Monday, August 31, 2009

Not so fast

According to the Saipan Tribune:
Shortly after 1:30pm yesterday, rented generators from the Singapore-based Aggreko were shut off to give way to the Commonwealth Utilities Corp.'s own power generation.
The Marianas Variety added:
“TODAY, we can safely announce that the Saipan power production crisis is over,” Gov. Benigno R. Fitial said yesterday after the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. disconnected Aggreko’s generators.

“CUC was broken. We needed temporary generators. But now we have fixed CUC and we are going to do without these temporary generators from now on. This is progress,” the governor said.
By 7:00 PM, just over 5 hours later, 6 of the 18 Aggreko generators were back on. A seventh was turned on a few hours later.

There is no need to provide commentary.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

PIC Palooza 2009

saipan devoHow does a respectable candidate for Mayor of Saipan dress for a themed fundraiser? Like Devo, that's how!

Pacific Islands Club Saipan put on quite an event last night. I knew it was going to go well when I started getting frantic emails, texts, and phone calls from people trying to buy tickets. The word was spreading that we sold out.

Edz and I decided at the last minute that we were going to go as Devo. I had to buy new black shorts and a t-shirt (only $5 each at Roshi's!), but Edz already had plenty of black clothes to choose from. We made our hats from those things you put underneath a flower pot. We bought four different sizes, cut holes in the middle so are heads would fit and glued them together with crazy glue. A few coats of spray paint and we were ready to bring Devo back!

When PIC decides to throw a party, they go all out. The clubmates and staff who were working the party were all decked out in costumes and when you walked through the door you were given sunglasses and glow in the dark necklaces and bracelets. They said there was going to be food, but they didn't mention that there was going to be a buffet. If the chefs at PIC could teach the rest of the world to grill a pork rib, the world would be a better place. Not only was there a big spread with all types of bite sized goodies, but waiters were walking around with hors d'oeuvres, too.

The entertainment was split between a live band, a DJ, and whatever you want to call what it was the club mates were doing on stage. Last night I kept waking up from a nightmare where Jay was bouncing around in a blonde wig and cheerleading outfit. Please God, don't make me relive that ever again.

There were several contests, drawings, and prizes. Some of the prizes were Beautify CNMI t-shirts that I brought to be handed out, but the prizes also included free brunches, water park passes, hotel stays...even hotel stays in Guam!

As luck would have it, Edz' raffle ticket was the second to last one drawn in the raffle. James Eller's was last. Instead of simply giving out the prizes, they were forced into a video game challenge; whoever got the highest score in a game of Ms. Pacman would win the better prize.

I didn't want to tell James, but Edz has a lot of practice playing Pacman (which is essentially Ms. Pacman without the bow). There is an arcade at Godfather's and she challenges the customers to play her when it is slow or after her shift ends.

The crowd was really into it. This was probably the biggest video game challenge the island of Saipan has ever seen.

James EllerBut James never really stood a chance, although he put up a valiant effort. Edz took home the championship without hardly even trying.

James Eller and EdzFor second place James received a waterpark pass for two to PIC and Edz took home a one night stay at Pacific Islands Club Guam. There was only one problem: Edz can't go to Guam without a US Visa. Doh!

We traded our gift certificate for one free night on Saipan.

At the end of the night Kieran Daly, General Manager of the Pacific Islands Club, announced they had raised over $2500 for Beautify CNMI! and PAWS...each!!!! I nearly hit the floor when I heard. $2500 is enough money to pay for cleanups for a year. I never expected such a generous donation, especially after all the advertising they did and all the money they spent on staff, food, and drinks.

Thank you, Pacific Islands Club!

More photos are posted at the Beautify CNMI Fan Page on Facebook.

Anniversary Dinner for Pete and Matilde Igitol

matilde and pete igitolMy first cousin Matilde and her husband Pete invited me to dinner last night to celebrate their 9th wedding anniversary.

We went out to the Friday Seafood Night Buffet at Aqua Resort Club, a buffet I am very familiar with. A few years back Aqua Resort Club donated 10% of the cost of every local resident's meal at Seafood Night to Beautify CNMI. I went there almost every other weekend for a few months.

angelo villagomez and thelma cabreraThe food is as good as ever. Although not seafood, my favorite is the roast beef with gravy. Eating roast beef reminds me of dinner at Aunt Sharon's house when we were kids. Comfort food, I guess.

They also have sushi, tempura, and all kinds of grilled and sauteed fish. Last night they had a salmon in a creamy mushroom sauce. Outstanding. That, and I don't get to eat salmon all that often here. Plenty of tuna in Micronesia. Not that much salmon. And salmon reminds me of dinner at Mom's house around the time of high school and college. Again, comfort food.

AJ and Angelo

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Obama Inspired Leadership

Zaldy Dandan, Editor of the Marianas Variety, discusses the New Democratic Party in this week's editorial.
The Democrats, after hemorrhaging throughout their seemingly endless inter-party fighting, are now being revived by new blood and will resume their rightful place as the islands’ other major political party once the Covenant Party, the Republitan wing of the GOP, has run its course. That is, after this year’s elections.

The revival of the Dems under a new and Obama-inspired leadership is one of the most hopeful signs that the local political landscape is improving. Soon, the CNMI will have a Democratic Party aligned with the DNC and offering more than the usual platitudes to the electorate. The local GOP is already aligned with its national counterpart. Now that the CNMI finally has a seat in the U.S. Congress, and with the coming federalization of local immigration, the commonwealth will eventually have two parties with clearly defined beliefs that mirror the robust and dynamic political debates in the U.S.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

CNMI Coastal Cleanup Day

Beautify CNMI began its fourth year of service this year. Started with the simple idea of making the Commonwealth a better to live and visit, for going on four years now we've cleaned up beaches, roads, and tourist sites, planted trees, painted over graffiti, and promoted recycling and coral reef conservation.

In our first year we planned and executed an island wide cleanup called 1020 on 10/20, with the idea of having at least 1020 volunteers help us spruce up the island on October 20, 2006. Not only did we reach our goal of 1020, but we surpassed it by recruiting over 3000 volunteers.

Earlier this year in April we did it again and were even more successful. The weekend before Earth Day 2009, 27,070 lbs of trash were picked up by 4,140 volunteers from 61 volunteer groups at 54 adopted sites on Saipan.

Next month we hope to do it again with CNMI Coastal Cleanup Day.

Following the same model as the other two large cleanups, we are asking volunteer groups to adopt a beach for a day (and hopefully for a year!). We'll provide the tools and the trash pickup, you just provide the volunteers and a little bit of coordination.

From the Division of Environmental Quality:
Hundreds of volunteers throughout the CNMI are expected to clean their beaches next month as part of the world’s largest volunteer cleanup effort.

The 24th annual International Coastal Cleanup is Saturday, September 19 – from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. Everyone is invited to participate. Saipan and Tinian are scheduled to participate on September 19, and Rota’s event is on Friday September 18.

On Saipan, a number of groups have already adopted beaches, including South Lao Lao and Cow Town, according to the Division of Environmental Quality. However, dozens of other beaches still need volunteers.

Several groups are working together to coordinate events on Saipan and Tinian, and the Coastal Resources Management Office is taking the lead on Rota.

The International Coastal Cleanup is the world's largest volunteer effort to help protect the ocean, according to the Ocean Conservancy, a nonprofit organization dedicated solely to protecting ocean environments and marine life.

Last year, nearly 400,000 volunteers hit their local beaches, lakes, and rivers with a common mission of improving the health of the ocean and waterways. On one day, they removed and tallied 6.8 million pounds of debris, from 6,485 sites in 100 countries and 42 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

DEQ will retrieve and properly dispose of the trash collected from the cleanup on Saipan.

Cleanup supplies – garbage bags and gloves which were purchased with funds from a generous Bridge Capital donation – will be available at DEQ the week before the cleanup.

Interested participants are encouraged to sign up for the event so that organizers may arrange for proper pick up and disposal of garbage.

To request a signup sheet for Saipan or Tinian, contact Lisa Huynh Eller, Olivia Tebuteb or Carlos Ketebengang, DEQ, at 664-8500 or email - For information about Rota’s event, contact William T. Pendergrass, ICC Coordinator, or MJ Taisacan, CRMO Administrative Clerk, at 532-0466 or fax 532-1000.
Contact me for a sign up sheet and I will send you one. We will have a listing of all the cleanups up on the Beautify CNMI website soon.

In the meantime, photos from this year's Island Wide Cleanup can be found on the Beautify CNMI Facebook Fan Page here and here.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Quixotic but Effective

Jaime Vergara mentioned me in his editorial yesterday, "The ascendency of the Obamas, the proven track record of the Tina Sablans, and the quixotic but effective drive of the Angelos into the local affairs of governance are welcome signs."

Quixotic but Effective would be a unique, first of its kind campaign slogan, but I think I'm going to go with, "Gets Things Done."

Angelo Villagomez: Gets Things Done.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Happy Birthday, Eden Blanco!

eden blancoEdz turns 25 today!

We celebrated on Saturday with dinner at Giovanni's at the Hyatt. Somewhere between the bottle of champagne and dessert I became a member of the Club at the Hyatt, which means we'll probably be going there for brunch more often.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Worth Repeating

Taken from Ruth's On My Mind via Jane's blog:
And a plethora of public hearings coming up! To wit:

Tuesday, August 25: 6:00 p.m., at the multi-purpose center in Susupe, Zoning Board hearing on the Beach Road Corridor Improvement Plan. More information from the Zoning Board at 234-9961.

Tuesday, August 25: 6:30 p.m., at the CRM Conference Room in Oleia, Public Works hearing on preparation of an Environmental Assessment Report for the proposed Lake Susupe Educational Boardwalk Trail project. More information available from Public Works Technical Services Division at 234-9828 or 664-4455.

Wednesday, August 26: 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. Not exactly a hearing, but worth mentioning: release of the Directory of Traditional Healers and Medicinal Plants of the CNMI at the multi-purpose center in Susupe, a project funded by an Administration for Native Americans grant and sponsored by several local individuals and organizations;

Wednesday, August 26: 6:30 p.m., Retirement Fund hearings on Res. 09-002, which “restricts the Fund from processing any amendments or additions to originally filed Applications for Retirement that would add beneficiaries arising through adoption for purposes of the computation of survivor benefits,” and Res. 09-003, which “proposes for the Fund to cease processing refunds of employee contributions." More information available from the Retirement Fund at 322-3863.

Friday, August 28, 6:30 p.m., at the San Roque school: hearing on the Environmental Assessment Report on the Kalabera Cave Development project prepared for MVA by Herman B. Cabrera and Associates. More information available from his office at 234-1778.

Thursday, August 27: 6:00 p.m., at the Zoning Office in Dandan on "conditional" use of a former garment factory building in Koblerville by Pancy, Inc. More information available from the Zoning Board at 234-9661.

Monday, August 31, 1:00 p.m. at the Senate Chamber on levelized energy adjustments proposed by the Commonwealth Public Utilities Commission. More information available from Kyle Cabrese, CPUC Commissioner, at 233-7150.

Monday, August 31, deadline for comments on Senate Bill 16-60 "To enhance enforcement powers and authority under the Alcohol Beverage Control Act and for other purposes" - which would give Board members the same powers as peace officers in enforcing ABC laws and regulations. More information from Congressman Joseph C. Reyes at 664-8836.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Fruits of our Fathers

"The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is today." -Chinese proverb

The most rewarding and fulfilling Beautify CNMI activity is to plant a tree; There is something about planting a tree that connects you to the rest of Nature and Humanity. I experience this connection when I drive down the road with friends who have helped me plant trees and point out the exact trees they planted every time we pass them.

"There's the 1000th tree we planted in 2006."

"Remember how hard it was raining when we planted this stretch of trees?"

"My tree is doing well, isn't it? I stop by every once in a while and sprinkle some fertilizer on it."

The life of a single tree can span generations of humans. Take for example the many fruit trees at my father's house planted by my grandfather. What an amazing connection to the past to think that when a coconut is opened to feed the chickens or when a ripe mango is enjoyed, it is in essence my grandfather's hand still providing for his family.

My favorite example of what it means to plant a tree, which I regularly use as a metaphor for the work of Beautify CNMI, is the planting of a single breadfruit tree.

The breadfruit tree that is planted today will grow several years before it is able to produce fruit, but it will immediately provide beauty and shade. When it begins to produce fruit, it produces fruit in abundance, providing for families and fanihi alike. The tree has other uses as well. Bark can be used to make rope and clothing and the sap can be used to caulk a canoe. Decades later when that breadfruit has grown into a mature tree dominating the forest canopy, it can be carved into a canoe, connecting us to the rest of Micronesia.

All this from the simple act of planting a single tree.

I hope that one day my grandchildren will hike through the Laolao area hillsides and reminisce on how their forbearers turned a denuded, barren hillside into a rich, diverse forest.

Thank you to the more than 100 volunteers who came out on a Sunday morning to help carry and plant tree saplings up on a hard to reach hillside and thank you to all the community members who donated coconuts saplings for our planting. This was truly a community effort and shows once again what can be accomplished when we work together.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


My previous post contains the statement I sent to the Marianas Variety in regards to the stray dog issue.

The article appeared in today's paper.
Government doing nothing about stray dogs

THE government is not doing anything to control stray dogs or remove “roadkill,” Beautify CNMI executive officer Angelo Villagomez said yesterday.

“It is outrageous that the government with all its resources and $150 million annual budget would pass its responsibilities off onto community members and voters,” he said.

Many people, he added, are disturbed by stray dogs that travel in groups and loiter around the island, harming children and tourists and ripping off garbage bags when looking for food.

The stray dogs are a “general nuisance” to the public, he said.

Blame game

In an earlier interview, Press Secretary Charles P. Reyes Jr. said the government does not have an immediate solution to the problem of stray dogs due to lack of funds.

He said the Saipan mayor’s office should be the one to address the problem which was also referred to the Division of Environmental Quality and the Department of Public Safety.

DEQ told this reporter that the issue has not reached its office.

Villagomez said it is not the responsibility of community organizations to remove dead animals from public roads.

The non-government group Pet Assistance and Welfare Services, or PAWS, helps find homes for dogs, but does not remove roadkill, he added.

PAWS also provides food, shelter and medicine to dogs, and this is costly, Villagomez said.

“Keep in mind that PAWS is a cash-strapped, volunteer-driven non-profit organization made up of people who volunteer their free time to help these needy animals, the stray dogs,” he said.

Villagomez believes that the mayor should address the island’s stray dog problem while DPS should be responsible for removing dead animals from public roads.

“If the mayor was doing his job and picking up stray dogs, there wouldn’t be such a large dead dog problem, as the roving packs of dogs would be safely off the streets,” he said.

He noted that the mayor of Tinian was able to build a kennel for less than $10,000.

The mayor of Tinian was able to end their stray dog problem, Villagomez said.
The tone of the article is a bit more aggressive than I would have liked, but the government really isn't doing anything to solve this problem. It is infuriating when I hear a government official say we don't have the money to do that, so we're not going to even try.

In life, no matter what you end up doing, there is never enough money. Never. School teachers don't get enough money from the government to pay for school supplies or photo copies for handouts. Do they just say they're not going to teach the children because they don't have enough money? Of course not! They find creative ways to manage their classroom. They ask for donations. They spend their own money.

If the government, and mostly I'm referring to the Mayor of Saipan here, wanted to solve this problem, they'd figure something out. They'd figure out a creative way to solve the problem.

And we need to look no further than Tinian to find a model that works.

Dr. Tom Arkle left a comment on the Marianas Variety website that describes the Tinian program:
Angelo is 100 percent correct. Saipan Mayor simply does not want his people to do any work. Tinian implemented a 25 page dog control regulation, formed a small group (THREE people) from its own workforce, TRAINED them, built our own (temporary) kennel (for $4,000), built our own humane traps, built our own "catch" nets, ordered citation booklets, ordered dog tags and collars, printed pamphlets, enlisted citizen assistance, coverted a pickup to mobil dog catcher/kennel truck - and then spent 8 hours a day in the community. ALL THIS for around $8,000 INCLUDING PAYING a veterinarian to come to Tinian every week to humanely euthanize those animals not suited for adoption (strays and sick). In six months we took 600 dogs OFF the streets, licensed 400 more, issued several citations AND got the public to support the program and even help turn in unwanted dogs. We took it to the schools and directly to dog owners. IT WORKED!!!!!! WHY not on Saipan - especially when you have MONEY - $75K in fact. It all boild down to the BOSS - the MAYOR - he just doesn't want to do it! START SMALL - you don't need the HILTON - get the OBVIOUS dogs FIRST!
1000 dogs in 6 months with less than $10,000? That sounds like something I'd like to do here.

On Dead Dogs and Stray Dogs

I was asked by the Marianas Variety to make some comments on the stray dog issue on behalf of PAWS.
Dear Mr. Villagomez

PAWS was given credit by the office of Governor for "taking care" of the stray animal issue since the government departments and officials say they cannot do anything about it for awhile.

We would like to know:

1.What are the current steps done by the organization to help the "stray dogs" clean up?
2. Since government officials have nothing to say about the issue, is it good for them to pass the responsibility to organizations like PAWS? Why?

Hoping for your response.


Marianas Variety
My statement is posted below:
I am not the President of PAWS, so this shouldn't count as PAWS's official statement. I am, however, an official of Beautify CNMI and a candidate for Mayor.

First of all, there are two parts to the dog issue. There are stray dogs and then there are dead dogs. The dead dogs were hit by cars and rot on the streets until nature deteriorates the remains. Stray dogs travel the villages in packs, chasing children, bicyclists, ripping open garbage bags and serving as a general nuisance. Most people are concerned mainly with the dead dogs, but many have issue with the stray dog problems as well.

The government is doing nothing to alleviate either of these two problems.

As for their role in cleaning up stray dogs, PAWS gets involved when there is a "rescue." Somebody will find a stray and will call the PAWS phone number to report that they have an animal that needs help. PAWS coordinates with their volunteers and limited funds to find a foster household to nurse the animal back to health. Once the dog is healthy, it goes up for adoption, usually successfully. Depending on the health of the dog when PAWS finds it, this can cost several hundred dollars per animal.

Keep in mind that PAWS is a cash-strapped volunteer-driven non-profit organization made up of people like Katie Busenkell and Retta Sue Hamilton who volunteer their free time to help these needy animals, the stray dogs.

PAWS is not involved with the removal of dead dogs.

As for your second question, it is outrageous that the government with all their resources ($150 million annual budget) would pass their responsibilities off onto community members and voters.

The mayor is responsible for cleaning up stray dogs and DPS is responsible for cleaning up dead dogs if they lie within the right of way of public roads. If the mayor was doing his job and picking up stray dogs, there wouldn't be such a large dead dog problem, as the roving packs of dogs would be safely off the streets.

The mayor of Tinian was able to build a kennel for less than $10,000 and has pretty much taken care of his stray dog problem, and thus their dead dog problem. We could follow his model here on Saipan, and it wouldn't have to cost the $120,000 minimum that Mayor Tudela is asking for.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Campaign Merchandise

Angelo oconnor villagomezI am at home this afternoon working on typing up my platform. I've gotten several questions on Facebook and this blog asking my positions on certain issues and I want to get my platform out as soon as possible. Then when people ask me questions, I can email them or give them a hard copy of my entire platform, hopefully answering all of their questions.

In the meantime I've created a way for my supporters to purchase campaign t-shirts, hats, and buttons. I haven't started fundraising, I'm not independently wealthy, and I don't have an older, wealthy patron backing my campaign, so I have to fall back on the Internet for now.

If you would like to purchase campaign merchandise please visit Angelo for Mayor on Additionally, if you would like merchandise featuring the Saipan Donkey wearing a mwaar, visit Saipan Democrats on

The Northern Islands

It wasn’t until we were finally under way that I really believed we were heading to the Northern Islands and the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument.

There were so many false starts to this expedition that I wondered if we’d ever really get to go. In 2008 we tried and failed to work out a deal with three different boat companies. This year’s magic number was also three and the one that finally worked out was the Lady Carolina, a 105-foot longline fishing vessel. It’s not exactly the Love Boat, but it was big enough and comfortable enough to fit 10 passengers and 5 crew during our journey.

I worked with Bryan Jones to secure the charter for the boat and to recruit people to come along. The cost of the charter was $20,000. Pew Environment Group helped offset some of our costs, as did many of our friends on Saipan. People donated kayaks, dive gear, tents, hammocks, and even oxygen tanks should anyone get bent during one of the dives.

Our group consisted of two public high school teachers, two reporters, our essay winner, three Friends of the Monument (but isn’t everyone a Friend of the Monument?), a doctor and her husband. Everyone got along fairly well most of the trip. There was the occasional appearance of a certain reporter wearing nothing but his underwear and a few small disagreements, but most of us are still going to be friends now that it is all over.

After costs for food, skiff, and supplies are figured in, the cost of our trip was much greater than $20,000. Food was about $300 per person and we each spent different amounts on gear. Those of us that dove ended up spending $15 per dive for the tanks. I also spent a small fortune on beef jerky.

We had set the date for our departure for Monday, July 20. Our goal was to leave port at 3 AM. Naturally, we didn’t leave until 7 PM later that night. We spent a long day of waiting at the port being told every 30 minutes that we were about to leave in 30 minutes.

At least we left port on the day we had planned. Even though the sun was already setting on our first day as we set to sea, we were all excited and in good spirits for what lay ahead. The water was calm and the skies were clear as we pulled out of the Saipan lagoon and headed north.

marianas sunsetWe spent many hours of that first night out on deck. I remember Dennis, our essay winner, asking me, “When will the lights of Saipan disappear?” I told him it would probably be while we slept. His question made me reflect on the fact that we were leaving the modern world behind. Where we were heading there were no convenience stores, no hospitals, and thankfully, no floating hotels.

Several of us slept out on the deck of the bow that first night, myself included. The water was calm, but the rocking of the boat woke we several times. I would open my eyes and see stars brighter than any I’ve seen in years. Lying on my back I felt like I could almost reach up and touch them. The last time I woke, at about 4:15 AM, I looked over the starboard bow to the huge silhouette of an active volcano. Anatahan.

I couldn’t go back to sleep after that. I decided then that our day at the port would count as Day Zero and that our first day at sea would count as Day One. The sun rose over Sarigan on on Day One , then after passing Anatahan and Sarigan, we passed Guguan, Alamagan, and Pagan. As the sky darkened we could see peak of Agrigan’s volcano in the distance.

Calm Seas: Sarigan in the background with Dennis and me on the bow of the Lady Carolina. The calm seas allowed for the boat to travel at 8 knots, getting us to Maug in time for the solar eclipse despite our late departure.
The swells on the surface of the water were no more than an inch tall the first few days of our trip.

water reflection
Reflections of a Calm Sea: The water was so flat that I could see my reflection in the surface of the ocean.
This allowed the boat to move very quickly and Captain Carl told us that even with our late departure, we would still make it to the Maug Lagoon in time for the eclipse.

ken kramerKen Kramer spent most of his time on the stern trolling (when the boat was moving during daylight hours) or bottom fishing (when we were anchored). The only exception was that I wouldn’t let him fish inside the monument waters. On that first day he spent 10 hours watching his lines and not much else, until right off the coast of Pagan, just as everyone else was finishing their dinner of vegetable curry (what kind of meat was in that?), he hooked himself a marlin.

marlin fishingIt was a marlin that would eventually get away, but not before we got some photos of it fighting on the line. Hey, we are environmentalists, aren’t we? We joked for the rest of the trip that he was just practicing catch and release.

We steamed north towards Agrigan as the sun set on that first day. The next morning Agrigan was as far behind us as it was in front of us the night before. The mighty peak of Asuncion lay directly in front of us.

asuncion islandWe were inside the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument.

Ken, Gary, and the other three crew members who were fishing begrudgingly put away their fishing lines. I told them that the magic number was 19.22. As soon as the GPS read that we were south of 19.22 again, they could resume fishing.

The immensity of the Asuncion volcano was breathtaking to behold. Lifted right out of the Marianas Trench, it rises 2923 feet into the air. It is an active volcano with recent signs of eruption, like the upside-down V on its western face.

Our plan was to stop at Asuncion on our way south. There are supposed to be giant coconut crabs all over the island and I wanted to find some. I also wanted to get in a dive or two. I was looking forward to seeing it on the return, unfortunately we never made it back.

Maug emerged from the water soon after Asuncion. At first we thought we saw Maug and Uracas to the west, but it turned out to be the three islets of Maug. Uracas was another 40 miles beyond Maug.

The excitement mounted as we headed towards the southern channel leading into the Maug Lagoon. For those of us who had worked so hard, quit jobs, put our reputations on the line for the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, this was a moment of justification for everything we had done. A moment of triumph, like Luke Skywalker and Han Solo being presented with the Alderaanian Medal of Freedom at the end of A New Hope.

To make the occasion even more special, the solar eclipse was beginning. We were about 50 miles southwest of seeing the full eclipse, but at 93.5 obscuration the Maug Lagoon and the surrounding islets looked as if someone had dimmed the light bulb and turned up the air conditioner. The color reminded me of some of the scenes in the Vin Diesel classic Pitch Black.

We spent about 48 hours inside the Maug Lagoon. Most of us kayaked and snorkeled and tried a little hiking, which turned out to be nearly impossible. I managed to get in 3 dives and spent one night camping on the “beach.” While I was there I went ashore on both the eastern and the western islets.

Last year we talked about Maug as if it were unspoiled. If I could do it again with the knowledge gained after visiting these islands I would know that these islands and the surrounding waters are anything but pristine. They aren’t even “undamaged,” which is the term we usually used to describe them (we never once called them “pristine”).

The shores and near-shore environments of Maug are covered in marine debris, mainly discarded fishing gear. Longline fishing floats with fishing line and dozens of hooks still attached floated inside the lagoon. Ropes and nets were washed ashore and I’m sure were in the water, too. There they will remain, killing fish and other marine life until somebody goes up and removes them.

There is also a giant broken anchor sitting in the center of the Maug caldera on top of some coral. It makes for an interesting dive, but where you find one broken anchor you’re sure to find anchor damage. Measures really need to be taken to ensure that more harm doesn’t come to the area.

As for the wildlife, we did not see the giant humphead parrotfish or Napoleon wrasses during this expedition to Maug, but then again we only managed three dives in 48 hours. This was due in part to unfamiliarity with the diving in Maug and to the general level of chaos of being at our first island on the first day of an expedition. Next time I’ll have more confidence and experience and I’ll get in five dives per day.

We still managed to see sharks nearly every time we got in the water. I also saw barracuda and schools of tuna swimming in 20 feet of water just off shore. On our last morning Patrick and I went swimming with a school of tuna as they attacked baitfish. We drove around in the skiff and jumped in the water when got close to the attacking birds. Cool stuff.

After two full days at Maug we spent our fourth day at sea. We drove the boat north around Uracas and then headed south, leaving the monument as we slept.

Uracas is as dramatic as you could imagine an island volcano to be. I imagined James Bond infiltrating SPECTRE’s secret volcano base in You Only Live Twice as we rounded the island.

Except for a small patch of green on the southern face the island is completely covered in ash. Giant boulders lie on the sides of the steep mountain, belched from the center of the Earth, no doubt.

We saw our first dolphins at Uracas. There was a pod of spinner dolphins playing in the surf off the southern coast (we saw dolphins two other times during the trip).

Our fifth day was spent at Agrigan. We met the Saures boys on the beach and they were very hospitable to us. They showed us their island and pointed us towards points of interest.

They took us to their village and let us hike through their farm. They also pulled out three giant coconut crabs and let us photograph them. We barbequed fresh tuna steaks on the beach and went swimming in the big waves.

mangrove monitor lizardIt was a great experience learning how these guys live all by themselves in the Northern Islands. It is a way of life that has all but disappeared from the southern islands of Saipan, Tinian, and Rota.

We got back on the Lady Carolina in the late afternoon and traveled during the night towards Pagan. We arrived there the next morning. We spent 48 hours on Pagan. Again, we kayaked, hiked, snorkeled, and spear-fished. Most of us camped out on the beach the first night we were there, too.

I went on two long hikes on this visit. The first day I visited the black sand beach near the lake north of our campsite and on the second day I went on a monster six-hour hike to the opposite side of the island. We found the white sand beach and loads of livestock.

I could spend an entire week or more exploring Pagan. I didn’t see the hot springs or find any latte stones, so I’ll have to go back one of these days to see them.

Our plan for Day Eight was to stop at Alamagan, pass by Guguan, and then on to Sarigan., but we were thwarted by weather. We saw hardly a wave the first week of our trip, but on this day the waves were 5-10 foot swells. The landing at Alamagan can be difficult on a calm day and Captain Carl made the call to skip it.

guguanguguanWe passed by Guguan on our way to Sarigan. I don't think I've ever seen so many birds in one place before. There were thousands of them circling atop the summit of the island's volcano.

We found ourselves at Sarigan on the morning of Day Nine. We spent the morning diving and spear-fishing and most of the afternoon on the boat because of anchoring issues.

Sarigan had some great diving. Giant clams, schools of trevalli, and thousands of reef fish could be seen in every direction. I also saw two humphead parrot fish and a five foot shark in about 100 feet of water, while Jenny and Patrick saw a Napoloen Wrasse on their first dive.

The next morning we were on our way back to Saipan. We had planned to spend the morning at Sarigan, but were thwarted again by weather.

We passed Anatahan on our way south. Anatahan is the island that causes Saipan to close the local schools when it erupts.

I've heard people say that the greenery on the island is coming back. Yeah, it's coming back a little, but it's not really coming back. No one is going to be living there any time soon.

All in all the trip was a success. I know a lot more about traveling to the Northern Islands now than I did before, so that on the next trip I’ll do a better job. If there was another trip to the monument specifically I’d be able to make some recommendations to help make the best of the expedition’s time.

I hope this isn’t my last trip to the monument. I’d like to remove several tons of fishing gear from the shores of Maug and I’d like to find the school of humphead parrotfish before someone turns them into kelaguen.

I’m a little slow because I’m running for Mayor, coordinating Beautify CNMI, and planning another coed soccer league, but I’m going to put together a powerpoint presentation for the Friends of the Monument to show to the local schools. We learned a lot about those islands and the surroundings on this trip and we want to share it with as many people as possible.

There are also more islands to visit. The only islands we spent considerable amount of time at were Maug, Agrigan, Pagan, and Sarigan (although we actually never touched land at Sarigan). Alamagan, Asuncion, and Guguan still beckon. As for Uracas and Anatahan, I don't really need to step foot on them until the volcanoes simmer down a bit.

More photos are posted on the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Facebook Fan Page.

How to Run for Office

aov for mayorPart of my decision to run for office this year was to rebuild the Democratic Party for future elections. In order to build the party, new candidates will have to be identified and they will have to make the decision to run, much as I did.

Becoming a candidate for elected office in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands is not difficult. In order to run for Mayor I simply had to collect signatures from 100 registered voters living on Saipan and pay a $250 registration fee. The signature and registration requirements for governor and US Congress are a bit higher and for every other office they are a bit lower.

The first step in registering as a candidate is going up to the Commonwealth Election Commission (CEC) and signing out a Candidates Packet. The packet has all the forms and all the information you need to run.

The next step is to collect signatures. I managed to collect about 250, well over the necessary 100. Some signatures are undoubtably duplicates or not from registered voters on Saipan, so getting more than the minimum is a good idea.

I had a lot of help collecting signatures. While I collected about 80 of them myself, mostly at family gatherings, soccer games, and walking the streets of Garapan, I had about a dozen people collecting for me. Members of the Democratic Party, family members, and friends carried my nominating petition around with them and gathered signatures. Without realizing it, the people who helped me collect signatures became the first volunteers of my campaign.

Once you get enough signatures you have to create a committee. At a minimum you need a Chairperson and a Treasurer because their names have to be reported to the CEC.

I had to fill out three forms: a candidate's committee organizational form, an affidavit swearing I am eligible to run for office, and a form signed by the Democratic Party Chairman and Secretary affirming that I am running under the party banner.

After that, all I had to do was pay my filing fee at the Treasury.

I turned all my paperwork over on Monday morning and today at 3 PM the Commonwealth Election Commission approved Resolution Number 09-004, thereby certifying Angelo O'Connor Villagomez as the Democratic Nominee for the Mayor of Saipan.

It's election time!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Moral Obligations

One of the reporters at the Marianas Variety asked me about my trip to Maug when I was turning in my nominating petition on Monday morning. I was supposed to email him a photo of the marine debris, but I think I forgot.

This article is good. There are no inaccuracies.
Maug Island covered with debris, says Villagomez

ANGELO Villagomez of the Friends of the Monument, the main proponent of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, disclosed on Monday the “damaged” condition of Maug Island.

Maug, by law, is part of the Marine Protected Areas of the CNMI, and is included in the three new protected marine areas in the Pacific designated by a presidential declaration last January.

“Last year we talked about how pristine the water and how undamaged they were, but I actually found that there’s a lot more damage to the island and the waters that we don’t know about,” Villagomez said, referring to Maug.

He recently visited Maug where he said he found fishing gear, including nets, floats and anchors.

Last year, he said the Friends of the Monument focused on protecting an area many believed was too remote.

But when they visited the island, he said they saw the presence of “human impact.”

Villagomez said the federal government is “morally obligated” to help manage the monument area.

“We definitely need some marine debris removal there, because there are nets up there and those nets are killing fish,” he added.

He said they didn’t conduct an inventory of the damage in the area because that would have required significant time, but they did take pictures of the fishing gear washed ashore.

“Its really unbelievable,” he said, referring to the damage on Maug.

While the CNMI government or any non-profit organization can initiate a cleanup drive on Maug, Villagomez said the federal government should manage the monument area, and one of its management obligations is marine debris removal.

The debris on Maug could have been accumulated for over 30 years, he added.

“Iit took 44 hours by boat to get there -- this is one of the most obscure, out of the way places on the planet, and it’s covered with trash, human debris,” he said.

The federal government, he added, has yet to clarify the actual funding that will be appropriated for the day to day management of the monument area, which includes the cleanup of marine debris and the establishment of the visitor center.

He said U.S. Fish and Wildlife should set up an office on Saipan so people can apply for a permit to visit the monument area.
I'm still wondering about the lack of big fish we saw when we were in the lagoon. Yes, we saw some tuna and barracuda near shore, but not in the densities we expected or that exist at other places. Chris Pala is still on island and I was talking to him last night. He interviewed one of our local marine biologists last week and was told that the fish at Maug have been "hammered" and that the stories of fish abundance are a thing of the past.

This is unfortunate because local boats aren't really going up that far. That means it has to be poachers coming in and catching the fish. Marine protected areas are scientifically proven to work, but in order for them to work we have to stop the fishing up there, which like I already mentioned isn't being done by the local boats.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Beautify CNMI looking for volunteers, coconuts

Phase II of the Laolao Revegetation Project is set to take place this Sunday, August 16 at 8:00 AM. Started in 2005, the long-term project aims to protect the Laolao Bay Watershed by reducing the amount of sediment accumulating on the adjacent coral reefs. Planting trees has been found to reduce the amount of erosion on hillsides.

Organizers are looking for at least 100 volunteers to participate. The Division of Forestry will drive saplings into the revegetation project area on the day of the planting, but the trees will have be hand carried up and down the hillsides to their eventual planting sites.

According to co-organizer Angelo Villagomez of Beautify CNMI, the Saipan Marianas Lions Club and several local families have pledged to volunteer. Villagomez added, “You can never have enough helping hands during these tree plantings, so I hope we get a lot of volunteer help for this one.”

Villagomez is also asking the community to donate coconuts for the planting day.

This will be the first time coconuts are used at the revegetation site. Coconuts are being used because they are likely to survive the acidic soil and poor growing conditions of the badlands.

Contact Villagomez at or 670 285 6462 to donate coconuts, especially saplings.

“I’m hoping that people can just drop the coconuts off in Kagman, but if they contact me early enough in the week I think we can arrange to have them picked up,” said Villagomez.

Organizers are asking volunteers to meet at the Santa Soledad Church in Kagman at 7:45 AM. Tools, gloves, water, and a light snack will be provided, however volunteers are still encouraged to bring a bottle of water, sunscreen, hiking shoes, and a hat. All volunteers for the Laolao Community Planting Day will receive a limited edition Beautify CNMI or Laolao Revegeation Project t-shirt.

Seven acres of tree saplings were planted at the site in 2006. Over 800 saplings and 250 cuttings consisting of six native species were planted and nearly 5000 native seeds were broadcast, including three garbage bags full of softball sized Barringtonia asiatica seeds, all of which sprouted. Six species of tree saplings were planted that year including Sosugi (Acacia Confusa), Kamachili (Pithecolobium dulce), Banalo (Thespesia populnea), Gaogao flores (Erythrina sp.), Da’ok (Calophyllum inophyllum), and Pago (Hibiscus).

The event is sponsored by the Division of Environmental Quality, Coastal Resources Management Office, Beautify CNMI, Department of Land and Natural Resources, and the Coral Reef Initiative.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Angelo Villagomez: Candidate for Mayor of Saipan

I turned in over 250 signatures to the Commonwealth Election Commission this morning. I only needed 100, but considering that some of my signatures will be invalidated, it was important to have a healthy buffer of extra names.

They will certify all the candidates in the upcoming days and weeks. The campaign begins right now. So much to do and less than three months to go.

The cat is out of the bag

An article in the Marianas Variety today makes mention of my intention to run for Mayor of Saipan.
Jesse Torres president of the newly organized Democratic Party, told the Variety yesterday that he and their public information officer Angelo Villagomez will seek office.

Torres is a House candidate in Precinct 5, while Villagomez will be the party’s Saipan mayoral candidate.

The third Democratic candidate is Saipan Rep. Justo S. Quitugua who is running for the Senate.

When interviewed on Saturday, Villagomez, an environmental advocate, said he was still collecting signatures for his candidacy and would soon make an official announcement.

Torres disclosed to Variety that several members of the community, especially those who supported the reconsolidated Democratic Party, convinced Villagomez to run for mayor.
And there you have it.

I am turning in my nominating petition at 10 AM this morning. I'm about to head out the door to collect the last of the signatures from my volunteers.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

PIC Palooza Tickets for Sale

Pacific Islands Club Saipan is throwing a shindig later this month to raise funds for Beautify CNMI and PAWS. I have committed to selling tickets. Please, please, please buy one from me!

GI Joe: Stay for the second half

GI Joe pretty much sucks until after the training montage half way through the movie. It is just a bit too hokey and unbelievable in the beginning.

Once that is over we are treated to a 30 minute long replay of the opening scene to Team America. Yes, they destroy Paris. And just like Team America, they end up doing more damage than the actual terrorists.

Alright, enough about that. I have to be honest. I'll probably see this movie six or seven times before it leaves theaters.

The director borrowed heavily from other movies. There is a scene where Duke is being chased through ice tunnels in his two-man underwater vehicle. Totally ripped from Star Wars, sort of a cross between attacking the Death Star and running away from the giant underwater monsters in The Phantom Menace.

I already mentioned the destruction of Paris ripped from Team America.

There is also the nanotechnology bit which I think was stolen from that movie with Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington. Or was that a Keanu Reeves movie?

But like I said, I will probably see this movie eight or nine times in the next several weeks.

But where the hell was Shipwreck? Shipwreck was my favorite character from the cartoon (although using the guy who was Darth Maul as Snake Eye was pretty cool).

One last thing. Ice doesn't sink! It floats. Morons.

I'll have to look for more imperfections during the ten or eleven times that I see this movie.

Friday, August 07, 2009

The Saures Boys of Agrigan

agriganBryan Jones took this photo of the residents of Agrigan. It is much better than any of the photos I took.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Democratic Nominee for Mayor of Saipan

saipan democratsI am the Democratic Nominee for Mayor of Saipan this year. The election is in three months on November 7, 2009.

More to come, in the meantime, please join my Facebook Group.