Elizabeth Perez Arriola
Champion for elderly, youth, children’s rights and historic preservation
Elizabeth Pangelinan Perez Arriola (1928 – 2002) is most widely recognized in Guam history for her stand on issues affecting the family. A six-term Guam senator, Arriola took tough stances against legalizing casino gambling and abortion, and championed legislation on a wide range of issues affecting Guam and its culture, focusing special concern on women, youth and senior citizens. Arriola had the honor and privilege of being the first female lector at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome during the Beatification of Padre Luis Diego de San Vitores in October 1986.
Born on 19 November 1928 to Maria Guerrero Pangelinan and Vicente Borja, Elizabeth, or “Belle” as she was known, was the oldest daughter in a family of six boys and three girls. As was the custom in many Chamorro families, Belle was raised by her aunt and grandmother from the time she was six months until she was twelve years old when her father passed away.
She grew up while Guam was occupied during World War II by the Japanese, accompanying her mother and grandmother to the Manenggon concentration camp. Her grandmother died while marching with other Chamorros to the camp.
Returning to high school after the war, Arriola graduated salutatorian from George Washington Senior High school and left Guam to pursue a Bachelor of Arts degree from Rosemont College in Pennsylvania. She earned a teaching certificate from the state of Pennsylvania, returned to Guam in 1952 and began teaching in Guam schools.
In 1954, she married Attorney Joaquin C. Arriola, and together they had eight children–three daughters (Jacqueline, Anita, Lisa) and five sons (Vincent, Franklin, Michael, Joaquin, Jr., and Anthony). While she focused her time raising her children, these obligations did not prevent her from actively engaging in community work. In addition to serving on the Parent Teacher Organizations of the Academy of Our Lady of Guam, Father Duenas Memorial School, Cathedral Grade School, Saint Anthony School and Bishop Baumgartner, Arriola also served appointed terms on both the Territorial Board of Education and the University of Guam Board of Regents.
Arriola sat on many civic boards. In addition, she was a Guam Memorial Hospital Volunteer, served on the Beauty World (Guam) Ltd. Association, as well as with the American Cancer Society. Arriola was president of the Kundirana Guam Charity Association and the charter president and executive advisor of St. Dominic’s Senior Care Volunteers Association. She was a worthy regent of the Catholic Daughters of America and served on the board of the Guam Lytico and Bodig Association. She also was a charter member of the American Association of University Women (Guam).
Her husband, Joaquin (or “Kin”), was a prominent politician and a two-term Speaker of the Guam Legislature where he served as a senator as well as counsel to the Legislature. Elizabeth Arriola was active in numerous activities of the Democratic Party of Guam, and was elected as the first President of the Women’s Democratic Party of Guam.
Much of Arriola’s volunteer work was focused especially on the Catholic Church where she was on the Diocesan Board of Education and engaged in fundraising for schools, the Catholic Church and its charities. She served on the Citizens for a Decent Community, the Cursillos and the Christian Mothers Association, and became President of the Christian Mothers Island board in 1977.
It was then that she was asked by the late Bishop Felixberto Flores to co-chair the campaign against legalizing gambling. Supported by the network of Christian Mothers in every parish of Guam communities, Arriola and her group set out to educate families about the detrimental effects of legal gambling, engaging in rallies, speech-making and one-to-one home visits.
The opposition, funded by big moneyed gambling efforts from the United States who wanted to open casinos on Guam, were defeated, thanks in large part to the coalition groups representing churches, government, business and the community. This effort became a catalyst for her subsequent work as an island leader as she perceived the effects of modernization as reflecting a decline in the moral fiber of the island and the quality of life on Guam.
In 1982, Arriola was elected to the Guam Legislature where she served for the next twelve years. She took her experiences gained as a pro-life and anti-gambling leader to the Legislature, where she focused on protecting the family and preserving Guam’s culture.
Arriola’s career in Guam politics brought national attention to the issue of abortion. As a senator in the early 1990s, Arriola introduced legislation to prohibit abortion on Guam in most circumstances and outlaw pro-choice counseling to pregnant women from local organizations such as Planned Parenthood. The bill was passed amid threats during legislative hearings by Catholic Archbishop Anthony Apuron to excommunicate any local senator who opposed the bill. The Guam abortion law was deemed one of the most restrictive laws in the nation and was challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in Guam’s courts on the grounds the law infringed on the right to free speech. Interestingly, one of Arriola’s daughters, attorney Anita Arriola, sided with the ACLU over the matter. However, both mother and daughter had decided before any public challenge would be made, they would remain respectful to each other and to their family. Although the law was struck down in the Federal District Court on Guam, the ruling highlighted the deeply intertwined nature of religion, politics and culture in Guam society at that time and the often complex relationships between women–especially mothers and daughters–in Chamorro culture.
Authored legislation to create Guam Preservation Trust
Known as the “Mother of Historic Preservation,” Arriola authored the Guam Preservation Trust (GPT) legislation in 1990. This law assigns Guam’s building permit fees to GPT to pay for the preservation of Guam’s historic sites and culture, as well as educating the public about those issues. Although primarily tasked with restoring historic structures that are listed in the Guam Register of Historic Places and/or the National Register of Historic Places, GPT also funds cultural preservation projects such as Guampedia.com. To date the Trust has put more than $20 million into various preservation projects on Guam.
Arriola served as Legislative Secretary and chaired the Committee on Youth, Senior Citizens and Cultural Affairs. Arriola was also a member of the Association of Pacific Island Legislatures (APIL), and was a two-term Treasurer and Vice-President for the regional association. In 1995 she was appointed by then-Governor Carl Gutierrez to the Guam Museum where she served as its executive director, managing the Museum while it was located in Adelup and overseeing its move to Tumon.
Arriola died 26 June 2002 following a stroke, at the age of 73. She left a legacy of service and accomplishments underscored by her great commitment to her faith. Her spirit endures in her children, particularly Jacqueline and Joaquin Arriola, Jr., who both played prominent roles in defeating casino gambling efforts in 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2008.
For further reading
Diaz, Vicente M. “Pious Sites: Chamorro Culture between Spanish Catholicism and American Liberal Individualism,” in Cultures of United States Imperialism. Amy Kaplan and Donald E. Pease (eds.), Durham, N.C. and London: Duke University Press, 1993.