Friday, August 23, 2013

Farewell U.S. Army Ret. Sergeant Major Frank G. Cepeda

Vietnam War veteran and former Northern Marianas congressman Frank Guerrero Cepeda's remains leave the Kristo Rai Parish following the Mass of Christian Burial today [Aug. 23]. Cepeda was buried today at the CNMI Veterans Cemetery in Marpi, Saipan, Northern Marianas. 

USMC officials visit NMI; welcome to Lt. Col. Jeff Garza

Marine Corps Activity Guam officer-in-charge Colonel Lawrence S. Loch, deputy Lt. Col. Jeff W. Garza and Marine Corps liaison officer to the CNMI Major Chris Merrill pose for a group photo at the airport terminal following their meeting with Governor Eloy S. Inos Aug. 22.

No guaranteed pension payments for Fund settlement opt-outs in Northern Marianas

Marianas Variety

Governor Eloy S. Inos, center, is flanked by, from left, Assistant Attorney General Reena Patel, Senator Ray Yumul, Attorney General Joey Patrick San Nicolas and Senator Vic Hocog on Thursday en route to Tinian where the Administration held a town hall meeting on the settlement agreement.
RETIREES who opt out of the Settlement Class will find themselves in a bind as no guaranteed benefit payments will come their way through the CNMI government. 

Asked if the government would pay, Governor Eloy S. Inos said yesterday, “We can’t. We can’t do that. That is pushing the envelope. I think the right decision at this time is to join the settlement.”

Governor Inos has been actively leading discussions with the members of the community on the settlement agreement that provides for payment of 75 percent of benefits and refunds to active Defined Benefit Plan members.

Even with 25 percent of benefits deferred, Governor Inos earlier assured retirees that the government would set up a recovery fund to pay this deferred 25 percent in benefits as well as to pay the interest on contributions made by active members.

“If they don’t want to join the settlement, there is nothing I can do. I cannot guarantee payment even if they decide to go to Finance to demand their checks. They are not going to get a check. They can’t. They won’t,” said Governor Inos.

He said the opt-outs will have to go through the court.

Asked if the Department of Finance was not going to cut checks for them, he said, “Definitely not. Finance is not going to deal with any Retirement disbursements.”

Some retirees are saying that it is their constitutional right to receive their pension paychecks.

Variety was told that if the settlement agreement is finalized, some retirees who opt out will go to Finance and demand their constitutionally protected right to receive their pension checks

Governor Inos said, “Constitutional right is one thing. Check is another thing. For their constitutional right, they may have to go court. I am sorry. That’s the way it is.”

Governor Inos also said that as far as issuance of pension checks goes, he doesn’t want people to be misled by the assertion that it is OK to opt out and get the checks from Finance.

“My advice would be to go with the settlement. This is the best that could have happened under the circumstances. We’re offering payment of 75 percent and we’ll make up the 25 percent,” he said.

A notice on the class action settlement indicated that opt outs will neither benefit from the settlement nor be represented by the class counsel.

“You may assert your rights to try to make the CNMI pay your benefits but you will have to hire your own lawyer to represent you,” the notice stated.

The same notice assured those who remain in the Settlement Class that they are on a better footing compared to the opt outs as they are guaranteed payment of at least 75 percent of their pensions until the last member has retired from the system.

Opt outs cannot expect to get a higher pension check than those in the Settlement Class.

In an earlier interview with Variety, class counsel Margery Bronster was straightforward in cautioning those who would opt out of the settlement class.

She said, “You will not be guaranteed 75 percent of your payments. We don’t know what the Legislature will do with the opt-outs. But there is nothing that requires the government to pay the opt-outs 75 percent. In addition, they will not have class counsel representing them.”

For Bronster, as counsel for the class, “we’re watching out for the benefits of the beneficiaries.”
Bronster also said that if the government fails to pay the opt outs, they can’t use the stipulated judgment to try and collect money.

There is no Fund for opt-outs, said Bronster, adding that the assets the Retirement Fund now holds will be transferred to the Settlement Fund under the direction of the Settlement Trustee.

Retirees, inactive and active Fund members have until Sept. 20 to make this decision to opt out.

Those staying in the Settlement Class need not do anything.

But those who wish to opt out must deliver to the Fund a written notice of their intent to opt out with name, address, birth date, and signature.

Given the risks for opt outs, Governor Inos, during the first town hall meeting at the multipurpose center, asked the members to make the right decision.

“The only certainty is the settlement and the fund that will be provided under the settlement,” he said.

No guaranteed benefits for settlement opt-outs

No guaranteed benefits for settlement opt-outs

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

From the archives: Tan Escolastica Cabrera's story

[1] As per this blog's reader's request, I am re-posting Tan Esco Cabrera's story.  :-)
[2] "Tan" in Chamorro is used as a term of respect for elderly women

Escolastica Tudela Cabrera
WWII through Escolastica’s Eyes

By Alexie Villegas Zotomayor
Variety News Staff

ALL they need was to slake their thirst but they could not leave the cave. They cried not just because they were afraid. They wept to stave off their thirst.

Escolastica Tudela Cabrera, 81, narrates that incident in the cave in June 1944. Saipan was preparing for an invasion by the Americans and hiding in the caves, they could neither go out to fetch water nor to gather food. They resolved to stay inside the cave for their own safety.

They were so thirsty and they could not do anything to quench their thirst. Tan Escolastica says her sisters were so thirsty and they were crying. As the others in the cave tried to hush them for fear of being found and killed, her father told her sisters, “Never mind. Keep crying and drink your tears.”

And that’s what they did.

“They cried to have something to drink,” says Tan Escolastica.

There were neither coconuts nor sugarcanes to slake their thirst.

Tan Escolastica says she remembers full well how they spent 19 long days in a small cave where she huddled with 39 other family members and close friends, including a one-year-old baby who didn’t live long enough.

Born on February 10, 1930 to Vicente Ramirez Tudela and Rita Diaz Borja, Tan Escolastica still has a sharp recollection of what transpired not only those agonizing days in the cave but even more remarkable are her memories that go as far back as when she was five or six years old.

Initially, she says, she enrolled in a Catholic school when she was five or six years old, the equivalent of kindergarten.

At age 7, she had her first communion.

Then she went to Saipan koggako, a Japanese school in Garapan for her first grade.

It’s remarkable too how at 81 years old, she can still recite the names of her sensei — teachers — from first to third grade: Kaneko, Tominaga, and Sugaruma.

Asked how school was like during the pre-war years, she says, “It’s not bad. It’s very silent. We never knew anything about a war. We were just playing and studying.”

At Saipan kogakko, she says, they were taught reading, writing, arithmetic, storytelling, and farming. 

They would plant vegetables and flowers, she says.

“I remember we grew Carnation. When the flowers bloomed, we cut them, bundled 10 pieces, and sold them to Japanaese officers’ wives for 10 cents a bundle,” recalls Tan Escolastica.

Aside from planting vegetables and flowers, she enjoys learning numbers and storytelling.

She also has fond memories of school programs where she was chosen to sing and dance.

Everything was relatively peaceful until she moved up to third grade.

Sensei Sugaruma, she describes, “was very, very bad.”

She even remembers that the teacher transferred from Kagman to Garapan and that he could possibly be a soldier.

“He’s very strict. He always likes to beat us up,” says Tan Escolastica.

Learning Nihongo at the time was mandatory and Tan Escolastica says they were even told to speak Japanese to their parents at home.

She confesses that there were mean teachers who asked them, “How do you like the Americans?” —a question they didn’t have an answer to as they had not seen an American at that time.

“It was like [answering the question] ‘How can you say you like the food when you have tasted it,” she says.

She admits though that she knew of a Russian who owns a store in Garapan. She describes the Russian as “a nice-looking tall guy” from whose store she would buy every now and then.

Then the conversation with Tan Escolastica shifted to graduation.

She says she graduated at the top of her class and she received a diploma signed by no less than the Japanese Emperor Hirohito and the teachers.

Asked if she still has it, she says they lost everything they own except for the clothes they wore when they fled to the caves.

Prior to the invasion, in February 1944, she says there was a plane hovering and taking photos.

The Japanese, she says, were already talking about an imminent war and were distributing newsletters to their fellow Japanese, shutting out the Chamorros and Carolinians from ever finding out.

Although she speaks and reads Japanese, Tan Escolastica says the newsletters were in Kanji. “I don’t know Kanji, but I still remember Katakana.”

She also remembers that in 1941, when the Japanese took Guam, the Japanese government made the men work in As Lito. Some smart men were recruited as translators and sent to Guam where they were reassigned as policemen and messengers, among other occupations needed at the time.
She remembers her two brothers were recruited and sent to Guam. Another brother worked in As Lito.

Again, the conversation shifted to 1944 when, after school, everyone were made to work at a planned airbase stretching from the area where Toyota Microl now stands up to the police station in Chalan Kanoa.

“They made us work at the airbase,” remembers Tan Escolastica as she talked about how they dug the sand with shovel and their bare hands. She says all women had to work even the Japanese.

They worked with no pay at all. “We were forced to work.”

Then food and everything else were being rationed, she says.

Then just as the invasion was drawing near, everybody scuttled to the caves. She says they have a farm in As Teo.

Initially, she says, they were eyeing a big cave that can house 200 people.

But the Japanese kicked them out only to have the cave reserved for dispensary.

Describing the smaller caves, she says, “You cannot stand up. We were just sitting.”

Prior to occupying the caves, she says her father had dried a cow’s skin and along with banana stalks covered their place.

During the bombing of Saipan, she says, they were already at the farm where food and water were abundant. “We ate banana, taro, chicken, eggs, coconuts…to survive.”

She says her father’s farm sits next to Donni spring or “Saldok” in Chamorro. Even the Japanese at the time would fetch water from the spring and brought the water to the port for the ship.

But despite having a nearby source of water, they couldn’t get water as they holed up in the caves for 19 days.

As the bombings intensified, it was for their own safety that they had to fight off the pangs of hunger and thirst.

Crying had become the norm in the cave among her sisters to quench their own thirst. And drink their tears, as their father told them to do, they did.

But not long after, the Americans found them and asked them to come out and come down to Susupe.

She remembers how an American soldier lifted their cave’s leather cover and out her mother went.

The soldiers asked who could speak either Spanish or Japanese, and her father volunteered and spoke to the soldiers in Spanish. “’Hablo espaƱol,’ he said. But I could not understand what they talked about,” says Tan Escolastica.

From the caves they moved to the spring but were warned not to drink water from it as two Japanese soldiers died in the water.

The American soldiers brought water and food to the local families.

Soon, everybody was hauled in the trucks and off they went to Camp Susupe.

Tan Escolastica says she saw dead bodies littering the roads on their way to the camp.

When they arrived at the camp, she had to deal with her period.

When they arrived at Camp Susupe, “there was plenty of people.”

She remembers how she had to deal with her period as she hurriedly searched for water which she found in an old, abandoned Japanese house. She washed her clothes and bathed and put the same dress back on.

She remembers how her mother and her friends gathered pieces of cloth, needle and thread so she could sew a dress.

The first few nights they “slept on top of sand. There was no mat available.”

She describes the camp as mixed up with no privacy.

Food was served with brown rice cooked in a massive cauldron. She also says they were given corned beef and they had no bread. They used the leaves of breadfruit as plates and ate with their bare hands.

As they staved off their hunger, they slaked their thirst with water from the well that resulted in many suffering from diarrhea.

The American Red Cross, Tan Escolastica says, responded immediately. She says they were examined, vaccinated and given medicines.

They were also treated for head lice infestation.

“The Americans tried to keep everyone clean,” she says.

Six months they stayed in the camp. The camp was segregated according to ethnic lines: Chamorros and Carolinians, Japanese, Koreans, and Okinawans.

After six long months, they were set free—time to pick up the pieces and rebuild their lives.

And Chalan Kanoa was where the reconstruction began.
(To be continued)

Escolastica Tudela Cabrera

recollections II

RECONSTRUCTION began in Chalan Kanoa immediately after the war.

Tan Escolastica Tudela Cabrera and her family settled in the area near the former Municipal Office in what is now known as Post Office.

She remembers the time when the gates of Camp Susupe were opened and they found deserted houses used to be occupied by employees of the sugarcane factory.

“They are not broken. If there’s any damage, you can fix them,” says Tan Escolastica.

After staying in Camp Susupe for six months, the Chamorros and Carolinians were finally settling in their respective places in Chalan Kanoa.

When she was around 15 or 16, Tan Escolastica resolved not to go back to school; instead, she realized she needed to help earn a living for the family.

“I like to work and earn money for the family. My parents were old already,” she recalls.

She gestures to Variety how she raised her hand when asked who could do tailoring.

That’s how she started working, she says.

She remembers how she was brought to Matuis where the wife of Commander Victor Schauss introduced took her to a Quonset hut where the sewing machine was.

“There’s only one machine there,” she says as she described what was under the roof of the Quonset hut—gift shop, barber shop, photo studio.

“They got everything,” she says.

In the two days she stayed there, she remembers how uneasy it was to work with many soldiers around who would come and greet her “Hi senorita!”

And the Mrs. Schauss, who could not be there the whole time soon decided to bring the sewing machine to their house.

Finally, she says, “It was very peaceful. I could sit there and just work.”

Not long after, the family was returning to the U.S. and they wanted to bring her with them.

“They came to ask my parents to take me but my mom said, ‘No can do, Mrs. [Schauss]. Boy—OK, ‘uhman’ [how my mom pronounced woman], no,” says Tan Escolastica.

So she didn’t leave yet she came under the employ of Commander Schauss’ replacement, Commander Smith who came to Saipan with neither wife nor family.

She remembers Commander Smith leaving her a note telling her if she finished early she could go home anytime. And that was what she did as she took the one bus that was ferrying passengers from the areas to Chalan Kanoa, every hour on the hour.

Then he was replaced by another commander who was considering training her to become a beautician.

At that time, she says, there was already a commissary.

She was asked not only to learn to be a beautician but to answer phone calls too.

“AT that time my salary was only 35 cents a day — $8.50 a month. But if I take this job, I would still get this pay and earn more from tips,” she says.

But this wasn’t meant to be.

A neighbor of the commander’s family’s, a wife of a pilot offered if she was still interested to learn.

She took her to another military wife on Navy Hill and there she trained for seven months.

By the time their tour on Saipan ended, she says, she was asked if she could buy the salon’s equipment for $500.

She asked her father if he could get a loan at the Bank of America, the only bank at that time. The first they failed, but on their second attempt, they got the $500 she needed to open her own Escolastica Beauty Salon in Chalan Kanoa.

She recalls it was very popular. She did manicure for $1.50, hair wash and shampoo for $1.50, hair dye for $3 and perm or called “co-wave” for $10.

She kept this business for four years until 1953, two years after she got married to Gregorio Cabrera, a policeman.

Up to this day, she says, “I still have my dryer among other stuff (from that salon.”

From a beauty shop, she ventured in selling clothes and other items from Guam.

At that time, she says, her brother would send items from Guam.

“Nobody was selling clothes at that time. I was the first one,” she says.

All items from clothes, shoes, and other “dry goods” were very saleable.

Then she decided to open her own store and applied for a business license at the Municipal Office for $10.

Soon, her business acumen led her to staring her own bakery shop.

She says she made her husband build an oven.

Asked how she learned to bake, she says she asked her mother and the rest she did on her own.

“We made very good,” she says.

There was a time too, she remembers, when she missed an ingredient that left that bread so hard.

“I sold that for three for a nickel,” she says when she asked her sister to sell them at bargain price of 5 cents.

To her surprise, the bread sold like hot cakes.

With a sheepish laugh, she says, “Maybe they soaked it in coffee.”

An idea again struck her after that.

When she noticed that no cafeteria could serve lunch and snacks to students of Mt. Carmel School and Hopwood School, she opened again another business. This time, it’s snack mobile.

She pioneered in the selling of lunch bento.

For 10 cents, she says, she would sell the “hot lunches” consisting of rice with a slice of Spam.

She also sold ice cream and donuts.

Tan Escolastica says she and her husband would wake up at 2 a.m. every day to prepare everything.

Soon, Mr. Brown of the airport got wind of their industriousness and entrepreneurial spirit and asked them to also serve at the airport.

Tan Escolastica was also able to convince Mr.Brown to provide them a 6 x 6 square feet space and power line so they could serve hot coffee for a longer period of time to bystanders waiting for the plane to land.

During the years she served food at the schools and at the airport, Tan Escolastica says, “I never felt hungry, sleepy, or tired. I kept running and running.”

The only time she could get rest was in the afternoon, from 12 noon to 1 p.m.

For Tan Escolastica, they had to work hard to raise a family of 13 children.

Her children were also the reason she moved to Capital Hill in 1970 as she feared for their safety.

She remembers how her daughter would leap out of her crib and walked across the street to her grandmother’s house where she thought her mother would be.

There was a time too when her son and two other boys went to the beach without her consent.

Fearing for her children’s safety, she decided it would be best for them to relocate to Capital Hill on a piece of land she bought in 1959.

She initially built a small store but she lost money and the store’s contents when Typhoon Jean hit the islands.

With help from friends who worked in the Trust Territory government, she was able to borrow money that defrayed the cost of building her store on Capital Hill.

It took two years to build and she opened it in 1972.

For 40 years, her store has attracted patrons from everywhere who would trek up Capital Hill for her apigigi, among other delicacies.

Now that she has been long tired, and now a widow for five years, she enjoys her retirement.
“I get to enjoy my sleep,” she says.

Although she cooks sometimes, but she says, she’s not obligated to do so.

“If I want to sleep, I sleep,” says.

Before, her routine starts at 2 a.m. to cook, now she begins her day at 4 a.m. to go to church and pray.

“I pray a lot. I even pray for the whole world,” she says.

Aside from a having a good education, Tan Escolastica, who belonged to the “greatest generation,” advises the young to be self-reliant and learn to live simply.

“Avoid wasting [resources],” she says.

She tells Variety how her father would often remind them to save and keep things they do not need today but they may need tomorrow.

“Everything is so easy today. Now they have machines. During my time, we use our bare hands.”

She also says, “Do not be lazy. Work hard.”

She laments how dependence on American has made the people lazy.

She, however, advises the young generation to learn from the manamko’, how they survived during the hard times.

And times are hard these days.

From someone who has seen the war, how her sisters drank their own tears to slake their thirst, how she saw roads littered with bodies, how they shared space in Camp Susupe, the young have so much to learn.

In the last 40 years she handled her business on Capital Hill, Tan Escolastica slept less as she spent her waking hours working and working hard.

At 81, one of the CNMI’s pioneers in the field of business is a testament to hard work pays huge dividends.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Vietnam War Veteran and former Congressman Frank Cepeda, 71

Former Congressman and Vietnam War veteran Frank Cepeda passed away yesterday [Aug. 15] on Saipan. He was 71.

Daily rosary is held at the Kristo Rai Church in Garapan. Funeral is on  Aug. 23 with Mass at 8 a.m. at Kristo Rai Church. He will be buried at the CNMI Veterans Cemetery in Marpi.

Our condolences to Tun Frank Cepeda's family.