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First Filipino lawmaker in US is dead at 87

February 23, 2007 3:43pm
First filipinoPeter A. Aduja, the first Filipino-American to hold a major elective office in the United States, died Tuesday while vacationing in Las Vegas. He was 87.

Aduja was elected in 1954 to the Territorial House of Representatives as a Republican from Hilo, the Honolulu Star Bulletin said in its report Friday.

He served one two-year term and went to work for the Department of Attorney General before returning to politics as a state representative from 1966-74.

Aduja was also elected as a delegate to the 1968 Constitutional Convention.

He was a native of Salindig, Vigon in Ilocos Sur. He came to Hawaii at age 8 in 1928 and grew up in the Big Island in Hakalau, where his father worked in a sugar plantation for a $1 daily wage. He was a resident of Kane'ohe, Hawai'i prior to his death.

"It was sudden and unexpected because if you saw him, you would think he was 60 years old, not 86," said his daughter, Melodie Rebecca Aduja. "He did five miles a day on the stationary bike, swam laps in the pool and was very health conscious," the Star Bulletin said.

Melodie, who also served as a state Senator of Hawaii, called his father “my mentor and backbone."

The Honolulu Advertiser described Aduja as “an attorney, patriot, politician and community volunteer who distinguished himself as a shinning example of an American dream come true for Filipino immigrants."

"He was one of the first-generation, bold, local Filipino boys who learned the value of education in the early plantation days, did well in school and fulfilled the dreams and hopes of his immigrant parents," retired educator Domingo Los Banos said of his friend of 63 years.

An only child, Aduja never forgot the hardships of his early life and the sacrifices of his parents, the Advertiser said.

Amy Agbayani, University of Hawaii director of Student Equity, Excellence and Diversity, said Aduja has a place of honor in Hawaii and national Filipino-American history.

"He was an attorney at a time when there were very few Filipino lawyers. He will be remembered for the opening he gave to other Filipinos," Agbayani said.

After graduating from the University of Hawaii in 1944, Aduja served in the First Filipino Infantry Regiment -- with former Rep. Emilio Alcon, ILWU leader Tony Rania and former Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Menor.

He was a teacher at Naalehu Intermediate School on the Big Island for a year, before attending and graduating from Boston University Law School. He served as a District Court judge from 1960 to 1962.

He maintained steadfast commitments to The Salvation Army's adult rehabilitation center, Boys Scouts of America, Big Brothers of Hawai'i and more than 30 other community organizations.

"We came from nothing. ... We slept on plain wooden boards and cooked over an open fire," Aduja, an Eagle Scout, once said in describing his early years in Hawai'i.

Aduja graduated from Hilo High, majored in government and history at the University of Hawai'i, and was one of 50 local boys who volunteered in 1944 and served with the U.S. Army's 1st
Filipino Infantry Regiment in the Philippines in 1945.

Los Banos, retired Department of Education Leeward District superintendent, and Benjamin Menor, who in 1962 became Hawai'i's first Filipino immigrant state senator, served in the same unit.

After his discharge from the military in 1946, Aduja taught briefly at Na'alehu Elementary & Intermediate School on the Big Island before earning his law degree from Boston University School of Law in 1951.

Besides his daughter Melodie, Aduja is survived by his son, Jay Peter Aduja, and two grandchildren, William and Amber Aduja. - GMANews.TV
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