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Op-Ed: Occupy EOB LBJ Style— “Ua o se galu e fa’afua ‘ae le fati”

“Ua o se galu e fa’afua ‘ae le fati”

The above Samoan saying best describes the LBJ employees’ attempt at “occupying” the EOB, the seat of the ASG Administration. Literally translated, “the wave recoils to break out but flattens backward instead”. At the eleventh hour and under advisement of the Board, the LBJ employees decided to take the higher road of diplomacy after about a 100 of them had congregated at the Utulei Beach, all ready to cross the road for their peaceful demonstration on behalf of the health care of the AS people.

Their leaders went instead to deliver the LBJ employees petition personally and discuss the petition with the Governor. The Governor did a Houdini disappearing act, and after waiting for eight hours the doctors left no doubt embarrassed and crushed by the brutal treatment. And no doubt with misgivings about not going ahead with the peaceful walk as originally planned.

One cannot help but feel the pain and disappointment felt by the doctors. According to Dr. Tunoa as reported by the media, all they wanted was a few minutes of the governor’s time so they could deliver the petition and plea with him personally that patients’ lives were on the line given LBJ’s predicament. He stated, “Well to each his own. The governor is the captain of this ship and we’re just passengers. We keep hearing about fa’aaloalo and ava fatafata (respect and courtesy) but where was that today?” Senator Dr. Fuata I’atala weighed in on the LBJ crisis, saying that the morgue was full and that the most vulnerable — the elders and the children – stand to be impacted most by the current crisis.

This isn’t the first time LBJ personnel have been mistreated by government leaders. About four months ago at a House hearing on the LBJ pending fee increase, one of the faipules likened the chairman of the board and the CEO to a story about a Mexican and his donkey, where the Mexican told his donkey to slow down or they would fall. The analogy drew laughter from the committee members but none in the gallery or the witnesses were amused. The faipule’s point was to postpone the fee increase as he was sure the Fono and Administration would come up with the solution.

In the faipule’s analogy, it wasn’t clear to me who was referred to as the Mexican and who the donkey. It’s four months since and the fees have gone north 400%, now it’s crystal clear to me who the donkeys’ arses are.

Senator Galea’i and Senator Mauga, as reported by the media, weighed in poignantly on the perceived disrespect shown by the governor towards the senate, in a senate hearing last week. Galea’i stated that respect between the two bodies should be accorded both ways, while Mauga described the governor’s actions as “e fasia le gata ae pupula mata” (only a snake can be beaten with its eyes open), referring to the governor’s treatment of the Senate.

Both alluded to possible consequences against the governor, with Galea’i mentioning the process of impeachment and the basis for DOI’s direct intervention in particular. Charles (Mick) McCuddin in his LTE of February 10, 2012 suggested perhaps it was time to hold ASG ultimately responsible via a broad class action against the government to demonstrate that we the people cannot tolerate the fiscal irresponsibility of ASG leaders anymore.

Dr. Tunoa’s statement that doctors knew all too well about keeping appointments, referring to the governor’s staff who informed the doctors that they needed to make an appointment to see the governor and that the governor’s schedule was full for the day. The doctor stated they too keep daily schedules as well, but when an emergency arises, they attend to the emergency straight away.

Given the gravity of the LBJ predicament, the governor didn’t think their call was an emergency, hence did not accord them their time of day, according to Dr. Tunoa. It’s not clear if there’s a hidden meaning to the doctor’s remarks, but here’s hoping that the doctors don’t do a Houdini disappearing act should the governor or a faipule roll in for emergency treatment. Although, I’m pretty sure the doctors will uphold their Hippocratic Oath, the one they committed to upon receiving their medical degrees.

To the medical staff and LBJ workers: Your peaceful walk might not have taken place and your petition not delivered personally as you wanted, but the class and courage you showed last Thursday, despite the condescending reception by the governor’s office hasn’t gone unnoticed by all of the territory. We are proud of you and pray that you continue to serve your people despite your leaders. Even if there’s no money, continue to serve your people as best as you can. You’re blessed for it.

I believe the time to hold ASG leaders accountable is long overdue. In fact I believe we should go further and hold those contesting the 2012 elections for public office especially the governorship accountable. The candidates should discuss their platforms with respect to the major issues afflicting the territory and the voters accordingly cast their support and votes to ascertain a brighter future for all in the territory, and not just a few — family, friends, and key supporters.

“The governor is the captain of this ship, and we’re just passengers…” were Dr. Tunoa’s solemn words as stated above. The truth is, we’re more than just passengers, we’re also the rowers; and we have a say who becomes the captain or to lose a captain, or which direction our ship takes. But we have continuously allowed “fa’aaloalo and the ava fatafata” (respect and courtesy) to allow our governor (and other government leaders) to do as they please. 

Our destiny is in our “rower” hands; are we rowing to catch the breaking waves and propel our ship forward, or continue to be just passengers and leave our destiny to the captain’s discretion? 

God bless Dr. Tunoa and rest of the LBJ staff and employees.

God help the people American Samoa.