Guam Mourns Death Of Senator, Former Speaker

admin's picture

Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Ben Pangelinan
Tributes pour in honoring ‘greatest leader of this generation’

By Gaynor Dumat-ol Daleno

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, July 9, 2014) – With great sadness, the island mourned the passing of Sen. Vicente Cabrera Pangelinan, affectionately known as Ben.

Pangelinan died yesterday at age 58.

Friends, family and colleagues gathered at Guam Memorial Hospital, paying their respects to the late senator.

"Guam has lost probably the greatest leader of this generation," Vice Speaker Benjamin Cruz said.

Attorney Mike Phillips, who knew Pangelinan since 1985, said the two grew up together politically.

"He was always one step ahead and always fighting," Phillips said. "He was always fighting for the people. He would not give in."

Former Santa Rita Mayor Joseph Wesley considered Pangelinan to be like a brother.

"He's my buddy, he's my friend, he's my che'lu," Wesley said. "I look up to him as a friend and a leader."

Former Gov. Carl Gutierrez remembered Pangelinan as a great and passionate leader.

"All I can say is that man fought for the people of Guam, almost down to his last breath," Gutierrez said.

Tributes also poured in via written statements to honor Pangelinan.

"Ben was a dedicated public servant who worked diligently to improve our island," Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo said. "He was a tireless advocate for Chamorro self-determination, and he was a careful steward of our public funds. I was honored to work with him throughout his career and will deeply miss his friendship."

Chief Justice Robert Torres said Pangelinan will be remembered for his expertise in public finance and government operations.

"Through his career in the Legislature, he shaped public policy to favor transparency, openness, and equality," Torres said. "He is counted as an early and steadfast supporter for the independence and unification of the Judiciary of Guam."

Gov. Eddie Calvo declared the island in a state of mourning and ordered all flags to fly at half-staff to remember Pangelinan.

"Chairman Ben loved the people, and he fought for the people," Calvo said. "And with that, all I can say is the island has lost a true Guamanian Chamorro patron."

Born in 1955 on Saipan, Pangelinan and his family moved to Guam in 1962.

"He may have been born in Saipan, but let me tell you, this man truly loved Guam and the people of Guam," said Speaker Judith Won Pat.

Pangelinan started his education at San Vicente Grade School and graduated from Father Duenas Memorial School in 1974.

Former Sen. Simon Sanchez, who graduated from high school alongside Pangelinan, knew him since their freshman year.

"For those of us who've known Ben the longest, Ben has always been the one who stood up for the little guy," Sanchez recalled. "He never was afraid, never backed down if he thought he was right."

Pangelinan attended the University of Guam for a year, transferring to Georgetown University and graduating in 1981.

In 1992, Pangelinan was first elected to public office, serving in the 22nd Guam Legislature.

Since then, Pangelinan served a total of 10 terms as senator and one as speaker in the 27th Legislature.

Pangelinan may be one of the longest-serving senators, Won Pat noted.

She held back tears as she remembered serving in public office beside Pangelinan.

"I remember my first term and we were fighting," she said. "He apologized by sending me a bouquet of flowers to let me know we can fight, but we're OK the next moment."

Candle of remembrance

Won Pat called session shortly after noon yesterday and asked the senators to join her in lighting a candle of remembrance at the seat of the late senator.

After Sen. Tina Muña Barnes said a short prayer for Pangelinan, Won Pat asked if senators wanted to share words, prayers and memories of their colleague.

Sen. Chris Duenas and Sen. Dennis Rodriguez expressed their gratitude for how much they learned from Pangelinan.

"At the end of the day, I always knew his interests were for the betterment of the island and the betterment of our people," Rodriguez said. "He was a good friend, and he was my friend."

Sen. Mike Limtiaco said he was honored to work with someone with such a passion for his beliefs.

Limtiaco's voice broke with emotion as he recounted seeing Pangelinan's body during the viewing earlier in the day. He said Pangelinan seemed to be at peace, and Limtiaco was reminded of seeing his father at peace after his death as well.

Sen. Michael San Nicolas said the passing of the late senator took him by surprise.

"I sit here and I need to really reconcile with myself, so what happens now?" San Nicolas said. "Now that Speaker Ben is gone, what happens now? Because he provided so much direction, so much foundation. We'll mourn his loss while we figure out what to do next."

Cruz said he met the late senator before some of his colleagues were born.

"There is no one that will be able to understand the budget the way that he understood the budget," Cruz said. "In what little time that I had in this Legislature I will try as much as I can to continue the work that he has done, though I know his shoes are absolutely impossible to fill, I'll try to stumble along."

Speaker Won Pat said she remembered Pangelinan when he worked for Won Pat's father, Guam Delegate Antonio Borja Won Pat, as an intern in Washington, D.C.

Pangelinan would join Won Pat's family for dinners and events.

The speaker said that Pangelinan would later tease her for telling her mom, "Don't feed that fat boy because he doesn't need any more food."

"He truly is a dear friend," the speaker said.

She remembered being angry with him for being so stubborn at times.

"The man has a memory of an elephant, but I want you to know, he's truly a donkey," she said laughing through her emotion.

"Guam and CNMI have lost a son, and I'm very fortunate to have served with him," she said.

Rate this article: 
No votes yet

Add new comment