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Thursday, April 24, 2014

FSM president’s chief of staff returns to childhood home

Leo Falcam Jr., Federated States of Micronesia President Emanuel Mori's chief of staff, checks out an ESGR cap given to him by Dave Sablan at the CIC office in Garapan Tuesday. (Mark Rabago) For Leo Falcam Jr. a chance meeting with old friend David Sablan at the recently held Micronesian Chief Executive Summit brought back a lot of memories growing up on Saipan in the early 1960s.

The chief of staff of FSM President Emanuel Mori also happens to be the eldest son of Leo Falcam, the fifth president of the Federated States of Micronesia and former executive officer for the U.S. Trust Territory.

Saipan served as the capital of the U.S. Trust Territory and as the No. 3 guy after the high commissioner and deputy commissioner, the elder Falcam and his then young family made the islands their home.

“I attended second grade at Mt. Carmel School and eventually after a couple of years I moved up to Garapan Elementary School where I finished sixth grade. I lived five or six years on Saipan,” said the younger Falcam, a retired U.S. Marine Corps colonel.

Sablan said he and Falcam’s dad first met when he got involved in the Pohnpeian Agriculture and Trade School.

He said he couldn’t forget the time when he asked for the elder Falcam’s help to repair a boat during a trip to Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands many years ago.

“They said it was just sitting there because nobody knew how to repair it. I thought if anybody can fix it, it’s Larry Guerrero. The future governor of the CNMI is an electrical engineer. I called Leo [Falcam Sr.] and asked him to buy a ticket for Guerrero so he could come down. Guerrero and Felix Fitial finally flew to Kwajalein and it took them only two hours to repair the ship. People were so happy that they had a party until midnight,” recalled Sablan.

Falcam said his dad, now 78 years old, is loving retirement and is making himself busy by being a doting grandfather to his grandchildren.

During lulls in the Micronesian Chief Executive Summit, Falcam got a chance to visit his old digs and noted the many changes that have taken place.

“The past couple of days during this official visit I had the opportunity to drive around and it’s been very nostalgic. I drove up to Capital Hill and scoped out the old houses we used to live in. I also went to the old Congress [of Micronesia] building going up to Mt. Tapochao. I drove along Middle Road, which is now called Pale Arnold. There was very little on Middle Road back then. It was dead. There was the old train at Sugar King Park. The train sitting there was very prominent. You would see it on the road as you drive. I tried to look for it the other day and I almost missed it.”

Falcam said he also tried but failed to find Hamilton’s, which along with Saipan’s many picturesque beaches, was the place to socialize and mingle with the island crowd.

“Barbecues on the beach were a regular thing. All of these folks who eventually became shapers of who we are in this region now were there. We were all friends and it was exciting to watch their passion for the things they were involved in.”

Hands down, the biggest changes he observed during his visit is the population’s diversity, while infrastructure growth comes a close second.

“When we were here it was predominantly folks from throughout the Micronesian region, Americans, some Japanese. But as I come back over the years, you recognize how much diverse the population is getting. There’s been a huge influx from the Pacific region not only from Micronesia and not just the South Pacific but to include places as far flung as Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and India.”

He said this only means that Saipan—and in general the CNMI—offers opportunity to a lot of people.

“There are folks around the world seeking some level of opportunities and they’re finding it here. That stood out first. The other thing that stood out was the growth in infrastructure. More roads, many more hotels, more buildings…”

Falcam said the FSM has grown at a more moderate pace compared to the CNMI.

“The islands have progressed, albeit slowly, very slowly. There are some very promising signals of continued growth but there is also a lot of work to do. You have to consider all the different elements of a nation. The FSM is a federation and the CNMI is a commonwealth. The relationship that we have toward our important partner, the U.S., is a little bit different and the structures of government are a little bit different in the FSM compared to the CNMI.”

Falcam said that’s where the goals and ideals of the Micronesian Chief Executive Summit come into play.

“The summit we just concluded is one of the many examples of a concerted effort on the part of leadership to collaborate more closely on challenges affecting this sector of the Pacific region, which are the Republic of Marshall Islands, Palau, CNMI, Guam, and FSM. The outlook is promising but the laundry list of things to do is quite extensive.”

After years serving the U.S. military, Falcam agrees that his life has come full circle and it took a trip to his childhood home of Saipan to make him realize it.

“I think I have come full circle but quite unexpectedly. The Marine Corps treated me well. I came back home to Pohnpei after 31 years because I thought I’ve been gone for so long I need to get a little bit more reacquainted with my roots. My father is also getting along in years so I have some family incentive to come home. I came back to the FSM to retire to see what I might be able to contribute. Then I stumbled into this great opportunity and I’m thankful for President Mori for allowing me to serve as his chief of staff. The job is not boring, I can tell you that, and I’m learning a lot. It’s a perfect place to be to get reacquainted with how things operate throughout the FSM.”

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