September 27, 2009 in columns
By REV. LUNA DINGAYAN
“But their idols are silver and gold, made by the hands of men. They have mouths but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see; they have ears but cannot hear, noses, but cannot smell; they have hands, but cannot feel, feet, but cannot walk; nor can they utter sound with their throats. Those who make them will be like them and so will all who trust in them.” — Psalms 115:4-8
Some Personal Experiences
I was in high school when Martial Law was declared. Innocent as I was at that time, I had mixed feelings upon hearing the news. On the one hand, I was delighted with the thought that this might put a stop to the almost daily killings of innocent people perpetrated by private armies of powerful local political warlords. Guns were confiscated. Thus, we could again leave our animals in the fields without fear of being stolen.
But on the other hand, I was also apprehensive of what the future would bring to our country and people. I could still remember that first Sunday after the declaration of Martial Law when my local church was unusually filled up with people. Obviously, people at that time were uncertain of what would happen next. Perhaps, they thought that by going to church, they might receive divine enlightenment.
I was already at UP Baguio when I began to be exposed to the evils of Martial Law. This was followed up when I entered the seminary. Every summer, my fellow seminarians and I were exposed to various communities where we integrate with the people, especially with those who carry the brunt of the Martial Law regime.
My perspective in life had radically changed. I had my own conversion experience – from being socially insensitive to being socially responsible. I constantly found myself in the midst of mass actions that contributed to the toppling down of the Martial Law regime. I had been a witness to countless fact-finding missions, searching for those who disappeared in the night, never to be seen again. I would consider myself lucky, because I had never been arrested, tortured or even killed, unlike those who lighted a candle of hope in the darkest nights of Martial Rule. Or, perhaps God who has been guiding the course of human history may have something for me to do before I go into the way of all the earth.
The Role of the Church in the Martial Law Years
I happened to be a member of a church whose stance in relation to Martial Law was consistent from the very start. It was a stance that made my church listed down in the dossier of the military. Barely three years after the declaration of Martial Law, my church’s General Assembly already started calling for the lifting of Martial Law due to the growing number of human rights abuses. My church put up a national human rights program to help defend the human rights’ victims.
My church did all these things not because of any political ideology, but because of our faith in God. One of the main theological issues in the period of Martial Law was the issue of political idolatry. Idolatry by definition is simply the worship of an idol or false god. Political idolatry happens when a leader arrogates for his own all the powers and authority meant only for God, and claims the ultimate obedience and loyalty of people meant for God alone.
Moreover, as the Psalmist says an idol is one who has mouth but cannot speak, eyes but cannot see, ears but cannot hear, hands but cannot feel (cf. Ps. 155:4-8). In other words, a political idol is a leader who has mouth but cannot speak for the voiceless, has eyes but cannot see the injustices committed against the poor, has ears but cannot hear the cries of the people, has hands but cannot feel the sufferings of the weak and powerless.
In times of political idolatry, God calls us to be prophets. To be God’s prophet is to be God’s messenger – to denounce the bad news and to announce the good news. It is to bring good news to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the captives and oppressed (cf. Is. 61:1-2; Lk.4:18-19). In other words, to be a prophet is to be God’s spokesperson – the God of freedom, of justice and righteousness. To be a prophet is to be a servant of the Living God who can see the afflictions of people, who can hear their cries, and who can come down to deliver them from their slave masters (cf. Ex. 3).
The role of the church in times of Martial Law, I believe, is to be a prophet. To be a prophet is never an easy role to play. My church has been branded as a communist front by the military, which somehow put the life of every member in danger. As a matter of fact, many of my church’s pastors and leaders had been arrested, tortured, and even killed. Of course, none of the true prophets in the Bible died a natural death. They were killed by the powers-that-be. However, it is the kind of life the prophet lived and the kind of death they died that brought genuine freedom and hope for the people.
One of the most powerful artworks produced by one of the political detainees during Martial Law coming from the church sector was a picture of a lighted candle surrounded by a barbed wire with a caption below saying, “Those who give light must endure burning.”
Challenges before Us
As we reminisce the Martial Law years, especially those who paid the price of freedom with their own blood, at least two interrelated challenges may come to us. First of all, we are challenged never to allow another Martial Rule to happen again. But far greater than that is the enormous task of bringing into completion what the martyrs of freedom had started.
Perhaps, the worst legacy of Martial Rule is the fact that we lived too long under dictatorship to the point that we somehow lost our capacity to live in genuine freedom. The dictator was long gone, but it seems that we still live our lives as a people and as a nation as if we are still under Martial Law. Militarization, corruption, and cronyism that characterized the dictatorship are still with us. As one writer says we have stayed too long in hell that we thought it is already heaven. Sometimes, it is easier to fight for freedom than to really live in freedom.
It is in this area of cultural transformation that we in the church could work together so that those who died in the struggle for genuine freedom would have not died in vain. This, I believe, is the best tribute we could offer to those who died in the darkest nights of Martial Rule. God may grant us the courage and wisdom to journey together in this continuing struggle for genuine freedom in our land. # nordis.net