Saipan Prayer Vigil

Photos by Itos Feliciano ©2008

April 5, 2008

Some guest workers, their leaders, and their supporters united at American Memorial Park on Saipan for a Prayer Vigil this evening. Judging from the phone calls and e-mail messages I received, the spirit was one of renewed hope and unity among the Chinese, Filipino, Bangladeshi, Nepalese, Korean, and others at the gathering.

"This is a chance to regroup and show our support for each other on a united front," said one Bangladeshi guest worker.

Members of the clergy, and some supporters spoke. Speakers included CNMI Representative Tina Sablan, attorney Mark Hanson, Ross Cesar, Irene Tantiado, Jaime Vergara, Korean businessman Simon Sin, Manzurul Alam, Ron Hodges, Jerry Custodio, and others. Speakers talked about unity of the guest workers, federalization, and workers' rights.

Jerry Custodio, President of the Human Dignity Movement, said that they collected 700 signatures on a petition to be sent to federal officials requesting green card status for long-term guest workers.

In a Saipan Tribune article by reporter Rianne Brown Pangelinan, Tina Sablan was quoted:

"Rep. Tina Sablan said she is sad that after a “deeply moving success of our Unity March, we have found ourselves divided again.”

“I'm not talking about division between those who oppose federalization and those who support it; I'm talking about divisions among us. Among people who want the same thing and that is improved status for long-term foreign workers,” Sablan said."

While foreign contract workers agree that status is an urgent need, there are differing views on how to obtain status and questions of trust. There are talks of requesting status from the federal government, through CNMI legislation, a Constitutional Amendment, or a yet to be revealed plan by "volunteers" Deanne Siemer and Maya Kara. The messages read at the prayer vigil encouraged all to unite.

In addition to Rep. Sablan, others also support unity and acceptance of differing views and processes:

"Attorney Mark Hanson also recognized the few people at the prayer vigil than the day after the Unity March.

“It sounds to me that there are disagreements and that's because some people want to go in one direction and the others want to go in another direction-but that's destroying unity and that's exactly what your detractors want you to do,” Hanson said.

He says that the groups would have to make up the differences, get together and be united because “that's the way you can make the real change.”

Hanson said the key to make “real change” is in unity and numbers.

“If three workers of a big hotel refuse to work for a week, they get fired. If all workers of a big hotel big hotel refuse to work for a week, they get a raise and better vacation benefits. Now, if all workers of all big hotels refuse to work for a week, they get a constitutional amendment,” Hanson said.

He says there's an “incredible strength in numbers.”

“Whatever you decide to do, be united in your purpose and be united in your actions. Set your goals high and don't stop until you've attained them. Organize for a union, make a real change,” Hanson said.

Human Dignity Movement president Jerry Custodio said everyone had been welcomed to join the prayer vigil no matter their beliefs on the federalization issue.

He said that what the prayer vigil was about was coming together and fighting for the same goal.

A letter from human rights activist Wendy Doromal was read to the audience by Custodio.

Doromal stated that social justice cannot be achieved merely through legislation, “It is achieved through changing people's hearts, through understanding, and through education.”

She encourages all guest worker groups to stay united in their fight for federalization.

“Don't despair; never lose hope. Stand strong for justice for yourselves and your children. Persevere in your fight for status, political and social rights, liberty, democracy, and freedom until the fight is won,” Doromal stated."