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Panizales (red circle) with Fr Albet Arockiasamy and her BEC at the BEC mass in 2019.

OLOG choir leader’s unfinished song for late dad completed – thanks to MCO

SEPT 18, 2020: Gina Panizales did not get a chance to hold her father’s hand as he lay on his death bed in Iloilo, Philippines, or pray with him and say her final goodbye. It was in 1993 and she was in Kuala Lumpur unable to get back on time to be with him when he took his last breath.

Little Gina with her father Geronimo Panizales Sr in 1966.

The grief lingered for a long time and she tried to find ways to cope with the loss. She then decided to do what she loved – channel her emotions into songwriting. She started to write the song A Daughter’s Prayer but was not able to complete it.

“Life happened, I got distracted,” said Panizales. She was then a singer in a band which played at the night spots in Kuala Lumpur and there was a patron who kept coming back evening after evening to see her. Soon, they fell in love and got married 26 years ago. He is a Malaysian and so she decided to live in Malaysia, occasionally going back to Iloilo to visit her mother and other family members. And then it happened again.

When her mother breathed her last breath in 2016, she was unable to get back home in time to say her last goodbye. The memories of her father’s passing came back and the blanket of grief returned.

With her mother Concepcion.

“Both of them passed away and I was not there for them. When they were sick and dying, I missed it. Missed saying goodbye. When they drew their last breath, I was not there.” 

This time to cope with the loss of both parents, she poured her energy and time into church and family. Her only child, a son, was then 14 years old and she was attending Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Puchong. She joined the choir and became the choir leader, and was active in Holy Hour cantoring, lectoring, reading Scriptures, and teaching Cathechism.

When the Catholic Church suspended masses and the Movement Control Order was imposed in mid-March, church life was taken away from her. The sense of loss she felt made the blanket of grief return. That was when she decided to continue working on the song she wrote in memory of her late father.

“There was the pain, the guilt and the longing, and a feeling that something’s not finished,” she said in a telephone conversation with Journey With Us. “You take stock of your life and this is what I did. (I told myself) I’m going to finish what I started. It’s about self-empowerment.”

“I did not think of recording it,” said Panizales. But as the days passed and church doors were still closed to her because she is a foreign national, she changed her mind and decided to work towards distributing her song digitally. Over the last two years, Panizales had been working on the song with friend and a fellow Filipino Maynard E. Francisco to put her tune and lyrics into a music sheet. During the MCO, it got completed.

She is not formally trained in music but she can “read a little” and when leading the church choir she works with the organist and is able to read the music sheets. But for something that requires more, she runs to Francisco. “He is the first one I run to when I have a raw song. He helps me put it all together, corrects my mistakes and makes it musically correct. He is able to arrange and transcribe what I feel.”

Then there is cellist Joseph Arnesto who through his cello gave the song an added dimension. Both Arnesto and Francisco were the musicians Panizales worked with since arriving in Kuala Lumpur in the early 90s. They both now live in Malaysia after getting married to locals.

She then got another friend Jason Geh to produce, do the mastering and editing. Geh is the pianist in the song. And then there is Marina Zaini. “She is a good friend,” said Panizales.

A Daughter’s Prayer is an expression of honest emotions to immortalise my loved ones and believing that something negative like the lockdown and having with much time in our hands, can be turned into something positive.”

Her two albums

Songwriting is not new to her. She is a recording artiste with two albums – Finally (2008) and Love Tapestry (2010). Her songs are not just about love. In Finally, she also wrote about being alone and about unborn children. Love Tapestry is an acoustic album with covers of 80s music and for this, she worked with Sabah guitarist Roger Wang. Both her albums were produced and distributed in Malaysia. Finally was produced by Wang and Love Tapestry by Leslie Loh in Kuala Lumpur and was also distributed in Bangkok, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Panizales is a registered songwriter with the Malaysian Authors Copyright Protection.

It was by accident that Panizales became a singer and songwriter. “My mother told me that I was singing since I was five, and that I would sing along to the songs in the radio way before I went to school. So I guess, creating melodies and writing lyrics was something I was born with.”

But music was not her career choice when she was growing up. “I wanted to do mass communications but it was new.” Her father was afraid she might not be able to get a job in an industry that was only just emerging. He suggested that she do business, which she did. She graduated in the 80s with a Bachelor’s in Science and Business at the Western Institute of Technology in Iloilo.

Upon graduation she worked for a local company and sang on the side. That was where she met musicians who told her about the prospects of being a singer in Malaysia. When she came here, her network of local musicians grew and she still keeps in touch with many of them. She turned to her old friends for support when she needed to complete her song A Daughter’s Prayer which is now being distributed digitally through Spotify, iTunes and Amazon. She plans to continue working on her other compositions.

Asked if this marked her return to the music scene, Panizales said she has no plans to return to her old life. “I’ve enjoyed my life as a musician. I’m doing this now at my own pace, not pitching myself for anything. I thank God for giving me this gift. I am God’s servant first, a mother second and then a singer.”

With her husband Edward Chan and son Gerard Antoine on March 31, 2017. That was when Panizales performed for Navy Seals aboard BRP Bonifacio ship, visiting Malaysia. The event was hosted by the Philippine Embassy.