Island community grieves loss of Ben Pangelinan - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

Island community grieves loss of Ben Pangelinan

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 by Ken Quintanilla

Guam - The island is in a state of mourning over the loss of Senator Vicente "Ben" Pangelinan. The Democrat lawmaker served 20 years in the Guam Legislature and passed away this morning. He was a man many considered a great statesman, passionate leader and dedicated public servant.

Attorney Mike Phillips says there are very few people like Ben. "It's an enormous loss for the people of Guam," he told KUAM News. Phillips was one of several island leaders and former colleagues who remembered Pangelinan today after he passed away this morning. Phillips remembers Pangelinan for the time they worked together paying cost of living allowances for retirees, he said, "With COLA, the same thing, Ben was tenacious he wouldn't stop I remember when he was designing the legislation, we were on the phone two or three times a day, he was always in the lead, keeping me on the loop."

Pangelinan was born in Saipan and came to Guam at a very young age. He grew up in Barrigada and graduated from Father Duenas Memorial School in 1974 before attending Georgetown University in Washington, DC with a bachelor's degree in government. At an early age, Ben showed interest in government service having worked as a staff assistant for Guam's first congressman Antonio Won Pat. Speaker Judi Won Pat says as an intern, Senator Ben would attend family dinners in DC and today remembered the softer side of Ben.

"Ben would always pick on me and joke with everybody especially when our colleagues were around him," she recalled.

Lawmakers were supposed to reconvene session today but instead senators paid tribute by sharing their memories of the late senator. Black ribbons were placed at the entrance of the Guam Legislature with a candle and wreath placed on his desk in the Session Hall and his chair draped with black ribbon. Won Pat says Senator Ben wasn't just a dear friend and mentor but a true leader and genuine statesman, saying, "Always reminding me to put the people first and that's what exactly what he did his whole life, as a public servant you look at his office and you see the sign and what does it say? The People's Office - it was never really about Ben."

Pangelinan served in the 22nd to the 27th and 29th through the 32nd Guam Legislatures. He served as the speaker in the 27th Guam Legislature and last served as the chairman on the Committee on Appropriations. Senator Ben served as chair on many committee and championed many issues that others did not. Along with cola, he led the fight on Guam's quest for self-determination, protection of our natural resources and our land.

Acting Land Management director and former Chamorro Land Trust Commission chairman Mike Borja says Pangelinan fought hard until the day he died. "Senator Pangelinan was a very big champion on Chamorro land rights here on Guam and land rights all together and his passing is very hurtful," he shared.

Many island leaders paid their respects to Senator Ben this morning at the Guam Memorial Hospital, including Governor Eddie Calvo. He said Ben, "Has served this island and he served it at 150% and he was working 'till his dying breath. What more can we ask from a public servant?"

Today Governor Calvo declared the island in a state of mourning to honor the life of Senator Ben. "He's a fighter - we may not always agree but one thing you ask for someone elected into office is to fight for your cause, Chairman Ben loved the people and he fought for the people and with that all I can say the island has lost a true Guamanian, a Chamorro patriot," he said solemnly.

For the past few weeks, Senator Ben was in the intensive care unit at GMH. He recently announced he would be retiring after this term to, as he said, "Ensure I spend the remaining good years of my life with my family - enjoying them, living with them, serving them and giving them the same commitment that I have given to the people of Guam these past decades." 

Ben Pangelinan was 58 years old.

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