped facilitate this process of political awkening. The play would be restaged on February 25 and 26, at yet another critical moment in the nation’s history. Bonifacio Ilagan, writer of “Pagsambang Bayan” said he maintained most of the play’s original version, written in 1976. His reason? To him these days are a deja vu of Marcos’ dictatorial rule.


In 1976, fresh from detention, Bonifacio Ilagan was commissioned by the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) to write a dramatized liturgy for the Philippine delegation to an Asian forum in Hong Kong.

Before his release, Ilagan was detained for two years for his involvement in Kabataang Makabayan (KM).

In an interview with Bulatlat, Ilagan related that as part of his preparations, he asked for copies of the Sunday Worship Service from the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) and the United Methodist Church (UMC), and of the Holy Mass from the Roman Catholic Church. He studied the rituals being performed by both Catholic and Protestant churches and came out with “Pagsambang Bayan.”

Ilagan wrote the play in Filipino but he had to translate it to English to suit the international audience. It was staged in Hong Kong sometime during the last quarter of 1976. Leo Rimando was the first director. Initially intended for church workers, Ilagan said the play had very minimal props.

Ilagan entered the play to the Palihang Aurelio V. Tolentino, and “Pagsambang Bayan” won. Behn Cervantes was then one of the judges, Ilagan recalled.

Cervantes took interest and directed the play in 1977 for the UP Repertory Company.

Orestes Ojeda played the role of the priest/pastor. That time, Ilagan said, Ojeda was known as a bold star.

At first, Ilagan confessed he was concerned that the play would have negative effects on his security. His status was still “termporary release”. Thus, he had to report weekly at Camp Crame.

During Martial Law, orders for the arrest of political detainees did not go through the courts and were done on the basis of Arrest, Search, and Seizure Orders (ASSO), which became the Presidential Commitment Order then the Preventive Detention Action. The ASSO was a list of people to be arrested and was signed by the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos. Political detainees then were incarcerated indefinitely until a release order was signed by Defense Sec. Juan Ponce Enrile, the current Senate President. Released detainees had to go through two levels: temporary and permanent release. Detainees under “temporary release” were made to report at a designated camp, and were asked to write down their weekly activities. They only stopped reporting when their “permanent release” had been approved.

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