Dr. Calistro Camacho Cabrera, 79, and Dr. Carlos Sablan Camacho, 72, personally accepted yesterday a framed copy of a congressional record that Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan entered on May 11 to pay tribute to the CNMI’s first 11 local doctors and dentists.
“This is very timely and long overdue. It’s an honor,” Camacho told Saipan Tribune at the ceremony yesterday afternoon at the Commonwealth Health Center in Garapan.
Camacho, who is also the first governor of the CNMI, was among those promising local individuals trained by the U.S. Navy right after World War II in medicine and dentistry.
He said he was a doctor from 1963 to 1976 as a result of training he received from the U.S. Navy and was later sent to Fiji and Hawaii for further training. He also has a master’s degree in Public Health from the University of Hawaii.
Cabrera, for his part, said it is appropriate that this kind of tribute is given while he and at least two others are still alive, although it’s too late for those who already passed away.
“To me, this is very remarkable because many times, it’s only when people are already dead that they are honored and they get to know what people say about them and what they have done. At least while we’re still alive, it’s good to be recognized and I am thankful,” he said.
Sablan, in his welcome remarks, said the CNMI needs to “start memorializing for perpetuity.”
“If we don’t do it ourselves, nobody else will,” he told the crowd gathered in the lobby of CHC.
In his formal tribute, Sablan said the people of the CNMI “have the deepest appreciation, admiration, and respect for our pioneer doctors and dentists – to those still living today and to the memory of those that have passed on.”
“May their compassion and dedication always be an example and inspire more of our young people to pursue a career in health care,” said Sablan, the CNMI’s first non-voting delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives.
One of the 11 doctors who are still alive today, Dr. Helen Taro, could not make it to the ceremony that Sablan’s office hosted yesterday.
Relatives of the eight other doctors and dentists accepted the framed congressional record.
These families include that of Dr. Jose Diaz Torres, the CNMI’s first local doctor.
His only surviving daughter, Asuncion Torres, 76, said she is “happy” to receive a congressional record honoring her father. She herself worked at the hospital for 47 years as a purchasing personnel.
Her two surviving siblings are Pete A. Torres who is in Guam, and Francisco Torres, who is in the U.S.
One of Torres’s grandsons, John Torres Flores, said Sablan’s tribute is “a very noble recognition” of the CNMI’s first medical professionals.
“One of the things I remember most about my grandfather is that he really served as a doctor 24/7. People walked to my grandfather’s house in Chalan Kanoa all the time to be treated for many kinds of ailments, even at night, and that’s the true meaning of 24/7 job. I remember he was called ‘the peoples doctor’,” Flores said in an interview.
Health Secretary Joseph Kevin Villagomez received the framed congressional record for his father, the late Dr. Jose Tenorio Villagomez, on behalf of his family.
“I will give this to my mother,” he said.
The six other pioneer CNMI doctors and dentists honored yesterday include: Dr. Manuel Manibusan Aldan and Dr. Juan Charfauros Reyes, both dentists; and Dr. Jose Lujan Chong, Dr. Francisco Taman Palacios, and Dr. Benusto Rogolifoi Kaipat.
Sablan, on May 11 in Washington, D.C., entered into congressional record his tribute to the CNMI’s first 11 local doctors and dentists.
He said Chamorro people had their own healing and medicinal traditions from ancient times, but Spanish colonizers introduced the indigenous people to Western medicine, and the Germans continued this practice upon taking control of the Northern Mariana Islands at the end of the 19th century.
He said in 1914, a young Chamorro by the name of Jose Diaz Torres began his training in medicine at a small hospital opened by the German colonial administration on Saipan. Torres or Dr. Torres as he came to be called, thus “became the islands’ first local doctor.”
Sablan said when Japan supplanted Germany, Dr. Torres continued his practice in a hospital built by the Japanese.
“There, too, the careers of Saipan’s first Chamorro dentists, Dr. Manuel Manibusan Aldan and Dr. Juan Charfauros Reyes, began,” said Sablan.
After the war, the Navy trained local individuals in medicine and dentistry. The Navy also sent Reyes for further education to the School of Dental Assistants at the Navy Hospital in Guam.
The Navy also sent for further training the following individuals for medical training first to the Naval Medical School in Guam and then to the Central Medical School in Suva, Fiji, in the early 1950s.
The other doctors trained here and off island later were Dr. Carlos S. Camacho, Dr. Manuel Quitano Sablan, and Dr. Helen Taro.
“Like their faithful colleagues before them, Dr. Sablan and Dr. Taro returned after schooling to be of service to the people of the Northern Marianas, taking care of the dental and medical needs of the island community,” the delegate said.
One of the framed copies of the congressional record paying tribute to the CNMI’s pioneer doctors and dentists will be posted in one of the hallways of the Commonwealth Health Center in Garapan.