Sen. Celina Roberto Babauta announced Thursday she is sacrificing 10 percent of her personal paycheck for the remainder of the fiscal year to stand in solidarity with public employees. The same public employees lawmakers and the governor have asked to sacrifice 10 percent of their paychecks to begin to right the wrongs of the recent past.
Her announcement is the first of its kind among the members of the Twenty-third Commonwealth Legislature, and follows similar sacrifices Gov. Arnold Palacios, Lt. Gov. Arnold Apatang, and their cabinet are making. In fact, the governor’s chief advisor, Tina Sablan, is working for one dollar a year. Well, now 90 cents a year after she also took the 10 percent pay cut.
This is what is called leadership by example. It is a special type of leadership trait needed most at a time like this, when leaders make the tough decisions that lead to shared sacrifice. And the only way they can truly share in that sacrifice, is to make the same sacrifices they call on others to make.
For Ms. Sablan, who by no means is a wealthy woman, the sacrifice is similar to the old woman who gave everything she had when she entered the temple of Jerusalem, and Jesus Christ held her up as an example of true almsgiving. She is working for the love of the people of the Commonwealth virtually for free.
Now, it should be noted that taxpayers do not foot high salaries for lawmakers. Members of the House and the Senate make only $32,000 a year. Many of these senators and congressmen already donate sizeable fractions of their paychecks to charity: from funeral chenchule to helping residents with their utilities bills to paying helpers out of pocket to perform tasks for the public benefit.
By comparison, the taxpayers of Guam pay their senators $55,000 a year. Their mayors take home $85,000 a year, and there are 19 of them.
Legislators who do not follow Ms. Babauta’s example should not be shamed for needing, themselves, to survive and to feed their families. But leaders like Babauta, Sablan, Palacios, Apatang, and their cabinet must be commended for making the sacrifice the struggling public and private sector employees so badly need to see their leaders make after enduring the excesses of the Torres era that plundered the Commonwealth.
And shame on Torres and his cronies for their corruption and personal enrichment at the expense of the Commonwealth. Do they feel even an ounce of shame as they live comfortably, open businesses, move to the states, and continue to party off the money siphoned from the public tit? Are they not ashamed to watch cabinet member after cabinet member testify in Senate confirmation hearings about the mess the Torres cronies left behind, to be cleaned up by Palacios appointees who will be paid less than the plunderers?
And what about the current republican senators and congressmen who enabled the plunder and even participated in it? Some semblance of shame and conscience should drive them to voluntarily cut their pay, as well; a signal of penance to the people of the Commonwealth for their sins.
Kandit asked those four republican senators, as well as the other four independent and democrat senators whether they would follow in Ms. Babauta’s footsteps.
None of the republicans responded. Senate president Edith Deleon Guerrero did, though. And while she did not commit to any voluntary pay cut, she did provide information to Kandit showing she does not take the legislative allowance (neither does Babauta), and that her office is making an effort to live within its means.
Sen. Paul Manglona, on the other hand, saves the people of the Commonwealth the most: He doesn’t receive the senatorial salary. He continues to receive his retirement income; meaning, the retired public employee is working for free when he could be enjoying his retirement. As the senior legislator, he has the influence and power to change the law to allow him to double dip (collect both his retirement pension and be paid a work salary), but he hasn’t. The salary he doesn’t receive, by the way, goes to the CNMI Scholarship Foundation.
Mr. Manglona, who is from Rota, draws down on the legislative allowance. But, according to documents of his expenditures, which he keeps and gladly discloses, he uses those allowances for the original intended purpose: to cover his travel and official business conducted among the islands of the Commonwealth.
All hope is not lost among the republican legislators, either. Sources tell Kandit the general theme among the surviving republicans in the political system is they want to move forward. They, reportedly, want to make things right through a demonstrated change in conduct. While this does not excuse the sins of the past, if true, it certainly signals change in the right direction.
They can demonstrate their commitment by joining the Ed Propst-conducted chorus against excesses, misconduct, and corruption. They can support Gov. Palacios in calling for the resignations of Torres-era holdouts on boards and commissions. They can call for hearings to investigate the plunder of the Commonwealth. Or they can follow Ms. Babauta’s lead, and cut their pay.
All it takes is one flicker of light to illuminate a dark room. The plunder of the Commonwealth by the Torres regime has plunged public employees into a dark void. It is heartening to see some of their elected leaders sharing the sacrifice, and lighting hope by their example and commitment to justice that the sacrifice will not be made in vain.
And that brings us to our final and most important shout out amid the austerity and the shared sacrifice: the public employees and their families who will endure it. It is because of your sacrifice that the Commonwealth government will survive from the near-destruction of the Torres era. You didn’t cause the problem, but your sacrifice will solve it. And it will hurt; more so for those public employees already living paycheck to paycheck. But once the Commonwealth is back on solid footing, you can be proud that it was your sacrifice that saved the day.