Our lives are marked by milestones. Such milestones mark significant stages in our lives that read like radar blips on a heartbeat monitor. Some of us have more blips than others. Some have bigger blips than some. And when the blip makes its mark with the final heartbeat, we will have written our individual life story for history and others to examine long after we’re gone.
As the saying goes, in life, the only two certain things are death and taxes. That time was never promised to us is a painful lesson I have sadly come to learn over and over again. It began since early childhood with the untimely passing of some of my immediate family members—witnessing my beloved father, the late Francisco Borja Kaipat, gunned down right before my 10-year-old child’s eyes on Pagan on April 28, 1972; later in my adult life, hearing from afar of the unexpected death of my brother Saturn, who collapsed in the carport minutes after visiting our Mom and the family; learning from afar the devastating news of my beloved Mom Matilde Matagolai Kaipat’s life slowly ebbing away as she forced herself to sit up in bed struggling for every breath at our CHC hospital while I was miles and miles away recuperating from major surgery at St. Luke’s Global Hospital in the Philippines; and learning from afar of the news of my brother Cris collapsing during a Bowling Championship Tournament in Guam, only to pass away at Guam Naval Hospital. All of these painful moments are woven into the fabric of my life.
Also, in life, many of us bring meaning to our lives through giving back to our communities. We seek out causes and volunteer for organizations or churches that match our passions and convictions. In 1998, I returned home to my present home on Saipan after living abroad for almost 20 years. Shortly after arriving home, I stumbled upon a cause that seized me—chained itself to me and refused to let go. Seventeen years ago, our own leaders then in the Legislature saw fit to introduce a bill to forever ban our Northern Islands people from ever returning to Pagan due to the volcano’s eruption in 1981. The bill said that the eruption had poisoned the air and that it was too poisonous for Pagan’s former residents to return home and resettle there forever. Yet the same bill declared the very same air safe for our government tourist agency to build housing accommodations for tourists; for a company to bring workers there to undertake pozzolan mining; and, yes, the same bill even went so far as to promote Pagan as a place to “propagate endangered species.” Oh, the irony in this—or shall I say the audacity! My brother Gus and I countered this audacity by quickly gathering a group of former Northern Islands residents for a group photo, having T-shirts quickly printed up with our group photo with the caption “Northern Islanders, Endangered Species,” and having every man, woman and child march into a public hearing wearing these T-shirts. We succeeded in defeating that ridiculous bill. This was a huge blip on the radar of my lifeline.
Several years later, the late renowned Master Carolinian navigator Mau Piailug led the Makali’i Voyage from Hawaii to the Marianas. A reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle followed the voyage and interviewed several people in the community. I was one of them. You can read about that article here: http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Navigating-Modernity-The-Carolinians-a-tiny-3774200.php. In my interview, I merely told the simple story of our people just wanting to live off the land and sea as our ancestors had done hundreds of years before us. This struck a chord with an individual living in San Francisco named Pete Perez, who felt compelled to track me down and offered to help me help the Northern Islanders realize their long-lost dreams of resettlement. Together, Pete and I co-founded PaganWatch along with my brother Gus and our dear friend and brother, Matt Smith. Before we could even consider resettling our people up north, we first had to save Pagan from corrupt officials, corrupt politicians, corrupt mining speculators, and yes, even save ourselves from ourselves. For you see, some of us chose the easy road—lured by promises of easy money, even at the expense of the many. Suspended was the notion of doing the right thing simply because it is the right thing to do. The battle wasn’t easy. In fact, it was a hard-fought battle. For three solid years, PaganWatch fought to arm our citizens with the truth by appearing and pleading our cause at board meetings, writing and publishing countless letters in the newspapers, appearing on radio and television, and holding countless grassroots meetings. In the end, we prevailed by pressuring the government agency into denying the corrupt and unqualified mining speculator a permanent exclusive mining permit that would have allowed it to keep 93 percent of the mining profits and give the CNMI people a measly 7 percent for raping our land and robbing our people of our own resources. Yes, the audacity! This was another huge blip on my lifeline radar.
Today, there’s an even bigger and more insidious threat looming on our horizon, one that promises to bring mass destruction to our people and our island on every imaginable level. The U.S. military’s outrageous proposal to use Pagan and Tinian for their live-fire target practice, amphibious training, sonar testing in our waters, etc., brings all sorts of emotions bubbling to the surface—none of them good. You see, live-fire training is incompatible in every sense of the word with resettlement of Pagan and the rest of the Northern Islands. It is because of this very real threat that we decided to reactivate PaganWatch, made easier now that Pete and his wife Emma have moved to Saipan. PaganWatch has teamed up with our sister organization Guardians of Gani, led by Kelli Aiken Tenorio, Rosemond Santos and Gary Sword, my sister Cil Kaipat-Selepeo (who was delivered by my father on Pagan), and others to form the Alternative Zero Coalition.
What is Alternative Zero? The U.S. military has Alternative 1, Alternative 2, etc. Alternative Zero is the citizens’ choice for what we want for Pagan and Tinian. Alternative Zero stands for NO to destruction of Pagan or Tinian at the hands of the U.S. military. NO means NO! This does not mean that we are unpatriotic, for our records speak for themselves. Far from it. But we have given Uncle Sam our most precious resources—our sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, grandchildren—who have served in the military and some of whom are still actively serving today. And, yes, we must never, ever forget those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, whose families must sacrifice every single day they are missing their loved ones! How much more are you going to take from us?
For those of you who attended the military public hearing at Saipan Southern High School on Wednesday night (April 29), one of the last speakers was my niece, Francella Kaipat Reyes, who stood before us all with her daughter Natasha by her side, and spoke of her truth. She addressed Uncle Sam’s agents in the audience and told her story. She said that when she raised her right hand and swore to protect and defend her country and her people, she did so with no questions asked. She said she allowed you, Uncle Sam, to inject her with medications; no questions asked. And she endured the painful sacrifice of leaving her daughter motherless for 13 months while she was deployed overseas. She told us her feet touched the sands (and grounds) of Iraq, Afghanistan, and other remote places that’s hard for us to pronounce, let alone spell. Through it all, she gave her all and served as a loyal, patriotic daughter of the CNMI, serving her people and country. Today, she adds her plea to the chorus of voices asking for Uncle Sam not to destroy Pagan. She hopes that one day, her little girl’s feet would also touch the sands of Pagan, the home of her grandmother, aunts, uncles and nieces—that beautiful island paradise she heard so many stories about.
My fellow citizens in and out of the CNMI, this is one of those times where we are living history as it is being written. One can always remember where they were when President Kennedy or Dr. Martin Luther King were shot. When the final chapter of this living history is written, what would you tell your children and children’s children about the role you played in standing up to the U.S. military today? Would they say, “Where were you?” It was gratifying to see so many young children standing before the public, bravely opposing the military’s proposed destruction. They are critical as they will carry on this fight long after some of us are gone. So, my fellow citizens, Chamorros, Refaluwasch, U.S. mainlanders, all citizens of the world—hear this: Now is not the time to be timid. Now is not the time to be faint-hearted. Now is the time to stand up and be counted! Come to the public hearing at the Garapan Elementary School on Friday, May 1. The public hearing is from 5pm to 8pm, but come to the Alternative Zero Coalition tent that will be set up from 4pm to 9pm. Bring your friends, families, neighbors, and anyone and everyone you can think of! Make your voices count where it counts! Remember: United we stand! Divided we fall!
As for me, I intend to make this the biggest blip on my life’s radar monitor. I shall continue to stand up and raise my voice for the universe to hear. Leave Pagan and Tinian alone! May God bless and protect us all.
Cinta M. Kaipat, a former resident of Pagan in the Northern Islands, is a lawyer and former member of the CNMI House of Representatives.