Benjamin M. Acob
Lucy Peros | All photos courtesy Benjamin Acob
American author, salesman, and motivational speaker Hilary Hinton “Zig” Ziglar once said “Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for.” This quote best describes this month’s Sakada Offspring, Attorney Benjamin “Ben” Acob. Ben was born in Bacarra, Ilocos Norte, Philippines on November 1957. He came to Hawai‘i at age 12 under a student visa. He attended East Central school (1–4), PTA Intermediate School (5–6), Laupāhoehoe High and Elementary (7-12), all on Hawai‘i Island.
Ben is married to Nenita E. Sajor Acob, a USDA Rural Development Specialist. They have two sons, Joshua Acob and Micah Acob. Joshua graduated from the University of Washington, with a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Art in Accounting. He is a CPA Audit Manager with Trust Bank in North Carolina. Joshua is married to Lucy Rosado Acob. They have a two-month old baby Benaiah. Micah attended the University of Hawai‘i at Maui College, Liberal Arts Degree and is currently attending the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. He works for FEDEX while attending school full time.
Ben graciously shared his experiences when he came to Hawai‘i as a young child. He mentioned that as a newcomer, he was a shy student because he didn’t know anyone. There was an incident when he was at a store, a classmate tried to talk to him and Ben said to him in English, “Sorry, I don’t speak English.” Ben was placed in the sixth grade because he thinks it was the policy of the school to bring a foreign student back a grade to give him time to understand and speak English. But once the school saw he was advanced especially in Math, they made him skip 7th grade the following year and went to the 8th grade. Because of this transition, he became more confident and he was able to have more friends. This was the time when he found his best friend Elvis Pascua, who became his best man when he got married and a Godfather to his son Joshua. Elvis now lives in Las Vegas and they always get together whenever the Acobs go there.
During his freshman year in high school, a few students kept on telling Ben that he will be 98 the following year. He ignored them because he didn’t know what they meant. He came to find out they wanted him to participate in wrestling in the 98 pounds division. Ben did and that’s when he realized what he did at home working in the garden, carrying two five-gallon buckets in the morning and in the afternoon for almost a quarter mile to feed the pigs, helped him. This is also where he saw what a supportive adult can mean to a child. His coach Carl Zaremba, told Ben after he won his first match, “You are a tiger.” Ben didn’t know what Mr. Zaremba meant at that time, until later in high school and Ben appreciated him so much. Ben was Hawai‘i Island’s champion in his weight class for the next three years. Around the same time, Ben learned how to play basketball without formal instructions and just by playing with friends. Although he did not play for the school or the Menehune League, Ben participated in the adult league while in college and the little knowledge and experience playing would come to be a big part of his later years. “I believe my teachers responded well to me because I was a good student, behaved well, although rascally at times,” added Ben.
Ben had a wrestling scholarship offer to go to Arizona State University. Because he was on a student visa and had no guidance on what to do, Ben remained on Hawai‘i Island and attended the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo. His student visa needed to be extended because it ended with his high school graduation. Ben has no regrets for not enrolling at ASU because it was at UHH that he met the love of his life Nenita Sajor, whom he married after his graduation. Ben believes that UHH is where he learned that not having means is not necessarily a disadvantage. Because he was on a student visa, he could not work. During his early years in college, he did not have a car and he relied on family friends and the bus. That meant staying on campus from 8 a.m. to sometimes the evening when he had evening classes. That meant studying in the library as much as he needed to and playing basketball in the gym with other students. Those are very memorable years he says. Later, he met Nenita on campus where their love started to grow. In 1981, Ben graduated with two majors, Psychology and Sociology with high honors.
Nenita and Ben married in 1981. Nenita is a Maui girl. So, Ben and Nenita moved to Maui. Ben worked for the Hyatt Regency Maui full time as a graveyard shift front desk clerk. Other part-time jobs included a dishwasher at Apple Annie’s restaurant, a cashier for three different shops, a tax preparer and a room service worker for the Royal Lahaina Hotel. While working for the Hyatt Regency Maui, Ben befriended Paul Petro, the Security Department’s Executive Director. He was a retired police captain. He would ask Ben if he could see himself working for the hotel the rest of his life. He also told Ben he thought there were not enough Filipino lawyers.
Ben thanks Mr. Petro for awakening his desire for another career at that time. Ben told Mr. Petro that he read a lot of books and admired the fiction lawyer character Perry Mason and that at one time he thought maybe he could become a lawyer. That idea started Ben and Nenita conversing about him going to law school. It was such a big decision for both Ben and Nenita to tackle because their son Joshua was just two years old which meant leaving the two of them on Maui with her family. Nenita was a very supportive wife.
Ben sent out applications to mainland colleges and the William Richardson School of Law at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. He got accepted by the mainland colleges but Ben opted to attend U.H. Mānoa so he could be closer to Joshua and Nenita.
After graduation from law school in 1987, Ben was hired as a law clerk by then Prosecuting Attorney Joseph E. Cardoza who later became a very respected and honored judge. A few months later, Ben became a full-fledged Deputy Prosecuting Attorney when he passed the bar exam. Receiving that great news was a very memorable moment for Ben. Unable to focus at work because of such great news, Ben asked to go home early and just give his family hugs. Being such a religious man, Ben stopped at Maria Lanakila Catholic Church in Lahaina to thank the Lord for all the blessings that He has bestowed upon him and his family.
Ben first opened his first private office in 1991 when a new Prosecuting Attorney was appointed. He enjoyed helping a lot of Filipinos because he was able to speak fluent Ilokano. When another Prosecuting Attorney was appointed in 1995, a former co-worker recruited Ben to go back to the office of the Prosecuting Attorney. Being in private practice is not easy and knowing the benefits working for the government, Ben soon relented to the recruiting pitches. In 1996, Ben rejoined the Department of the Prosecuting Attorney in the Felony Screening Division. Soon after, then Prosecuting attorney Richard T. Bissen, now a very respected and revered judge, appointed him to become his First Deputy Prosecuting Attorney, the second in command. Ben is deeply grateful to Judge Bissen for giving him the opportunity to be in the position which would be an important qualification and experience in getting appointed to be the Prosecuting Attorney by Mayor Charmaine Tavares from 2007 through 2010, making Ben the first Prosecuting Attorney of Filipino Ancestry in the County of Maui.
After his term as a Prosecuting Attorney under Mayor Tavares, Ben decided it was a good time to restart his private practice and help more people with their legal problems. It has been ten years since then and having received their most recent blessing in the form of their first grandchild in December 2019, Nenita and Ben are getting ready to retire to be able to be closer to him in North Carolina.
Ben is a community/church-oriented person. He is member of the Maui Filipino Chamber of Commerce, Maui County Bar Association, Hawai‘i State Bar Association, Knights of Columbus at Christ The King Catholic Church, Co-Chair for Lector Ministry, Worship Ministry, bread-making, malasadas baking ministries (Christ The King Church), Self-Help Center Legal volunteer and Volunteer Legal Services Hawai‘i.
Ben has several hobbies: making new friends on Facebook and personally meeting them, making videos, traveling, planting fruit trees and vegetables, and cooking.
Throughout the years of serving the community, Ben received several awards including the Gintong Pamana Leadership Award, Rizal Day Award, and numerous certificates of appreciation.
When asked if he recommends young students to go into law, Ben said he would recommend young students to put serious thought, self-evaluation, and research into it. “A student needs to really think about why they want to become a lawyer because it involves a lot of investment in time, energy, and money to go to law school and then pass the bar examination. Lawyers work a lot and handle stressful situations so one must have a good work ethic as well as the ability to think clearly in stressful situations. Luckily, there are many areas of law that one may practice but not unlimited. There are areas that require them to be in the office and do mostly paperwork. There are areas where one would need to meet a lot of people and if they are not a people person, that area would not be for them. If one likes to do litigation, they must like advocating for their clients in court or in other forums most likely against other lawyers advocating for their own clients. Many lawyers end up as government or public officials. Many people have quit law after having found out that it is not for them.” Ben also added that a law degree opens more doors than without one even if ultimately, the person does not practice as a lawyer.
Ben’s Sakada connection is through his grandfather, Esteban Acob who came to Hawai‘i as a 1946 Sakada from Bacarra, Ilocos Norte. He worked for the sugar plantation and settled in ‘O‘ōkala, Hawai‘i Island and worked for the Laupāhoehoe Sugar Company. He originally worked in the sugar fields, then in the sugar mill. He lived at the Mill Camp in ‘O‘ōkala which was next to the sugar mill. Ben’s grandmother, Lorenza Acoba Acob had some part-time jobs during the latter part of her life but was a homemaker the rest of the time. She had a green thumb and raised the most beautiful fern plants with flowering anthuriums and roses under them. She also made the most beautiful and warmest blankets made of patchwork.
To pay tribute and gratitude to his grandfather who was instrumental in bringing him to Hawai‘i, Ben said “I am very lucky and grateful that my grandfather came to Hawai‘i as a Sakada although that meant leaving his family. When he came to Hawai‘i, I had not been born yet and so I did not know him. I did know my grandmother, however, who came to Hawai‘i and joined my grandfather twenty years later, in 1966. Soon after that, my grandparents brought me to join them on a student visa and at the age of twelve, I came to Hawai‘i. My grandfather was a very hard worker and was able to provide for a family of four working for the sugar plantation and supplementing our means by raising pigs, chickens, and planting vegetables. I am thankful that he made me help with every chore that needed to be done including gardening which I try to practice to this day.” Ben continued: “I feel so lucky and grateful because of all the millions of people in the Philippines, I am one that was given a chance to come to the United States and make a better life than what I would have had in the Philippines. Through social media and friends on Facebook, I know life is still very hard for the majority of people in the Philippines. Millions go to work abroad leaving their family as did the Sakadas except that these OFW’s (Overseas Filipino Workers) are only contracted for every two years or so, paid very little compared to what someone in the United States can earn doing the same job, don’t have the same benefits as we do in the United States, sometimes work twelve or even more hours, seven days a week, and suffer physical, emotional, and sexual abuse and too many times even death at the hands of their employers. Through their industriousness, some go back to the Philippines, are able to open their own business and become very successful.”
Ben finished his personal reflection with these words: “I am always grateful to our God for all of the blessings that He has bestowed upon me including my career as a lawyer, my beautiful family, my wife who has supported me while going to law school, my church community, all the good friends, the gift of life, and most recently a grandchild at last. God has truly given me time, talent, and treasure. For my gratitude, I hope to help the less fortunate to the extent that I can. Not only in the United States but the really less fortunate in the Philippines where I was born. I will feel complete going back to my origins, knowing who I am and the place where I came from.”
Lucy Peros is a retired school teacher, having taught at St. Anthony Grade School and Waihe‘e Elementary School. Both of her parents, Elpidio Cachero Cabalo (a 1946 Sakada) and Alejandra Cabudoy Cabalo of Hāli‘imaile worked for Maui Land and Pine Company. Lucy now enjoys retirement and has time to join other seniors in the Enhance Fitness Program under the Department of Aging three times a week. She also attends the line dancing class and other activities at Kaunoa and joins other Waihe‘e School retirees when help is needed at the school. Lucy also devotes some of her time to activities at Christ The King Catholic Church. She enjoys writing and reading in her spare time.