Rain poured a few seconds as soon as the last concrete slab was put in place on the burial ground of the late Francisco Jerome Kaipat Aldan, as if the heavens also said its farewell to the former Northern Islands mayor who was a vocal critic of the U.S. military’s planned bombing activities on Pagan.
Pagan is one of the 10 islands that compose the Municipality of the Northern Islands, an island chain scattered over an area of more than 500 square kilometers in the Western Pacific.
Aldan died on Feb. 18 after suffering from a likely heart attack. He was 43 years old. He is survived by his mother Clotilde, spouse Norma, and children Celing, Zachary, Zasha, Zavannah, and Zode.
Acting governor Victor B. Hocog remembered Aldan for pushing the resettlement of Pagan, locally known as Islan Gani siha.
Rep. Angel A. Demapan (R-Saipan) read Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ eulogy.
Torres, who is currently in Washington, D.C., apologized for not being able to attend the funeral as he needs to attend several meetings that concern the recommendations they made in the 902 report, like the planned military activities in the CNMI.
He said Aldan saw the need to advocate for the people of Pagan. “[His] understanding is that small movements would cascade toward a better future for us all, even if it mean we won’t be around to reap those fruits.”
“I believe that lesson, the lesson that has me away today…to advocate for the issues he held dear, has great significance for us all as we try and find comfort in each other during this difficult time and it is this very guidance that is a foundation of our Christian faith.”
Torres added that Aldan had great dreams for the Northern Islands and its people, a vision that gave him passion and conviction of going up against all odds. “His passion was not for the celebration of victory but was deeply rooted in his faith that even the smallest of voices can find strength in the living spirit of our history and heart of our people to move mountains.”
Torres said seeing Aldan’s passion in defending Pagan firsthand—when he accompanied federal and military officials on a tour of the island last year—changed him and members of the visiting group.
“Words cannot do justice to the pride he held and how that pride filled his words as he showcased the miraculous beauty of the island. “The importance of the land to our people and the possibilities he saw for the people of Pagan who wished to return to their homeland.
“When he spoke of [Pagan], he was speaking of the families that lived there in the past, many who wish to call the land home today, and the generations ahead of him who would call that place of tremendous beauty home in the future.”
Hocog described Aldan as not only an elected leader but also the defender of Pagan. “He actually lived on Pagan until he was 8 years old, when he and his fellow Gani residents were forcibly evacuated to Saipan when the volcano erupted in May 1981. Indeed, he walked the talk.”
“His abiding faith…and caring heart portrayed a strong-willed leader, fearless in defending and relentless in protecting what is rightfully owned by his people. A true leader is not one who led but rather one who followed. By all accounts and definitions, Mayor Aldan was a servant leader.”
Hocog said that Aldan’s character and leadership was shaped when he was growing up on Pagan.
“Exploring innovative ways to provide access up north to literally pave the way to eventually return his constituents back home were influenced by his deep affinity and abiding love of a magical place he grew up on and had deep connections with.”
Former lawmaker William Torres, who is a consultant for the Northern Islands Mayor’s Office, spoke during the eulogy at Mt. Carmel Cathedral.
“We are united as a people in our great commonwealth in grieving the loss of a good and [capable] leader and experience the pain of losing the voice of conscientious leadership for the underserved and underrepresented people of the Commonwealth/community of Pagan and the Northern Islands so fitting to Jerome,” said Torres.
Torres called Aldan “a friend and a brother, that most people consider as the people’s mayor.”
He described Aldan as a “humble and capable public servant, a gentleman, a natural born leader, a person who loves his community and his people above himself, and a selfless leader who serves his country with moral conviction.”
“We will forever miss his gracious presence and his entertaining persona,” he added.
According to Torres, Aldan felt a responsibility not only for his children and family, but also for the voiceless others and wanted to be “a voice for those long silenced.”
“Adios, brother. You will always be the mayor,” added Torres.
Senate President Arnold I. Palacios (R-Saipan) and members of the Senate, House Speaker Rafael S. Demapan and other representatives, mayors David M. Apatang (Saipan), Joey Patrick San Nicolas (Tinian), Efraim Atalig (Rota), Luis John Castro (acting, Northern Islands) and members of the municipal councils were also present at the state funeral.
CNMI Supreme Court Chief Justice Alexandro Castro and associate justices, CNMI Superior Court presiding judge Robert Naraja and associate justices, Delegate Gregorio Kilili Sablan (D-MP), Attorney General Edward Manibusan, and Cabinet members were also in attendance.
Guam mayors Paul M. McDonald and his spouse Elaine (Agana Heights), Melissa B. Savares (Dededo), Frankie Salas (Asan-Maina), Jessy C. Gogue (Chalan Pago-Ordot), Rudy M. Matanane (Yigo), Kevin Susuico with vice mayor Christopher J. Fejeran (Agat), June Blas with vice mayor Jessie Bautista and executive director Angel R. Sablan (Barrigada), and Keandra McDonald from the office of Sen. Frank Aguon were the other dignitaries.
The Office of the Governor, CNMI Legislature—Senate and House—Saipan, Tinian, Rota, and Northern Islands mayors and municipal councils, Guam mayors, and the CNMI Delegate’s office gave Aldan’s family plaques of appreciation to honor his service to the people of the Commonwealth. (With Erwin Encinares)