Marianas Variety

Last updateThu, 18 Jul 2019 12am







    Tuesday, July 16, 2019-7:09:56A.M.






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‘Losing the Guma Sakman is a problem’

THEIR impending “eviction” from the Guma Sakman is a result of an “abrupt policy change,” 500 Sails executive director Pete Perez said “Losing the Guma Sakman is a problem that needs to be addressed and  can be solved,” he added.

The Department of Lands and Natural Resources, for its part, said its memorandum of understanding with 500 Sails, which allowed it to occupy the former 4-H Club building in Susupe, will end on March 30.

In an interview, Perez said they have maintained a good relationship with DLNR since 2015 when then-Secretary Richard Seman allowed 500 Sails to open the Guma Sakman and use the old Procurement warehouse where 500 Sails built canoes.

He added both former acting DLNR Secretary Eli Cabrea and the current secretary, Anthony Benavente, also support 500 Sails’ programs.

“I think there is more to this decision [to end the MOU] than a change of heart on the part of Secretary Benavente,” Perez said.

 “He is not the problem,” he added, referring to the DLNR secretary. “The pressure to remove us is coming from elsewhere.” He did not elaborate.

DNLR said its Division of Parks and Recreation, whose building was destroyed by Typhoon Yutu, will relocate to the Guma Sakman which is a DLNR-owned building.

According to DLNR, it offered possible new locations for the Guma Sakman, and these include a Tanapag pavilion and an area near the DLNR office in Lower Base. But 500 Sails rejected the offer and has recently launched a petition through and  social media “to give the public the chance to reach out to our elected officials to help save programs that are important to them.”

Perez said over 1,900 persons have already signed the online petition to “Save the Guma Sakman.” (

“We asked for these buildings (the Guma Sakman and the old Procurement warehouse) so that we can bring free and badly-needed services to the public,” Perez said.

He noted that many people on island do not know how to swim. “This is a dangerous situation. The decline of traditional maritime practices is tragic,” he added as he reiterated that one of their goals is to “resurrect” the island’s canoe culture which is also about a healthy lifestyle and maintaining a strong cultural identity.

“Canoes also provide access to high-quality protein from the open ocean. We see people who cannot afford to buy fish and yet we are literally surrounded by fish. We are experiencing an epidemic of diabetes and cardiovascular disease that is directly related to sedentary lifestyles and a high processed sugar diet. Traditional activities and traditional foods that our ancestors ate are what kept them healthy. We are working to bring canoes back into the daily lives of people living here so that we can be healthy again. This is what we are trying to accomplish,” Perez said in a statement.

Typhoon Yutu damaged the Guma Sakman in Susupe and the old Procurement warehouse in Lower Base. They were also damaged by Typhoon Soudelor in Aug. 2015.

“After Soudelor, we fixed them and made them productive to serve the community. It was hard work and it was expensive but it was worth it because they are exactly suited to the work that we do,” Perez said.

He said the current location of the Guma Sakman is ideal because 500 Sails’ programs require beach access.

“Guma Sakman is on the beach,” he added. “We must have beach access for swimming and sailing instruction. The old Procurement warehouse is adjacent to the sea ramps in Lower Base and also in an area zoned for light industry. It is also next door to our main partner, DLNR. I cannot think of better and more appropriate locations. They are also on public land which is literally owned by the beneficiaries of our programs.”

Perez said the collaboration between DLNR and 500 Sails is “an excellent example of partnerships between the government and non-profit organization that can bring greater benefits to the community.”

He added, “These partnerships work because both types of organizations exist to serve the community and they have complementary strengths and abilities. In this case, DLNR has a legislated mandate to provide the public with access to marine recreation and the fisheries. This is why they provide marinas, sea ramps and organize fishing derbies. 500 Sails teaches swimming, sailing and canoe building for the same reasons. We bring different resources to the table and help each other achieve our common goals.”