MANILA – As Ateneo de Manila University launched Saturday the MartialLawMuseum.ph, a digital library that preserves the history of the Marcos dictatorship for students to learn and teachers to impart, school president Fr. Jose Ramon Villarin reflected on the martyrdom of the early Christians.
September 16 was the feast day of St. Cyprian and St. Cornelius, both bishops who were alive at around the 3rd century, a time when the Christians were persecuted. St. Cyprian was executed under the time of Emperor Valerian, and Cornelius died after being exiled by Emperor Gallus.
“It was a terrible time, when Christians had to hide in catacombs,” Villarin said. “You’d think that that was the time when Christianity would have been snuffed out. But it did not die, because of people who, I guess, saw something strong, powerful, beautiful, and kept it alive in their hearts, in their communities.”
He remarked that Christianity could have been lost at the time, as it began as a sect, a small group, and was passed on through oral tradition.
But at some point, they decided to write down their history.
“In fact, the saints don’t really gel, the four accounts (in the Gospel), the stories, you will notice that the writing itself came from different traditions. But they wrote. They wrote. So that we could remember. So that we could draw hope,” Villarin said.
In the Philippines, he lamented, historical events like Marcos-era Martial Law were easily forgotten.
“I do not know why. Maybe because we’re young, and we still really have not learned to write things down… I, for one, thought that the terrible time in the 70s and 80s, I thought that that has been forgotten,” Villarin admitted.
MartialLawMuseum.ph project director Arjan Aguirre, a Political Science instructor in Ateneo, pointed out how trolls mocked and bashed the academics who had put the website together.
They would ridicule the website’s claims and call the academics “brainwashed.”
Villarin wondered: where did the early Christians’ courage come from, when they were being slaughtered?
He believed that it was from a well of inner serenity of peace, which stemmed from a conviction that they were loved deeply by God.
“And if there was rage in their hearts, I think they felt the rage of God as well. I think that’s how God moves in this world – through us,” Villarin said.
He recalled his youth as a seminarian, being one of those who guarded the flatbed truck which carried the casket of Senator Ninoy Aquino during his funeral procession.
“We were not afraid then. We will not be afraid now,” Villarin said. “So, courage.”
Aguirre noted that one of their calls to action was “manindigan” or take a stand. Users of the website were urged to put into action what they learned and believed in.
If they took to the streets in response to abuses of power, he said, “Don’t be afraid. That’s the very clear thing about what’s happening these days.”
Citizens must defend history, and institutions like Ateneo, the University of the Philippines, De La Salle University, and others were with them in defending the truth, Aguirre said.
Villarin hoped that campuses could become places to cultivate a climate of courage, truth-telling, and remembering.
“I am a climate scientist by training,” he said. Just last week he was asked whether the recent typhoons and hurricanes were caused by climate change.
“The rising temperatures have led to rising water vapor concentration levels in the atmosphere, meaning if there’s more water, there’s more fuel for these storms. But these storms would have occurred with or without climate change. But climate change is the honest truth. (They) add some kick to these storms. Exactly how much kick, we do not know. But there is an added kick, an added ferocity to these storms,” he explained.
Villarin continued: “Climate is crucial. The conditions that make for these storms come from climate. There’s a climate of fear. There’s a climate of violence. There is a climate of apathy and indifference. This climate has consequences for individual storms. For individual actions. And therefore we need to counter this climate of fear, of vulgarity, this climate of disrespect. We need to counter this with a climate of courage, a climate of vigilance, a climate of remembering, a climate of writing down things so that we can remember, a climate of truth-telling.”