Sunday, February 26, 2012

Still on Pace

I crossed the 300 mile mark today.  In 2011, I didn't get this far until April 27.  So I'm roughly running twice as much this year as I was last.  Go me.

I've been having some good runs, too.  I keep most of them at about a 10 minute mile pace, but every few days I kick it up a notch.  It's not planned, it kind of just happens.  I finished yesterday's 9.2 in 83 minutes.

But today I hurt.  My achilles tendon hurts on my right foot.  Ouch.

I've dropped a few pounds, too.  It's not as much as I wish, but I guess that's to be expected.

The 5K on Guam is in two weeks, and Tagaman is three weeks after that.  During my long runs I can manage a 9 minute mile pace, so for a three mile race an 8 minute pace shouldn't be impossible.  Therefore, my goal is to run a 7 minute pace, which rounded down is 21 minutes.  Can I do it?  Probably not, but we'll see.

I'm not sure how I'll do in the Tagaman.  In 2009 it took me 60 minutes to complete the swim, and then I pulled a big DNF on the bike when my equipment broke.  I'm going to practice swimming when I get to Guam next week.  I'm going to try to get in the water every morning, and maybe I can get that time down to....59 minutes?

Then a two hour bike ride and a 90 minute run.  Yeah, I think I can handle that.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Imagine a World Without Filipinos

Somebody with a little too much time on their hands and not enough working synapses in their skull recently created the above work of art.

Possibly in response, somebody else posted to Facebook a .pdf of an essay titled Imagine a World Without Filipinos. I did a little research and the essay was originally published in Arab News, a Saudi Arabia newspaper, four years ago.

Filipinos have been the backbone of the Saipan economy for decades; they're the people Tyler Durden was talking about when he said "the people you are after are the people you depend on: we cook your meals, we haul your trash, we connect your calls, we drive your ambulances, we guard you while you sleep. Do not fuck with us."
Imagine a world without Filipinos
Abdullah Al-Maghlooth | Al-Watan,

Muhammad Al-Maghrabi became handicapped and shut down his flower and gifts shop business in Jeddah after his Filipino workers insisted on leaving and returning home. He says: “When they left, I felt as if I had lost my arms. I was so sad that I lost my appetite.”

Al-Maghrabi then flew to Manila to look for two other Filipino workers to replace the ones who had left. Previously, he had tried workers of different nationalities but they did not impress him. “There is no comparison between Filipinos and others,” he says. Whenever I see Filipinos working in the Kingdom, I wonder what our life would be without them.

Saudi Arabia has the largest number of Filipino workers — 1,019,577 — outside the Philippines. In 2006 alone, the Kingdom recruited more than 223,000 workers from the Philippines and their numbers are still increasing. Filipinos not only play an important and effective role in the Kingdom, they also perform different jobs in countries across the world, including working as sailors. They are known for their professionalism and the quality of their work.

Nobody here can think of a life without Filipinos, who make up around 20 percent of the world’s seafarers. There are 1.2 million Filipino sailors.

So if Filipinos decided one day to stop working or go on strike for any reason, who would transport oil, food and heavy equipment across the world? We can only imagine the disaster that would happen.

What makes Filipinos unique is their ability to speak very good English and the technical training they receive in the early stages of their education. There are several specialized training institutes in the Philippines, including those specializing in engineering and road maintenance. This training background makes them highly competent in these vital areas.

When speaking about the Philippines, we should not forget Filipino nurses. They are some 23 percent of the world’s total number of nurses. The Philippines is home to over 190 accredited nursing colleges and institutes, from which some 9,000 nurses graduate each year. Many of them work abroad in countries such as the US, the UK, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Singapore.

Cathy Ann, a 35-year-old Filipino nurse who has been working in the Kingdom for the last five years and before that in Singapore, said she does not feel homesick abroad because “I am surrounded by my compatriots everywhere.” Ann thinks that early training allows Filipinos to excel in nursing and other vocations. She started learning this profession at the age of four as her aunt, a nurse, used to take her to hospital and ask her to watch the work. “She used to kiss me whenever I learned a new thing. At the age of 11, I could do a lot. I began doing things like measuring my grandfather’s blood pressure and giving my mother her insulin injections,” she said.

This type of early education system is lacking in the Kingdom. Many of our children reach the university stage without learning anything except boredom.

The Philippines, which you can barely see on the map, is a very effective country thanks to its people. It has the ability to influence the entire world economy.

We should pay respect to Filipino workers, not only by employing them but also by learning from their valuable experiences.

We should learn and educate our children on how to operate and maintain ships and oil tankers, as well as planning and nursing and how to achieve perfection in our work. This is a must so that we do not become like Muhammad Al-Maghrabi who lost his interest and appetite when Filipino workers left his flower shop.

We have to remember that we are very much dependent on the Filipinos around us. We could die a slow death if they chose to leave us.
There isn't a Chamorro or Carolinian on Saipan who isn't either part Filipino themselves (with names like Villagomez, Castro, Camacho, Flores, Torres, Blanco?), related to someone who is Filipino, married to someone who is Filipino, has kids, nephews, and nieces who are Filipino, or at the very least is good friends and grew up with someone who is Filipino.

So with that said, kudos to the person who took it upon themselves to do something about this particular piece of urban blight.

In fact, I encourage readers to grab a can of spray paint, find the nearest surface, and write "FILIPINOS: STAY HERE."

Thank you for your donations

Edz and I are still collecting donations for Emie Romero's two children.  You can give a donation to Edz at Godfather's Bar, or you can donate online using a credit card on PayPal.  PayPal automatically produces receipts and allows for simple tracking of donated funds.  Also, Edz and I will cover all credit card fees in addition to our donation.

As of this writing, $855 has been donated by 10 individuals.  Thank you, LP, DS, AH, JP, EE, LF, CW, MH, MW, and JD.

I will be traveling to the Marianas two weeks from today and will deliver your donations then.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Aches and Pains

Six weeks into the new year and I've already banged out 10% of 2012 in 2012.  As of this afternoon's run, I've pounded 215.5 miles of pavement.  And it hasn't been easy.

Two weeks ago I went to have dinner with Amber at TGI Friday's.  While I was getting out of the car, I felt something in my back twinge.  BOING!  That little injury put me on the disabled list for six days.  Had I been in college and actively competing, I probably would have just run through the inflamed sacroilia.  But I'm 33 and the BMI charts say I'm obese.  It took it easy until the soreness went away.

Then when I started running against last week I developed a huge blister on my left foot and a soreness in one of the tendons on my right foot.  And then I hurt another part of my back.  Ouch my serratus posterior!

The running is paying off, though.  I'm inching ever closer to being under 200.  Today I weighed 206.5.  Imagine if I tried diet and exercise!

The 5K on Guam creeps ever closer, too.  March 10 is 27 days away.  Tagaman is 48.

But to be honest, what I'm really thinking about is the candlelight vigil on Saipan.  And getting my wife's greencard.  Our application has been received and USCIS cashed our application fee, so it's only a matter of time before we have our interview.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Letter to the Editor: Monument Blame Game

First of all, let me just say that I am sending you this as an individual, not on behalf of any organization.

I read the article about the monument in the February 11 Saipan Tribune and have several comments.  The criticisms made are clearly an issue of Ben Sablan trying to create controversy ahead of a visit by federal officials.  Several of his statements are off-base.  Others are blatant falsehoods.

The reason the CNMI only has two seats on the monument advisory council right now is because the third seat was given to former DFW director Sylvan Igisomar.  He recently retired and moved to Texas.  Arnold Palacios was a last minute replacement, and the federal government hasn't approved him yet.  In fact, the local government hasn't even approved Palacios in his position, so it is ridiculous to criticize the federal government on this issue.  Incidentally, Palacios has been invited to participate in the meetings as a full member.

The $333 million "benefit" referred to by Sablan is also misleading.  The University of Guam professor who authored the study Sablan cites talked about a 2008 "present value" of $333 million, which is an economic term to describe what the area could be worth.  The economic benefit the study predicted was actually only about $10 million per year, with funds coming from a combination of federal funding, a boost in tourism from increased international exposure, and high-end tourism and research in the Northern Islands. Unfortunately Dr. Iverson made some incorrect assumptions about the proposed monument (He also failed to predict the Great Recession and the rise of the Tea Party, which are by far the biggest reason the federal government has yet to fund the monument).

First of all, Iverson predicted the monument would be the largest or second largest in the world, which it is not.  The Islands Unit, the only part of the monument that is a marine protected area, is only 10% of the size proposed by the Friends of the Monument.  Logically, a small marine protected area needs less funding than a large marine protected area.  Second, the study assumed the manager of the monument would be NOAA Office of Marine National Sanctuaries.  However, management authority was given to US Fish & Wildlife Service, which is a different government agency in a different federal department with different priorities and different budgets.  If Dr. Iverson were to reassess his numbers with these new assumptions, the numbers would be different and likely much less than $10 million.  I encourage readers to read the study to come to their own conclusions.

Read the economic study here.

Also, while it is very easy to play the blame game, it must be noted that the CNMI had a great opportunity to fund the monument with ARRA.  Were any ARRA funds requested for the monument?  Or were certain people still steaming over its declaration and hoping that they could get it overturned rather than get it funded and working?  There are some people, including Sablan, who want to see and are working very hard to make the monument fail.  The opportunity to fund the monument with ARRA has now passed.

As for the concrete economic benefits that have been received since the monument's declaration, much of the credit is due to Delegate Kilili's hard work.  He helped secure $1/4 million the year the monument was declared to design a visitors center.  For a number of reasons related to local politics, that money hasn't been spent and a visitors center has not been designed.  That is not the federal government's fault; that is the local government's fault.  Delegate Kilili also sponsored a bill that would have actually built the visitor's center in the Northern Marianas once it was designed, but that bill has yet to pass due to national politics and the current state of the national economy (You may remember when RNC Chairman Michael Steele visited the CNMI during the 2010 election and promised to cut federal spending?  He delivered on his promise).

Despite the economic downturn, the federal government has hired at least two full-time employees on Saipan.  I'll respect their privacy in this matter, but those jobs are a direct result of the monument declaration.  They pay local taxes and support local businesses, creating jobs in the private sector.  And despite Sablan's claim to the contrary, federal officials have visited Saipan on numerous occasions, staying in hotels, eating in restaurants, and supporting job creation in the private sector.  The 2010 Coral Reef Task Force was also held in Saipan to highlight the creation of the monument.  This conference brought tens of thousands of dollars to the local economy.

The CNMI also continues to receive global media attention due to the monument and other unrelated but similar environmental initiatives, such as the 2011 shark fin ban introduced by Diego Benavente and signed by Governor Fitial.  This is international attention MVA would otherwise have to pay a premium on, so it saves the government untold hundreds of thousands of dollars at the same time it attracts tourists who spend money in the local economy.  This is something the CNMI should leverage, which to date it has not.

And despite these unfounded criticisms, most importantly, our children are already benefiting from the monument declaration, and it was for them many of you reading this supported the monument's creation.  In 2009, a recent graduate of Marianas High School was taken to the monument and wrote a book about that experience.  Hundreds of copies of his book Our Northern Islands have been donated to the public schools, and once the Friends of the Monument raise more money, more will be donated.  Before the monument was declared, how many people could even name the Northern Islands?  Now our children have photos and stories to share from them.  Also, NOAA provided our public schools with 100 copies of a lesson plan about exploring the Mariana Trench and trained Agnes McPhetres to "teach the teachers" on how to use them.

The community should be excited that they have the opportunity to participate in the management of their monument.  Despite misconceptions that the federal government was going to take this part of the Marianas away, what they are really doing is reminding our people that this part of our home still belongs to us and that we need to take care of it.  I encourage the community to attend the upcoming public meetings and to continue to work hard to protect our fragile natural heritage.

Angelo Villagomez
Washington, DC

Friday, February 10, 2012

Thank you for the first donations

We have received several donations via Paypal since putting something up on this website.  The link is found on three places: this blog, the Facebook event for Monday's candlelight vigil, and now the Marianas Variety.

Neither the Facebook page, nor the Marianas Variety state who is collecting the online payments, which would make me hesitant to donate money.


Before this becomes an issue and before the FBI starts a money laundering investigation, I just want to remind everyone that it is my wife Edz and I who are collecting the money.  Paypal creates receipts for every transaction, so everything will be accounted for.  We will turn the money over to the family.

So far we have received $50 from J.D. in Saipan, $50 from M.W. in Okemos, Michigan, $200 from M.H. in Costa Mesa, California, $100 from C.W. in Canyon Country, California, $50 from L.F. in Las Vegas, Nevada, $50 from E.E. in Saipan, $30 from J.P. in Spring Lake, North Carolina, and $100 from A.H. in Saipan.  Thank you!

If you are on Saipan and would like to donate, you can either give it to Emie's brother and sister if you know them, or drop it off at Godfather's bar.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Take Back the Night Candle Light Vigil

Take a stand against violence in our community. On Monday, February 13, 2012 from 8:00pm until 9:30pm, a candlelight vigil will be held in remembrance of Emie Romero.  Please RSVP on Facebook.

The vigil will take place on Palm Street next to Beach Road, near Godfather's Bar. Please gather in the street by 8:00 PM. At 8:30, a walk will be led around the Garapan Tourist District (clockwise from Godfather's to Winchell's, Fiesta, Hyatt, and back to Godfather's by 9:00 PM).

There will be a moment of silence at 9:00 PM, followed by prayer and song. Please wear white.

Candles will be available for a $5 donation. All proceeds will go to support Emie's two children in the Philippines. Donations will also be accepted at Godfather's Bar.

Although I am not currently living on Saipan, Emie was my wife's friend and co-worker. Edz is coordinating the vigil and some fundraising for Emie's two kids. If you would like to make a donation online, you can donate via Paypal. Edz will ensure the money gets to the kids.


Who: You
What: Candlelight Vigil
Where: Garapan, meeting near Godfather's
When: Monday, February 13, 2012 from 8:00pm until 9:30pm
Why: To remember Emie, take a stand against violence in our community, and raise some money for her two kids.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Monument Public Scoping Meetings Scheduled

The Mariana Trench Marine National Monument was declared by President George W. Bush on January 9, 2009. The US Fish & Wildlife Service and NOAA will conduct the first scopings for an eventual management plan later this month. They issued a press release today:
Meetings to be held on Saipan, Tinian, Rota, and Guam 

Four public scoping meetings will be conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency on the islands of Saipan, Tinian, Rota, and Guam to receive public comments on the scope of issues to be covered in the Draft Marianas Trench Marine National Monument (MNM) Management Plan. The management plan will be used to guide resource managers for the long-term conservation and management programs for the MNM. The informal meetings are designed to share information about the planning process and facilitate the submission of public comments. Fishing issues in the MNM have been discussed at meetings held by the Western Pacific Fisheries Management Council and won't be addressed at the scoping meetings.

The meeting on Saipan will be held February 24 at the Multipurpose Center on Beach Road in Susupe from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The meeting on Tinian will be held February 25 at the Tinian Elementary School, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. The meeting on Rota will be held February 27 at the Round House in Songsong Village from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The meeting on Guam will be held February 29 at the University of Guam, Anthony Leon Guerrero Multi-Purpose Room #129, in Mangilao, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

The Marianas Trench MNM encompasses about 61 million acres of submerged lands and certain waters of the Mariana Archipelago. It includes three units: the Islands Unit contains the waters and submerged lands of the three northernmost Mariana Islands (Farallon de Pajaros, Maug, and Asuncion) out to 50 nautical miles; the Volcanic Unit, with 21 submerged volcanic features; and the Trench Unit, which includes the submerged lands within the Trench. The Volcanic and Trench Units are also being managed as units of the National Wildlife Refuge System.
More information can be found on USFWS's website.  I am excited to see this positive development.  In 2008, many people sacrificed a great deal of political and personal capitol to overcome the initial lukewarm reception to the monument idea.  Although I am far removed from the day to day comings and goings of Saipan life, I am proud of the jobs that have been created due to the monument and the international attention brought to my home.  I see the monument as one day becoming a part of how the Chamorro people self-identify.  These scopings are a step in making that reality.

On my personal blog I get to make comments on issues that I may have worked on in the past for an organization that shall not be named, without my comments being affiliated with that organization.  With that disclaimer prominently noted, I find it interesting that fisheries issues will not be open for discussion at public hearings for a marine protected area.  If you want my guidance on what comments should be made at the public hearings, I'd start with that little gem.

So what will the federal government be seeking comments on?  Everything else.  And that's a lot of everything.  Personally, I'd start out by reminding NOAA that both NOAA Fisheries and NOAA Sanctuaries are moving towards an ecosystem based management regime.  It will be important to remind them of this because both the Trench Units and Volcanic Units do not protect a single drop of water or a single fish, unless that fish happens to be attached to the bottom of the Mariana Trench or an active volcano (sorry, demersal fish -- I bet you'll have to look that one up, by the way).  There are scientific studies out there that show how the benthic habitat is dependent upon the marine ecosystem above it.  It is impossible to protect that benthic habitat without also considering the 10,732 meters of water between the surface and HMRG Deep (the deepest part of the monument).  But that gets us back to fishing, and that's not up for discussion.

I apologize for the snarkiness.  There are actually other issues related to monument besides fishing that are very important, including how and who issues permits, what science should be studied within the monument, education programs, THE BUILDING, FUNDING, AND STAFFING OF THE ANGELO O'CONNOR VILLAGOMEZ ECODISCOVERY CENTER, funding priorities, enforcement capabilities, cultural and historical preservation, communications planning, and so on with the myriad of issues that all marine protected areas have to deal with.

There is also the issue of who gets to ride in Sir Richard Branson's submarine when he attempts to descend to the bottom of the Trench.  Also, which Hollywood actors get to portray Angelo, Laurie, Ike and Agnes in the movies.

And, ahem, if I were completed self-interested, I'd suggest they make Our Northern Islands by Dennis Chan a part of their education and outreach plans.  After donating 100+ copies of the book last year to the public schools, I'm still a few hundred dollars shy of turning a profit on editing and publishing the book.  But the book is out there and kids are learning about the Northern Islands, that's the important thing.  When I was a kid, my knowledge of the Northern Islands came from stories from my parents and only a handful of photos.  Our Northern Islands is chock full of stories and photos, and my ultimate hope is that the book inspires a whole generation of young people to love the most rugged part of the Marianas.  Also, maybe NOAA and USFWS could also help develop new materials, similar to Our Northern Islands (I bought a fancy new 60D Canon camera for the wedding and would be happy to sit on a boat and take pictures to be donated to NOAA).

Remember, this is your monument.  The Marianas are your home.  If you don't involve yourself with how your home and your monument are managed and solely rely on others to do it for you, well, take a walk through any village on Saipan to see where that leads.


This is a photo from a happier day.  This is the lasting memory I'll have of Emie.

It ended in the worst possible way.  Mass is being offered for friends and family on Wednesday, February 7 at 6:00 pm at Kristo Rai Church in Garapan.

I wish I was in Saipan right now.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Missing Person: Emie Romero

On February 5th, 2012, at about 5:45 pm, Police received a report of a missing person. Emerita Relata Romero, age 37, was last seen at approximately 3:00 am getting into a green or blue sedan which traveled south, by Garapan Market, Garapan.

 Emerita was wearing a grey sleeveless blouse with a flower on the left corner, black shorts, and sandals with jewels. Emerita has a slender build, 5'3" tall, 100 lbs, long straight brown hair, and brown eyes.

 DPS and Crime Stoppers are seeking help from the public. Please contact the Crime Stoppers hotline at 234-7272 should you want to remain anonymous or use our website Crimes stoppers pays up to $1,000.00 for any information leading to an arrest. It pays to call.

The Department of Public Safety has issued this release.  Please repost to your blog, Facebook, and Twitter:
Emie is my wife's co-worker and friend.  Your help is appreciated.

Friday, February 03, 2012

A Good One From Diego

There is a dearth of Chamorro writers.  We've got a few, especially in the blogosphere (here, here, here, and here).  Most of those wordsmiths tend to be elites -- meaning they have bachelors degrees and watch the Daily Show.  And like most elites, they lean towards one side of the political spectrum.  My side.  The side of hope and change.

By the way, it's working out for me.

But I digress.  Batshit Crazy Bruce Bateman is about as close to a conservative Chamorro blogger we ever saw, but he only gets the Chamorro moniker because he plays the political game with the best of them.

I don't know why the other side never started blogging.  They leave anonymous comments, but rarely does someone put their name behind something -- at least something that someone could be proud to call their own (I'm talking about basic grammar here, irregardless of content).

And to be fair, some (most?) of the elite bloggers and letter to the editor writers are horrible.  It's only common sense.

And then someone writes something that surprises you.  Diego Blanco wrote a good one in today's papers.  It's hints to his insular thinking and smacks slightly racist, but it is still a compelling read.  He captures a lot of the emotion that Chamorros feel about the incredible changes over the last 30 years, and like many Chamorros, lays blame not on himself, but the dreaded outsider.  I disagree with his assessment of people who just want to see their home reach its full potential, but it is still a great piece.
The 1 percent 

If you read newspaper comments, blogs, or letters to the editor, you might get the wrong idea about public opinion in the CNMI. The same small and vocal group of critics is over-represented in those forums, over and over. We hear about their opposition to Article 12, we hear about their rejection of traditional island culture, and we definitely hear about their disgust at anything “native.” Hearing only from them, you might think that this is what the people of the CNMI people believe. But it just isn't so.

If you venture outside the blogs, the letters to the editor, and the online posts-and yes, outside Coffee Care, Godfather's, and Anaks swimming pool-you'll find a different world. You'll find the 99 percent of the CNMI's residents that are seldom heard in public forums. We are that 99 percent.

We measure our time on these islands not by years but by centuries, and for us the CNMI is our identity, not just a stopping-off point or job contract. We spend our weekends in church and at family fiestas, not at golf courses and hotel buffets. We are often those dreaded “government employees” or “political hires” that you love to look down upon, and many of us don't meet your high standards for world travel experiences or elite education (on the other hand, some of us do have degrees from the world's finest universities, and even more of us have served in the world's finest military).

We're the ones who support Article 12 because we like the Marianas' family landownership system the way it is. We're also the ones who fear our island being taken over, culturally, socially, and politically, by outsiders. And it's us who support the atmosphere of respect and the pride in families that many of you don't like. We're the ones who want to have a family barbecue maybe too close to your golf course, or let our boonie dogs run maybe too close to your purebred. And a lot of us here in the 99 percent chew pugua and drink Budweiser and tuba. Deal with it!

Don't worry. We won't be occupying anything, other than maybe the back of a pickup truck. But it's time for you, the 1 percent who are so vocal, to be reminded that we here in the 99 percent are still around. And most likely we'll still be around long after you've left these islands. Biba Marianas!

Diego C. Blanco 
As Lito, Saipan