Long time senator

Vicente (ben) Cabrera Pangelinan (1955-2014), known as “Senator ben,” was a fighter and champion for many causes that affected the people of Guam. Pangelinan was born in Saipan to Luisa Cabrera Pangelinan and Francisco Sablan Pangelinan on 22 October 1955 and moved to Guam with his family at the age of seven. He had two sisters, Maria and Jesusa, and one brother, Antonio.

His family lived in Barrigada and Pangelinan attended San Vicente Elementary School, graduating from Father Duenas Memorial School in 1974. He attended the University of Guam and later was accepted to the prestigious Georgetown University in Washington, DC, where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in Government. He was bestowed the Pacific American Foundation (PAF) Fellowship and the Toll Fellowship from the Council of State Governments.

At an early age, Pangelinan was interested in government service and worked as a staff assistant to the Office of the Delegate Antonio G. Won Pat in Washington, DC while attending college. When he returned to Guam, he worked for Governor Ricardo J. Bordallo.

Before Pangelinan was a politician he worked in the private sector at FHP/HML Guam, an HMO doing business in Guam, Saipan, and California. He had numerous positions within the company such as Member Relations Officer, Guam Director of Government and Public Affairs, Associate Director of Operations, Regional General Manager and Executive Assistant to the President, Robert Gumbiner.

He was also president/owner of Group Pacific Suppliers, Principal Consultant/President of Pacific Presence Group, and a founding director of Graphic Center, Inc. and Micronesia Graphics, Inc. and the Fifth Wheel. One of the company’s memorable publications was “Chamorro the English Way.”

Pangelinan began his political career when he ran for a seat in the US House of Representatives in 1988 and again in 1990. He was unsuccessful in his bid for the congressional seat,  but this did not impede his determination to serve the people of Guam. Pangelinan ran for senator and was elected into office to serve in the 22nd Guam Legislature.  He was re-elected in the 23rd, 24th, 25th, 26th, 27th, 29th, 30th, 31st and 32nd Guam Legislatures. He also served as Speaker of the 27th Guam Legislature.

For his last three terms, Pangelinan chaired the Committee on Appropriations and the Office of Finance and Budget. As Chairman, he gained support from the Executive Branch to pass a fiscal year line-item budget that was organized and balanced and was passed in an unprecedented time frame never before seen in the Government of Guam (GovGuam). His budget prioritized education, health, and public safety.

Pangelinan never shied away from controversy and was always ready to tackle many issues that others would dare not entertain. He fought for GovGuam retirees to receive their Cost of Living Allowance, and after more than 15 years and countless court proceedings, retirees finally received what was legally owed to them.  He led the fight for a fair and open government on the legislative floor as well as in the highest courts of Guam, the Ninth Circuit of Appeals, and the United States Supreme Court.

Responding to business challenges, Pangelinan streamlined government services and established the one-stop permit program to assist existing and new businesses. He wrote the Guam Business Corporations Act to increase opportunities for investments to improve Guam’s economy (the first major update of the law in over 30 years). As a result of this legislation, individuals are able to form businesses with very minimal red tape.

Having extensive experience in the private sector, Pangelinan was well aware of the challenges that small businesses face on their path to success. To help small businesses, Pangelinan created the “Government of Guam Mitigation Program for Business Interruption.” This allowed for small businesses to seek assistance and to avail themselves of grants or low interest loans to offset their losses resulting from activities spurred by government action such as delayed road construction.

Pangelinan worked to protect Guam’s natural resources by declaring that the right to use water, at any time in a stream, river, or other surface sources–and especially water located beneath the ground and in our aquifer–belong in the hands of the Government of Guam. He argued, any entity, local or federal, must request permission to use our water.

Quest for Self-Determination champion

Pangelinan was a leader in the quest for self-determination for Guam. Although Pangelinan was ineligible to register or to vote, he led the campaign to increase efforts to register individuals for the Guam Decolonization Registry so that one day, the native people of Guam can exercise their right to self-determination by voting for a political status. His office was one of the few places, other than the Guam Election Commission, that had certified registrars to register individuals for the Guam Decolonization Registry. Pangelinan also submitted testimonies to the United Nations Special Political Decolonization Committee (Fourth Committee) to advocate for Guam’s inalienable right to self-determination.

A firm advocate for the protection of the Chamorro culture, the preservation and return of ancestral lands, and the safeguarding the way of life for the people of Guam, Pangelinan participated in all Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) proceedings for the military realignment to Guam and other federal actions by submitting comments through both oral and written testimonies, including every impact that would directly and indirectly affect the people, wildlife and natural resources of Guam.

Pangelinan understood the importance of the cultural preservation of Guam by creating the “Håtden Åmot Chamorro,” which identifies a portion of Chamorro Land Trust lands specifically to grow traditional, medicinal herbs and plants for the island’s community of suruhånu and suruhåna to use for traditional healing practices.

He also designated funding for Guampedia by appropriating funds from the Tourist Attraction Fund every year since 2009 for Guampedia’s operations.

Pangelinan additionally understood the importance of nurturing the environment by promoting the development of renewable energy and requiring the Guam Power Authority to establish renewable portfolio standard goals. He established the first ever net-metering program, which credits homeowners who install renewable energy production capacity.

He honored women and men who sacrificed their lives for freedom and democracy, wishing to convey the gratitude of the people of Guam by bestowing the families with the designation of I Milåyan Mås Takhilo’ na Sakrifisiu (the Medal of the Ultimate Sacrifice).

Pangelinan understood the struggles of families with the dream of owning their own home and introduced the First Time Homeowners Assistance Program. Since its creation, the program has provided homes for numerous families whose dreams of homeownership otherwise would have remained unfulfilled.

Pangelinan was a visionary for Guam’s sustainability. He supported the Guam Fishermen’s Cooperative by providing the resources to renovate their existing facilities into a first class operation where tourists and locals can enjoy fresh seafood caught by local fishermen. He was also a staunch advocate for the Guam Farmer’s Cooperative Association, providing the resources to build a central facility for farmers to sell their fresh produce.

During his last term in office, Pangelinan served as Chair of the Committee on Appropriations, Public Debt, Legal Affairs, Retirement, Public Parks, Recreation, Historic Preservation and Land. He was a member of the Committee on Education, Public Libraries and Women’s Affairs, the Committee on General Government Operations and Cultural Affairs, the Committee on Municipal Affairs, Tourism, Housing and Hagåtña Restoration and Development Authority, the Committee on Health and Human Services, Health Insurance Reform, Economic Development and Senior Citizens and the Committee on Aviation, Ground Transportation, Regulatory Concerns and Future Generations.

Pangelinan was diagnosed with cancer and immediately underwent treatment.  He continued to serve the people of Guam with courage and resolve claiming:

“I do not live with cancer; cancer lives with me.”

After battling against the aggressive cancer, Pangelinan publicly announced his retirement after 20 years of service in the Guam Legislature on 29 June 2014. He passed away on 8 July 2014.

By Selina Onedera-Salas, Nicole Santos, and Lisa Dames

For further reading

Legislative Resolution No. 425-32

Speech to the United Nation, June 14, 2010