Rooting for Apo Jack

As you read this, Sergio Utleg would have been installed as archbishop of Tuguegarao. In an interesting turn of events, The Ilocos Times, where articles critical of Utleg’s leadership have seen print, paid tribute to the religious leader in a full page feature in last week’s issue. The banner story also amplified the bishop’s anti-mining views. I have spoken enough about the bishop, and often in an unflattering light, but I agree that he ought to be commended for his anti-mining views. He is a lover of nature and crusader for the plight of indigenous peoples.

Jun-b Ramos, editor in chief of the North’s most enduring community newspaper, is said to have personally paid a visit to the archbishop-elect in his last days in Laoag. During the dialogue, Jun-b, aware that some Catholics feel of resentful of the paper due to some articles (including mine) critical of Utleg, assured the bishop that The Ilocos Times is neither against the Church nor its leaders, and that it only tackles issues that do well to be clarified and serve as wake-up call. The bishop, admired by many for his humility and gentle demeanor, explained his side on issues raised by some quarters. Inside sources say some powerful blocs in the Diocese, including leaders of the Knights of Columbus, have been prodding the bishop to file a libel case. Now, all is well, and rightly so. Filing a criminal case is not exactly the best way for Utleg to bid the Diocese of Laoag goodbye. Continue reading “Rooting for Apo Jack”

My mom’s Letter to the Editor: In defense of Bishop Utleg

I wish to take exception to Herdy La. Yumul’s column titled “Utlegged”, published in the other week’s issue of your respectable newspaper. While I support the young writer, who happens to be my son, in all of his undertakings, his rather harsh commentary on Bishop Sergio Lasam Utleg is something I do not approve of. In fact, I found myself weeping a lot because of the grief and agony the article gave me.

As a church volunteer, I have always known Bishop Utleg as an honorable person and a respectable church leader. He is humble and kind, caring and nurturing.  I appreciate very much that he sacrificed his whole life in the service of God’s people. I, my family, and many other churchgoers attest to his vast contributions in nurturing the spiritual lives of his constituents, and in helping uplift the lives of the poor and the oppressed. No doubt, he is well loved and well admired by his flock. Continue reading “My mom’s Letter to the Editor: In defense of Bishop Utleg”

Utlegged

YES, thank you for noticing the past tense. Sergio Utleg is set to leave the Diocese of Laoag to wear a heavier cap as archbishop of the Archdiocese of Tuguegarao.

Last June 15 at the Vatican, Josef Ratzinger, alias Benedict XVI, announced the new appointment. Utleg will succeed Diosdado Talamayan, 78, whose resignation has, after three years of waiting, finally been accepted by the Pope. Sixty-seven year old Utleg will serve the archdiocese with around 1.3 million Catholics, 82 priests and 122 religious.

I am happy with Utleg’s transfer, for his near six-year stint in the Diocese of Laoag was marked not as much spiritually as it was commercially. And it started on the wrong foot. Right after he assumed office as bishop of Laoag, the very first project to be completed was a swimming pool at the bishop’s palace.

Then the diocese worked closely with the Laoag City Government to have a mall built in a parcel of land where a heritage school building sits. “Of course, it’s about the money,” the bishop, in a personal meeting with your karikna, said of the unpopular move, explaining that revenues can be put to good use. But Utleg was all too willing to dismantle everything just to have the diocesan cash register ring louder than our famed bell tower. Boy, he even attempted (or, at the very least, condoned attempts) to wrap the churches in Laoag and San Nicolas with mall buildings. If not for the people’s strong resistance and fervent prayers, add to that twists of fate, these plans would have pushed through. Majestic Ilocos churches would have been irreparably utlegged.  Continue reading “Utlegged”

Uncle Gerry

I ALWAYS tell my students, almost all of them in their teens that, at this point in their lives, they probably enjoy spending more time with their barkada—with whom secrets are shared, ‘happenings’ are enjoyed, and brave youthful explorations are carried out—than with their family members, especially the oldies, whom they perceive as KJ, epal, and close-minded.

I remind my students though that, as I myself would find out myself when I was a teenybopper no more, many friends come and go, while the family, fortunately or not, remains.

I was browsing though old photo albums the other day to look for pictures we need for our parents’ golden wedding anniversary next month when I noticed in the prints someone who has always been present in important occasions like birthdays, graduations, and weddings. He has been there during happy moments, but even more in difficult ones.  He is a vital constant in our family.

The second youngest in a brood of nine, German Nicolas Labayog was the only among his siblings who lived with his parents, my lolo and lola, until their twilight years. He took very good care of them. He gave them all the reasons to be happy.  He always made them laugh even as he constantly reminded the octogenarians to wear their pustiso.

With our grandparents gone, Uncle Gerry, although now based in Hawaii with his super beautiful wife Auntie Elsie, is the unifying force in the Labayog Clan. He would encourage us to gather and celebrate as a family, occasions big and small.  He would not be physically present anymore, but we would always feel his love. He would know if some members of the family are at odds, and would go at lengths to negotiate peace. I and my cousins each have our own stories to tell of gratitude and appreciation of Uncle Gerry. He tells you he is proud of you, and you would feel that he means it. He gives sound advice in a very tempered way and helps you realize your follies but never judges. He has ultimate belief in one’s capacity to do good.

I know he has mixed feelings about me right now. Continue reading “Uncle Gerry”

Fr. Jose Agustin

A STABLE income.  House. Car. Good education for the kids.  Just when they have attained financial success, my parents felt an existential void, a void waiting to be filled.  Something was missing.  They were searching.  They were wanting.

And then there was Fr. Jose Agustin.

Back in the 70’s and 80’s, mom and dad would visit Fr. Joe at the parish rectory nighttime to ask questions like, “What is the Immaculate Conception?,”  “Will non-Christians go to heaven?,” “Why can’t we confess our sins directly to God?”  Soft-spoken and gentle in every way, Father Joe, although tired from a day’s work in the parish, would patiently and passionately answer each query, and my parents would always go home enlightened and eager to visit again. Continue reading “Fr. Jose Agustin”

Church of the Pool on the take?

BUT OF COURSE.

Archbishop Oscar Cruz, an indefatigable anti-jueteng crusader, revealed recently that eight to twelve Catholic dioceses are benefitting from illegal gambling operations.  One wonders if the Diocese of Laoag is among them.

This sense of wonder is not without basis.  A retired archbishop, the longest-serving leader of this lone diocese of Ilocos Norte, openly admits that his beautiful house was built for him by a known jueteng lord.  My sources also attest that some structures in the diocese were either built or renovated with help from operators of the popular numbers game.

Note, dear karikna, that I am not against jueteng per se.  As a sociologist, I have previously written that jueteng exists not much because government officials and the police allow it, but more because the people need it.  Where the government and church fail, jueteng fills gaps and satisfies needs.  It provides jobs, it gives people hope.  “False hope!,” some people may point out,  but false hope, dear karikna, is always better than no hope at all.

You see, jueteng to me is not among what I would consider as major, major social problems.  What disturbs me is the patent hypocrisy by which the church deals with it.

“Receiving money from and betting on jueteng is a grave sin,” says Sergio Utleg, Laoag bishop, citing moral grounds.

A more candid stand, however, was made no less by the late Jaime Cardinal Sin, the most influential Filipino prelate ever.  “If Satan appears to me and gives me money, I will accept the money and spend it all for the poor. It is not the practice of the Church to ask donors where their donations come from. Our duty is to make sure all donations go to the poor,” he posited.

At least, Sin had the interests of the poor in mind. Under Utleg, the first structure to be constructed was not a church and neither was it a facility for our impoverished brethren.  It was, of all things, a capricious swimming pool by the bishop’s palace. Continue reading “Church of the Pool on the take?”

Academicians critique priest’s book on Aglipayanism

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FR. ERICSON JOSUE is one of few Catholic priests I admire. Besides being bright and hardworking, he is humble and sensitive. We have known each other since our early teens (when he was still so lanky while I was then too fat), and I have always held him in high regard.

While other priests were busy attending parties, grooming expensive dogs, and constructing an ostentatious swimming pool in the Bishop’s Palace, Ericson had been busy writing books. Only in his early thirties, this son of Pasuquin has already published his second research output. “Out of the Depths”, which came out last December, tackles the phenomenal rise and eventual decline of Aglipayanism.

Well-meaning scholars must be given support and due recognition, and so I encourage my students and friends to read the book, if only to generate intelligent and enlightened discourse, a rarity in the Church (and government) these days.

Here, allow me to share excerpts of an interview conducted by students with Professor Fides Bernardo A. Bitanga, who teaches Sociology of Religion in the Mariano Marcos State University. Bitanga is also the new Editor-in-Chief of Sabangan, a social sciences publication in MMSU.

Continue reading “Academicians critique priest’s book on Aglipayanism”