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By Gemma Q. Casas

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Dec. 19) – In her run for public office, Democrat Maria "Frica" T. Pangelinan garnered the highest number of votes in Saipan’s senatorial race and made history by becoming the CNMI’s first woman senator.

Pangelinan, 57, admits her election will come with a lot of expectations but she said she’s committed to facing the challenges in the male-dominated Senate and to serving the people.

"I’m just very thankful that the 21st century is an age with very different expectations for women and we’ve flourished because we were given equal opportunities to receive a higher education and because of this now we are just as committed as the men in participating in our government to serve the people," said Pangelinan in an interview on Friday.

"I really believe that I was voted into office because women supported me and I’m thankful for that. I’m sure that there are also some men who voted for me because they believe in me more as a person than as a woman and believe too that I am qualified," she said.

A successful businesswoman, Pangelinan has been asked many times to run for public office, including for the gubernatorial post, but she declined the offers.

This time, however, she said her situation has changed, allowing her more time for public office.

"I really believe it’s the right time. We mature as years go by and I’m at an age where I’ve really learned a lot. Knowledge has come with wisdom and I think that now is the time to come in and serve the people — my children have all grown up," she said.

Raised by a family of entrepreneurs who were also into farming, Pangelinan said she learned at an early age the value of hard work "I grew up in a family that had a business. Since I was in 6th grade, I’ve been a salesclerk, a janitor, a dish washer and a waitress up through high school. Those experiences really taught me a lot — how to deal with money, how to serve customers," she said.

After high school, Pangelinan went to the U.S. to pursue a college education. As with many children growing up in the Trust Territory days, money was tight.

"I had to work part-time. I cleaned 10 hotel rooms a day to put myself through school in California, then I went to the East Coast. I told myself, if I got an office job, I would never go back to being a hotel chamber maid. Then I got an office job — as an accounting clerk — and I did so well that I ended up supervising the people that trained me," she said.

But Pangelinan got married before she could get her degree and she and her husband decided to return to Saipan.

Yet the desire to finish her college education persisted and she eventually got her business administration degree from the University of Guam.

"I got my degree in 1981 after I had my kids," she said.

Pangelinan briefly worked in the Department of Finance and then decided to work full-time for the financially troubled Saipan Farmers Cooperative Association which she helped transform into a million-dollar corporation within seven years.

In 1985, she was elected as a delegate to the 2nd Northern Marianas Constitutional Convention.

Pangelinan also devoted much of her time to performing voluntary work in the community.

Among the issues she wants to focus on as senator is helping young people become more productive citizens.

December 19, 2005

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