These are the fighting words that the people of Cagayan Valley often heard from Bishop Utleg during his speeches. Serving as the Archbishop of Tuguegarao, Most Rev. Abp. Sergio L. Utleg has a long history of being an environmental advocate and a crusader for just peace.
Abp. Utleg is one of the veritable pillars upon which rests the struggle of Cagayanons against four (4) offshore mining operations covering 54,664 hectares lying mostly in Babuyan Channel. He bravely exposed the officials of Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) that have been colluding with mining companies to allow their entry in Cagayan province.
Abp. Utleg did not only limit his advocacies in Cagayan Valley. He played a vital role in organizing the communities of Ilocos region in their struggle against destructive mining. As the Chairman of the Episcopal Commission on Indigenous Peoples, he also actively campaigned to seek justice for Dexter Condez, a slain indigenous Ati leader in Boracay. He also opposed the construction of Laiban Dam that will submerge the parts of ancestral land of Remontado and Dumagat in Rizal.
Fully understanding how resolving social conflict is inextricable with upholding the integrity of our ecosystems and natural resources, Abp. Utleg supported the peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines. Holding mass during the onset of the fifth round of talks under the Duterte government, Utleg urged both parties to “work hard for the talks because the people need peace.”
An Archbishop of his stature this does not exempt him from threats and intimidation. Last year, he became a victim of a series of vilifications by the Philippine Military. Miles upon miles of highway roadsides were vandalized with his name along with various other progressive groups against mining in North Luzon, all accused of being supporters of armed revolutionary forces.
It is through the actions of Abp. Utleg as well as many other faithful stewards of God’s creation that gave life to the ‘Laudato Si’ encyclical of celebrated Vatican leader Pope Francis. When Pope Francis exhorted that “We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it,” Abp. Utleg’s full embrace of the people’s struggle to defend the environment best illustrates this call to unite in defense of our common home.