Author Archives: Leo Azambuja

Bitter Defeat

Tuesday, February 26th, 2008

Bill to ban aspartame deferred by Senate Health Committee.

By Léo Azambuja

A bill seeking to ban aspartame in Hawaii has been deferred last Monday by the Senate Health Committee. It means that the bill will not make it to a floor vote, and plans to ban aspartame are dead on water.

A staff worker at the office of Senator David Ige, chair of the Health Committee, said the committee decided to defer SB 2506 indefinitely because the “FDA has the responsibility to determine the safety of food and food additives,” and since foods that contain aspartame are labeled, people have a choice to avoid them.

In other words, Sen. Ige passed the responsibility to the FDA, washing his hands of the issue.

A Bridge Under Troubled Water

Friday, February 22nd, 2008

Proposed Kawela Bridge replacement, Abby Mayer nomination questioned by community.

By Léo Azambuja

The Department of Transportation (DOT) unveiled a project to replace Kawela Bridge, saying it is structurally deficient, and that a new and taller bridge would reduce flooding in the area. If the project gets the green light, it will begin close to the end of 2008, and last for 15 months. However, area residents do not believe the project will bring much of a solution.

The Governor’s Molokai Community Advisory Council met with the DOT and local residents, in order to get community input regarding the proposed project. The meeting happened last week Tuesday at the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands conference room.

Bitter News

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

Health Committee defers aspartame-ban bill

By Stephen Fox / Santa Fe Sun News Managing Editor

Rather than bringing the bill to ban aspartame (HB2680) to a vote in his Health Committee, Chairman Josh Green M.D. "deferred at the discretion of the Chair" the bill championed by Rep. Mele Carroll. This shoots the bill down for this session.

There still is a Senate Bill, but with more than 3,000 bills to consider, the Senate Bill to ban aspartame has yet to be scheduled for its hearing. The deadline for the SB2506 to be heard is Feb. 26.

Sen. Kalani English’s bill is Hawaii’s only hope to get rid of aspartame. The bill is co-sponsored by Suzanne Chun-Oakland.

Mambo Italiano

Monday, February 18th, 2008

Famous Italian singer visits Molokai

By Léo Azambuja

The Friendly Isle left an indelible mark in the heart of one of Italy’s biggest artists. Romina Arena, a five times gold-record winner, visited Molokai last week, and was marveled with the island’s beauty and rich culture.

The singer who coined the term Popera – a fusion of pop music and opera – felt so amazed with the friendly and laid-back atmosphere that she almost stayed another week, before returning to Los Angeles, where she current lives.

Arena is not widely-known in the United States. But her talent has been gracing fans in the rest of the world for well over a decade. The 26-year-old artist has had several number-one hits in Italy, Germany, Australia and Japan, selling over 4 million records.

The outspoken native of Sicily, a place better known for its implacable mafia, started her career as a toddler, working at the Italian TV as a Disney mouseketeer. At 12-years-old she recorded her first album, skyrocketing to number-one in the charts, and her talent took her to the four corners of the world. But at 16-years-old Arena felt victim of a wicked attack that put her into a coma. After a miraculous recovery, doctors told Arena that she would not be able to speak again.

Arena’s unbreakable spirit kept her on the rails, and three years later she was singing again and climbing charts. After a deal-gone-sour with a music studio in Los Angeles, a top Japanese CEO at EMI believed in Arena’s talent, and invested in her come-back. Soon she was reaching the top spot in the Japanese music scene.

Music is not Arena’s only talent. She speaks nine languages and has written a book about her amazing climb to stardom. Hollywood producers have already begun to move stakes at Tinseltown, and a movie about Arena’s life is on the preliminary stages, with several Oscar winners supposed to contribute to the reel.

Before Arena’s story reaches the silver screen, search for her music in the stores. The young artist has the habit of breaking through the charts in every country she is introduced to, and it seems like it won’t be any different in the United States. Last year she opened for Celine Dion’s memorable Las Vegas tour, and now Arena has landed her own deal in Sin City. She will have her own show at a famous casino there.

So make sure to tell the Hawaiian expatriates in Las Vegas to keep an eye – and both ears – open for Arena’s performances. They might be in for a nice treat.

Brighter Smiles

Monday, February 18th, 2008

Brighter Smiles

New dentist sets practice in Kaunakakai.

By Léo Azambuja.

Friendly Isle residents have another option for achieving a healthier and brighter smile, thanks to a new dentist setting up practice in Kaunakakai.

Dr. Ron Bloy, DDS, moved to Molokai last January and started practicing last week out of Molokai Community Health Clinic.

It has been an abrupt change for Dr. Bloy. For 19 years he practiced at O’Neill, Nebraska, a small rural community of 3,500 inhabitants. Little less than a year ago Pele’s rage reached Dr. Bloy’s clinic, burning it down in the middle of the night.

In a strange twist of fate, a day before his clinic burned down Dr. Bloy and his wife received in the mail the tickets to a Hawaiian vacation they had been planning. Some of their friends told them that their vacation had gone down the drain. The spirited dentist said otherwise. “We needed a vacation before, and now we really need one.”

Before losing his clinic to a fire, Dr. Bloy said he thought he was going to retire in O’neill. “I began to examine other options,” he said, noting that in the meantime he slowly phased out practice by attending his last clients out of a friend’s clinic.

In October Dr. Bloy saw an ad at the Christian Medical Dental Society, offering a job opportunity on Molokai. The following month he came to the island for an interview, and in December he got offered a job here. “We started packing up two weeks later.”

Dr. Bloy is still adjusting to the island. He rented a place in Kalae, and his wife is joining him in March, bringing their pets, which will have to meet quarantine requirements. Only then he says his place will feel more like home.

The new dentist has been here for only a short period, but the friendly spirit of residents has already got to him. “Everyone has been wonderful,” Dr. Bloy said. “I’m looking forward to become part of the community.” Dr. Bloy, who said he likes to live in small communities, is also interested in getting to know the people and culture of Molokai.

For the time-being Dr. Bloy is only attending to Medicare and self-paying patients. After receiving appropriate licenses he said he will be able to expand his care to patients carrying other types of dental insurance.

Molokai extends its welcome to the new member of the community. To set up an appointment with Dr. Bloy please call the clinic at 552-5038.

Bittersweet Alternative

Friday, February 15th, 2008

Hawaii legislature proposes aspartame ban.

By Léo Azambuja

A deadly neurotoxin is poisoning millions of people worldwide, some scientists and health professionals are saying. Aspartame, the world’s most popular sweetener, first made its way into our food supply over 30 years ago, and today it’s found in 6,000 products around the world. Roughly 200 million people worldwide use it daily.

Aspartame, approximately 200 times sweeter than sugar, is widely used in products such as sugar-free chewable vitamins, diet sodas, sugar-free yogurts, sugar-free chewing gums and table-top sweeteners. While this powerful artificial sweetener is deeply embedded in the food supply, many question the health threats it may pose.

A Whole Lot of Love

Thursday, February 14th, 2008

Mrs. Filipino Valentine contest celebrates cultural heritage.

By Léo Azambuja

The Filipino community on Molokai crowned Violeta Ballocanag as the new Mrs. Valentine during a gala event at Home Pumehana Saturday night. The radiant and beautiful mom and wife now will represent her cultural heritage until next year.

Ballocanag competed against three other contestants, in a night filled with cultural homage to Filipino cultural traditions. Council Vice-chair Danny Mateo hosted the event, alongside Leonida Molina.

The community center at Home Pumehana was quickly filled by well over 100 people. The Filipino community, the second largest ethnic group in the state of Hawaii, showed a little bit of their rich culture, by showcasing music, dancing and singing.

In one of the most endearing moments of the night, Steven Jenkins sang to his wife, Karen Jenkins, who was one of the contestants. Jenkins ended a superb serenade on his knees, bringing the audience to a long ovation. Mateo, in one of his many spirited jokes of the night, said he sounds “exactly like that in the shower.”

The title of Mrs. Filipino Valentine, despite being disputed by four gorgeous women, does not involve beauty or talent. The pageant who brings in the most money from fundraising ends up with the trophy and the crown.

The money raised goes to a scholarship fund, according to Jerry Clemente, president of the Molokai Filipino Cultural Club (MFCC). To qualify for the scholarship, students who are pursuing a higher education must meet five criteria; have some Filipino ancestry, be a Molokai resident, have a GPA of at least 3.0, meet a financial need and be involved in extra-curricular activities such as community events.

Clemente said the event is the major fundraiser for the scholarship. About 90 percent of all the businesses on the island donate some kind of help, according to him. Thousands of raffle tickets, a commemorative book filled with advertising, and the famous damage dance add up to thousands of dollars toward the scholarship.

Each contestant performs a damage dance, in which friends and family of the pageant come up to the front of the stage and dance. Each dancing pair donates at least $1 to the contestant’s purse.

“The bigger the damage, the better the dance,” joked Mateo.

Mateo talked about the importance of the scholarship in perpetuating the Filipino heritage in Hawaii. “Tonight is about investing in our future,” he said, noting that Filipinos no longer are looked at only as manual laborers, but also as doctors, attorneys, politicians and professionals.

Clemente credited the success of the night to community and businesses that donated time and money to the event.


Mrs. Congeniality – Maricris Ballesteros

Mrs. Photogenic – Violeta Ballocanag

Most Beautiful Evening Wear – Karen Jenkins

Third Runner Up, Mrs. Charity – Karen Jenkins

Second Runner Up, Mrs. Love – Lian Duffy

First Runner Up, Mrs. Hope – Maricris Ballesteros

Mrs. Valentine – Violeta Ballocanag

Aspartame Timeline

Thursday, February 14th, 2008

December 1965 – James Schlater, a chemist at G.D. Searle, discovers aspartame.

Spring 1967 – Necessary safety tests vying approval by the FDA resume.

Fall 1967 – Biochemist Dr. Harold Waisman conducts aspartame safety tests on infant monkeys on behalf of Searle. Seven monkeys are fed aspartame mixed with milk, one dies and five have grand mall seizures.

November 1970 – Cyclamate, the reigning low-calorie sweetener is pulled off the market after being associated with cancer. Saccharin’s safety is questioned, leaving the field open for aspartame.

Spring 1971 – Neuroscientist John Olney informs Searle that his studies show that aspartic acid caused holes in the brains of infant mice. One of Searle’s own researchers confirmed Dr. Olney’s findings.

Farewell to Dr. Thomas

Monday, February 11th, 2008

Veterinarian leaving Molokai after 5 weeks serving the community.

By Léo Azambuja

It has been said that all that is good doesn’t last; and confirming this, Molokai’s only veterinarian is leaving the island.

Molokai residents – and their pets – have suffered long enough without a permanent veterinarian established on the island, until Dr. Sterling Thomas decided to come over and help out. And that he did with his heart, staying here for five weeks, attending to pets and performing around 50 spay or neuter procedures on cats and dogs island-wide.

But time has come for Dr. Thomas to be with his family in Oregon. He is leaving Feb. 14, just in time to celebrate Valentine’s Day with his wife. He said his experience on Molokai has been nothing short of wonderful, the people here have been very nice and really took the time to make him feel welcome.

Dr. Thomas said he might come back for a couple more weeks, but that will probably be by the end of April or beginning of May.

However, not all is lost for Molokai’s pets in need of tender care, and spay and neutering – Dr. Eileen, who has been coming here from Maui for years may resume practice on Molokai. Dr. Thomas also said that a veterinarian from Oahu, Dr. Tom, may start a practice on Molokai every Sunday.

Other short-term alternative includes a woman veterinarian from Oregon who has volunteered to come to Molokai for one week in March and one week in May, according to Dr. Thomas.

Dr. Thomas said the facility in which he has been working is well equipped and kept, despite not being set for full-scale surgeries. He praised the hard work of Molokai Humane Society board members, which resulted in acquiring the land lease and the facility. With continued proper care, the facility will be able to accommodate the practice of visiting veterinarians, he said.

The need for a permanent veterinarian on Molokai is still dire. Dr. Thomas said he wishes he could have done more. “I haven’t had a slow day,” he said, noting that he even worked on a few weekends.

“There is a six-page-long list of people that I can’t get to,” he said, explaining that those people won’t be able to get their pets spayed or neutered by him.

Perhaps the biggest downside of Dr. Thomas stay on Molokai was the number of puppies he diagnosed as infected with the often-lethal parvovirus. Sadly, he said he saw 15 puppies in four days that were either dead or dying from parvo infection. Since treating infected animals requires hospitalization, and Molokai has no facilities capable of that, “once a dog here gets it, it’s pretty much a death sentence,” Dr. Thomas said.

Parvo is a relatively new disease. It comes from a mutating virus, and was first discovered in Australia in 1979. It has since spread to all four corners of the world. Symptoms often include diarrhea and vomiting.

The parvovirus is transmitted through feces of infected dogs, and humans do not get the disease. The virus can remain dormant for years before hosting itself in an animal. Puppies are the most susceptible to the disease, since they are still building their immune system.

Dr. Thomas said he was sad to witness so many infected animals in such a short period of time. When he worked in the mainland, he would see one or two animals a month that tested positive for the disease. He said the disease can be prevented with proper vaccination, and educating the population about dos and don’ts.

Although it’s sad to see Dr. Thomas leaving, he brought some light to pets and pet owners on Molokai. He continues to serve the community by actively looking for solutions to the island’s shortcomings regarding a lack of proper veterinarian care.

With good planning, he said it is financially possible to make a living as veterinarian here. He said he is also trying to figure out how to minimize the spread of parvovirus on the island.

Mahalo to Dr. Thomas for his time spent here. Special mahalo to the former board members of Molokai Humane Society, who worked relentlessly in providing better care for the island’s beloved pets. A huge welcome to the new board members, who will have the task of continuing the hard work of former ones. Finally, a special farewell to the Dr. Thomas, who did so much to help the community.

Thar She Blows!

Tuesday, February 5th, 2008

Photo by Susan Forsberg

Whale watching season peaks with acrobatic displays

By Leo Azambuja

Every November as many as 10,000 gentle giants arrive in Hawaii’s waters, their favorite destination for thousands of years. Humpback whales hang around the islands until May, when they swim back to polar waters.

Whale watching season in Hawaii spans for about seven months. But according to Captain Joe Reich, Alyce C. Sportfishing owner, February is the best month to go after the whales. Reich said that during the peak of the season, the whales are most active, flapping their giant tail fins, and breaching their massive bodies almost completely out of the water.

Captain Jim, who commands the power-catamaran Ama Lua, said that halfway through the season is when most whales give birth, and also when most of the mating rituals occur. This could explain why they are so active at this time.

Adult Humpbacks can reach up to 50-feet long, and weigh as much as a ton per foot. Their long front flippers, measuring about a third of their bodies, gave the whales its scientific name, Megaptera noveangliae, which means giant wings. The whales spend summers in polar waters, feeding on krill and small fishes. Once in Hawaii, the whales live off the accumulated fat, and spend their time mating and rearing their calves.

Hunted to the brink of extinction, Humpback whales made an impressive comeback after a 1966 world-moratorium on whaling. The International Whaling Commission estimated that by then about 250,000 whales had been hunted worldwide, and the global population had been reduced by 90 percent. Today there are some 70,000 whales left in the world. Most of them, around 50,000, inhabit the southern hemisphere waters. The rest are split between the North Atlantic and the North Pacific.

Located in the middle of the Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, Molokai residents and visitors are awarded with a front-row view of these magnificent creatures. The sanctuary includes all the channels between Molokai, Lanai and Maui, plus small portions of the ocean surrounding Diamond Head, Big Island’s northwest coast, Kauai’s North Shore, Oahu’s North Shore and a large portion of the ocean extending from Molokai’s West End.

“It’s amazing to be able to see how intelligent those animals are,” Captain Mike Holmes said. “If everybody would be able to see how unique these creatures are, there would be no whale hunting.”

For those who want to experience whale watching a little more up close and personal, a few Molokai-based companies offer whale watching boat tours.

Captain Holmes takes up to seven passengers in his 27-foot twin-diesel cabin cruiser. He does up to three trips a day, depending on weather. “It’s usually less windy in the morning,” he said, noting that the wind might pick up in the afternoon, creating rougher ocean conditions. He charges $70 for adults and $50 for children six to 12-years-old. Mike’s company, Fun Hogs Sportfishing, can also be accessed on the Web at Those interested in go whale watching with Holmes have the convenience of booking and ticketing the trip online. Holmes also can be reached at 567-6789.

Captain Reich can take up to six people in Alyce C., a 31-foot cruiser. The trip lasts for about three hours, and costs $75. Reich said he gives a price-break to children, and depending on their age, they might go for free. Reich can be reached at 558-8377 or visit

Tim Forsberg’s Ama Lua, a 31-foot power catamaran, can fit up to 16 whale watchers in it. Forsberg said that with a little luck passengers can also spot spinner dolphins and manta-rays. Captain Jim commands the Ama Lua. Tours cost $69, and can be booked through Kaunakakai’s Molokai Fish and Dive store, which has been operating for over 30 years. Children under six-years-old can go for free. For more information call 553-5926 or visit

Captain Clayton Ching takes up to six people in his Hallelujah Hou. The 24-foot power catamaran is fitted with two 50-horsepower engines, making the boat eco-friendly, according to Ching. The two-hour trip costs $75 per person. The company can be reached at 336-1870, or at

For those who are coming to Molokai from Maui, there’s a cheaper way of watching Humpback whales. Instead of hoping on a plane, whale watchers can board the Molokai Princess, the inter-island ferry, and take advantage of the $42.50 trip for adults, and $21.50 trip for children four to 12 years old. Toddlers under four years old don’t have to pay. With thousands of whales in the marine sanctuary, there’s a good chance of spotting whales during the trip. The company can be reached at (808) 667-6165.

The whale watching season lasts until May, but for those who are planning on taking a tour to watch the Earth’s most magnificent creatures, do it as soon as possible. Right now the whales are well rested from the long migration from polar waters, and full of energy to boost the acrobatic moves that made them famous around the world, according to Captain Reich. The best conditions are when the ocean and winds are calm. Good luck, and remember to bring a camera.