Vaiagae wants to bring experience to Legislature

Posted on Jan 29 2019


Grace “Pitu” Sablan Vaiagae has been a public servant in a different way by providing counseling services to those who need them. She started her career as a teacher and guidance counselor at Marianas High School, then slowly transition to issues involving women, substance abusers and their families, and now personnel at the Department of Public Safety.

For almost 15 years she has been listening to various problems, needs, and whatever issues bothering her clients. Now, she is hoping to serve in another capacity after deciding to run for the special election on March 23 that would fill the vacant seat left by the untimely passing of former vice speaker Francisco S. Dela Cruz.

She is hoping to bring another perspective coming from a woman and a clinician, as she tries to become the fourth female member of the House of Representatives and fifth in the entire CNMI Legislature after Reps. Sheila Babauta (Ind-Saipan), Janet U. Maratita (R-Saipan), and Tina Sablan (Ind-Saipan) and Sen. Teresita A. Santos (Ind-Rota).

“We have wonderful male leaders, but I think there needs to be a balance in the representation. I want to be a fresh voice for women and bring in a clinician’s perspective in the legislative body. We have the capacity of having women as leaders in our community and have another female in the Legislature,” Vaiagae told Saipan Tribune in an interview.

“I’ve been a public servant for almost 10 years. I’ve been a teacher at Marianas High School right after finishing my bachelor’s in psychology degree at the University of Guam and later a school counsellor. I went off-island again to pursue my master’s degree while also working as a therapist. Now, I’m back on Saipan and wanted to serve the place where I grew up in.”

For more than two years, she has worked as a counselor/therapist at the Marianas Behavioral Health International Inc., Saipan—dealing with alcohol, drugs, and substance abuse—and counselor for the Department of Public Safety helping police officers and civilian employees with duty-related problems, personal issues, and other stress factors.

“Now that I’m back home again, I’m still in the same field again, a public servant in a different way. I’ve been working closely with individuals that some may say are under served, marginalized, and those who are not well represented—like women, individuals that are impacted by the meth problem, and first responders,” Vaiagae said.

“I would want to be a voice rather than remain a bystander. I want to give back more, not just service wise in terms of providing counselling and education. But, also through legislative work by bringing in a perspective from the clinician’s side, and the individuals and families that I worked with through counseling.”

She added that the CNMI Drug Court has been a wonderful program to help those who have drug-related problems recover and go back to become productive members of the community, but there’s still a lot to be done to help those who chose to undergo individual rehabilitation and address the meth problem in the islands.

“Let us look at our laws to see on how can we help these individuals that are impacted by the meth problem. How can we draft bills or enact our laws for these people? The problem on methamphetamine is also a sensitive issue and I like to bring my experience as a counselor to lawmaking,” Vaiagae said.

She also wants to push for the CNMI’s first responders, like police officers and firefighters, to be provided with additional benefits like hazardous pay. “Police officers and our first responders put their lives at risk and yet they don’t receive hazardous pay. I have yet to see a bill or a law about it. No one has addressed that yet. Let’s get a bill going.”

Vaiagae said that first responders worked tirelessly during and after Super Typhoon Yutu last year, despite some of them also being victims of one of the strongest storms that hit the Marianas. “They had left their homes to keep our community safe despite some of them also having damages in their homes or have lost their properties.”

She is under the GOP and has already submitted her letter of intent to CNMI Republican Party Precinct 3 Club chair Joaquin Ogumoro. Marco Taisakan Peter is also seeking for the GOP’s blessing and Vaiagae said she would accept the party’s decision, whoever they choose to field as their candidate.

“I’m loyal to the party and if I won’t be chosen as the candidate, I would clearly support the person that the GOP would choose. The [local] GOP always talk about family and I’m part of that family, so I would do my share to help that family,” she added.

Jon Perez | Reporter
Jon Perez began his writing career as a sports reporter in the Philippines where he has covered local and international events. He became a news writer when he joined media network ABS-CBN. He joined the weekly DAWN, University of the East’s student newspaper, while in college.
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