Ben Cayetano /
Ben Cayetano /

By Felipe “Jun” Abinsay, Ben Cabreros, Romy M. Cachola and Danny Villaruz

At the May 29 State Democratic Convention, Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann declared his candidacy for governor. In the May 30th The Honolulu Advertiser, it was reported that “he was inspired and wants to build on the legacy of former governors such as John Burns, George Ariyoshi and John Waihee. The only former Democratic governor he failed to mention was Ben Cayetano, an ally of Neil Abercrombie.”

Apparently, the mayor’s omission of Cayetano’s name, due to politics, disturbed several leaders in the local Filipino community and rubbed others the wrong way.

Hannemann needs to be reminded that many Filipinos look up to Cayetano as a role model and example for the younger generation. In fact, if there ever was a rags-to-riches story, Cayetano is it—the son of immigrants who nearly flunked out of high school but against all odds went on to earn a law degree from UCLA, was elected to the State House, State Senate and eventually served as a two-term lieutenant governor and governor.

People forget that Cayetano’s term began in 1994 with the economic fall-out from the first Gulf War/Operation Desert Storm and ended in 2002 in the aftermath of 9/11. Faced with a slumping economy, Cayetano went on to provide the tough, effective leadership needed for those tough times. When all is said and done, historians will look back and consider Cayetano as one of Hawaii’s most courageous and effective governors.

Given Cayetano’s high standing among local Filipinos, some community leaders and Filipinos are disappointed that Hannemann did not include Cayetano as one of Hawaii’s Democratic governors from Kalihi.

It seems the mayor has forgotten that the Filipino community only recently celebrated its Centennial Celebration and the numerous accomplishments by Filipinos over the past 100 years.

By omitting a Filipino governor, some Filipinos say that Hannemann is overlooking the accomplishments of other early Filipino pioneers who were recognized during the Centennial, including the following:

  • The sakadas, or first Filipinos who were brought to Hawaii as sugarcane plantation workers.
  • Filipino veterans of World War II who have only now been compensated and recognized for their sacrifices during the war.
  • Benjamin Menor, the first Filipino to be appointed to the Hawaii State Supreme Court (1974) and Hawaii’s first Filipino state senator (1962).
  • Eduardo Malapit, Kauai’s first mayor of Filipino ancestry.
  • Richard Caldito Sr., the first Filipino to win a seat on Maui’s County Council.
  • Lorraine Rodero-Inouye, the first Filipino woman mayor of the Big Island.
  • Peter Aduja, the first Filipino to win a major elected office in the Territorial House of Representatives as a Republican from Hilo (1954).
  • Inez Cayaban, a Filipino nurse who established the Filipino Nurses Organization of Hawaii (FNOH).
  • The many Filipino physicians who have formed the Philippine Medical Association of Hawaii (PMAH) and have given of themselves over the years, particularly the many medical missions for the poor and needy in Hawaii and other countries.

The list of the above role models for the Filipino community goes on and on, with each establishing legacies in their own right.

Despite Hannemann’s omission of Cayetano, the Filipino community, together with their legacy of leaders, deserve better treatment and respect especially at a major event like the Democratic Party Convention.

For Hannemann to exclude Cayetano when mentioning the legacy of Hawaii’s former Democratic governors we believe was wrong and tends to overlook the many contributions of Filipinos have made over the years. On issues such as this, the Filipino community stands united.

Authored by Felipe “Jun” Abinsay, former State Representative; Ben Cabreros, former State Representative; Romy M. Cachola, Honolulu City Councilmember and Danny Villaruz, president, Ilocos Surian Association of Hawaii