Candidates’ inspirations bared in ‘Journey to the Hill’ forum


Marissa R. Flores, an independent candidate for House Precinct 3, spoke about her experience raising an autistic child during Soroptimist International of the Northern Marianas’ third bi-annual “Journey to the Hill” forum held last Friday at the  American Memorial Park Theater. (FAHIM UDDIN)

Women candidates were on center stage during Soroptimist International of the Northern Marianas’ third bi-annual “Journey to the Hill” forum held last Friday at the  American Memorial Park Theater.

The event was the only of its kind in the CNMI and invited female candidates, who make up about 27% of the ballot this coming Nov. 8 general elections.

In keeping with SINMI’s goal to empower women through education, they were each given five minutes to discuss their individual paths as female candidates, with a strong emphasis on education.

In alphabetical order by last name, Saipan senatorial candidate Rep. Celina Babauta (D-Saipan ) was the first speaker.

Ten of the 27 female candidates in the Nov. 8 general elections participated in Soroptimist International of the Northern Marianas’ third bi-annual “Journey to the Hill” forum held last Friday at the  American Memorial Park Theater. (FAHIM UDDIN)

Babauta credited the late Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginburg as her role model and said she had internalized her belief that women belong in all settings where choices are made.

“We can’t allow men to make decisions for women,” she said, implying the recent Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade.

Regarding her experience as a lawaker, she said, “I was motivated to seek a higher office…to see meaningful changes, but that needs to be taken a little bit further. Our work is not done. There is no limit to what you can do as a public servant. It is a battle every day with the men up on the Hill… these men are just so hardheaded, I am sorry. They just don’t see it the way women do.”

Acting Saipan mayor Ana D. Castro said women are natural leaders, putting others before themselves, whether it is their children or community members. Castro is running for one of six Precinct 3 House seats up for grabs.

Marissa R. Flores, an independent candidate also running for a House Precinct 3 seat, talked about her experience parenting an aitistic child at a time the community was still learning about autism.

“I was not going to have the system tell me what was in my daughter’s best interest and that teaching her was limited to only what was known at the time. Anything is possible through effective communication, cooperation, and collaboration,” she said.

According to Rep. Corina Magofna (D-Saipan), another Saipan senate contender, it takes a lot of time to be a politician, mother, wife, and friend.

“The one thing I learned by being a legislator right now is that you have to be able to learn to listen,” she said.

Janet U. Margarita, a former House vice speaker now running for the Senate, spoke about her experience being frequently the only woman in a room full of male government officials.

“It was a struggle. At the end of the day, our children deserve elected leaders who will make decisions today,” she said.

Tinian Municipal Council member Juanita Mendiola, who is seeking reelection, said “I choose not to bring the municipal council into the political arena and focus on what it was intended for, which is to run apolitically. The intention was just to do what I’ve always done, to just do it because things must be done. Don’t ask questions. Don’t rely on others. Just see what needs to be done and do it.”

Mendiola said she was raised by parents who focused on equality, regardless of gender.

“You couldn’t really tell who was the leader inside the house, whether it was my mother or father,” she said.

House Precinct 3 bet Lauren Pangelinan, an independent, said she drew inspiration from her mother who is from Chuuk, who taught herself English and placed an emphasis on education when raising her half-Chamorro and Half-chuukese children.

She said she now places the same emphasis when raising her children including her 14-year-old daughter.

Pangelinan said she returned home to Saipan and found more female lawmakers in office and decided to give it a shot. 

Rep. Leila Staffler (D-Saipan), Rep. Tina Sablan’s (D-Saipan) running mate for governor, drew on her own experience as a longtime teacher in the CNMI.

She claims that her goal had always been to serve her native islands returning as a CNMI scholarship recipient.

Staffler attributes her grit to the strong women in her life, especially her mother and grandmother.

Cecilia R. Taitano, the only female candidate in House Precinct 4, said her mother, who succumbed to cancer several years ago, is her inspiration.

She said her mother encouraged herself to break the glass ceiling, challenging herself at a very young age to explore things that made her very uncomfortable

“I believe that as an indigenous person, in my heart, in my soul and in my roots, that it is my responsibility to serve our people. I want to be a part of that positive change in our state of mind for many, many women and generations to come,” she said.

Contributing Author
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