Joann Aquino: The heart of a public servant
Wonder Woman or Super Girl? Take your pick because her ability to multitask and to get the job done in time makes one think that she may just be gifted with superpowers. That’s Joann Aquino for the rest of us mortal. She is one of Lt. Gov. David M. Apatang’s trusted staff, an active volunteer in several of the CNMI’s civic and nonprofit organizations; a mother, and soon to be, a grandmother.
As a civil servant, Aquino’s job had always focused on operations and logistics. Armed with strict work ethics and her adeptness in managing people, Aquino is able to ensure the efficient delivery of critical services—a definite “must” in public service. This is what makes her a valuable asset to any public official.
Anyone who knows Aquino will remember how she efficiently help manage the cleanup and disaster recovery activities of the Saipan Mayor’s Office in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Yutu in 2018. With her hard hat on, Aquino would visit disaster recovery sites while at the same time, coordinate the activities of National Guard members who were helping restore Saipan’s typhoon-damaged infrastructure.
Starting her government career with the CNMI Office of Aging, Aquino handled the Senior Community Service Employment Program. Later in 2014, she joined the Saipan Mayor’s Office where she worked her way up to become the director of Field Operations until January 2023. When then-Mayor Apatang was elected as lieutenant governor in 2022, he brought Aquino with him to the Office of Grants Management & State Clearinghouse as a grants manager.
Aquino is passionate about her job as a civil servant, especially because she is able to directly work for the public by implementing policies that ensure the delivery of efficient government services. “Working in the government allowed me great opportunities to meet and work with different individuals. The satisfaction I get is being able to collaborate and network with other agencies and departments to meet the common goal of delivering critical services to the public,” she said.
When she was still at the Saipan Mayor’s Office, Aquino was tasked to manage multiple field projects throughout the Municipality of Saipan for eight years. She oversaw the work of about 40 men which at first proved to be a challenge. “The challenge for me was to get these men to have confidence in my ability to lead, to get all of them to work as one unit, ensure that they are focused on the daily mission so they can successfully complete their assignments. In the end, I was able to gain their trust.”
Aquino considers challenges “an opportunity to learn and grow. I focus on being positive, I remain calm in the face of adversity and try to find solutions.”
Aquino believes that being a civil servant has enriched her life in ways that has inspired her to return the blessings back through her volunteer work.
As a volunteer, Aquino has assumed key responsibilities in four nonprofit organizations, which include CNMI Miss Earth, where she sits as a director, and as a member of the Soroptimist International of the Northern Marianas, which advocates for women and girls’ rights to education and training to achieve economic empowerment.
Since 2019, Aquino has been an active Rotarian, first serving as director of Community Service for two years and now as the organization’s secretary. She also spends time with the Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve as its first female ombudsman in the CNMI.
“It has been six years now since I joined ESGR and I find the work very rewarding because I am able to take part in promoting cooperation and understanding between our service members and their employers,” said Aquino. She joined the group as an homage to her family members who have served in the uniformed armed forces and to her son, who was a reservist with the Guam Army National Guard. She considers her volunteer work as a way to help improve the lives of those around her and as a means of personal growth.
Apart from her public persona, Aquino places premium value on her family and her “me” time. “Balancing home, career, and volunteering can be quite time- and energy-consuming, but I’ve been very blessed to gain the support of my family and my employer. Juggling time for my different advocacies can seem overwhelming at times, but I feel that proper planning, scheduling, and communication is key. I also believe in self-care. I make time for myself by meditating, going to the salon and doing Zumba with friends.”
Aquino is very proud of her family, who has supported her in all her endeavors. Married to Danny Aquino for 35 years, they are blessed with three children. Incidentally, Danny Aquino is also a civil servant himself and is the current head of the Commonwealth Bureau of Military Affairs and was the previous director of the CNMI Museum of History and Culture.
The Aquinos’ children have now all left the coop and have carved their own paths in life. Their eldest child, Alicia, 33, holds a master’s degree in Criminal Justice and works for the State of Oregon. She lives with her fiancé, Shae Myles, and they will soon give the Aquinos their first granddaughter. Their second son, Matthew, 31, holds a bachelor’s degree in Health Science with concentration in exercise science and is currently working at the Fitness Center of the Naval Base in Guam. Married to the former Megan Dejesa, a physical therapist at the Guam Memorial Hospital, they have a son, Micah, who is the Aquinos’ first grandchild. Zachary is the youngest and holds a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and currently works for the Bank of Guam.
As far as the future is concerned, Aquino sees herself continuing both her government job and volunteer work. “As a professional, I will continue to use my skills and knowledge to continue serving our community in whatever capacity I can. As a volunteer: I can still see myself giving my time and talent to help each organization reach their goals. Most importantly, as a mom and a grandparent, I will continue to prioritize my children and grandchildren by providing them the love, support, and guidance they need.”
In life, Aquino believes in the importance of honesty, truth, and in choosing to do good and avoid doing bad. That may sound trite but, as Margaret Chase Smith says, “The right way is not always the popular and easy way. Standing for right when it is unpopular is a true test of moral character.”