Monday, November 17, 2008

Buildup Could Bring Many Filipinos

Buildup could bring many Filipinos
Joe Murphy
Guam PDN
November 17, 2008

Guam is heading for a sea of change. The key behind this, obviously, is the military buildup. That is coming, and if you don't like it I would suggest moving to Palau.

How will all this affect you? Greatly.

I just read a blog from the Asian Journal that puts one part of this typhoon-type change in perspective. It was written by Malou Liwang Aguilar of the AJ Press. It stated: "In the next few years, the number of Filipinos in Guam will possibly increase with the strategic move of U.S. military bases from Okinawa, Japan. At present, approximately one-fourth (or larger) of the island's population are either Filipinos or of Filipino descent.

"This move opens new opportunities for Filipinos in the island, as an estimated $13 billion will be spent for construction of facilities and housing for military personnel in the span of four years.

"This also means that 20,000 to 30,000 Overseas Filipino Workers can find jobs in Guam. Known for their work ethic and English proficiency, Filipino construction workers are preferred by Guam companies, according to the Philippine Association of Service Exporters Inc.

"But Guam is no stranger to Pinoys. In fact, 35 percent of Guam's population is of Filipino descent, according to Guam Gov. Felix Camacho, during his speech at the 'Living the Dream' event sponsored by the Republican National Convention held in St. Paul, Minn. Camacho, who is also part Filipino, emphasized the significant contribution of the API vote and urged his fellow APIs to get involved.

"Also, Filipino businesses thrive in the island. Chinese-Filipino tycoons like Lucio Tan, Henry Sy and George Ty are major investors. Tan owns one of the largest mall in the island, Micronesia Mall, (as well as) the Tropicana Hotel, American Bakery, Toppy Furniture and iConnect, a mobile communications company. His banks, Allied Bank and Philippine National Bank, also have branches, while Philippine Airlines regularly flies between Manila and Guam."

By the year 2014, approximately 8,000 U.S. Marines and 9,000 family members will relocate to Guam. It is said to be the biggest military buildup in the history of the United States. The expansion could include a new Marine base, an Army ballistic missile defense facility and expanded Air Force and Navy bases by 2014, according to an initial Defense Department time line.

However, news of the military buildup has raised fears among some Chamorros that their culture and population will be diluted. In a recent interview, Chamorro leader Debbie Quinata said that she's not sure that the tiny island can cope with the military influx.

With 40,000 people -- about a 25 percent increase -- expected to move to the island in less than a decade, that is certainly a big challenge to all issues that matter to Guam.

That was why during the Republican convention, Camacho reached out to U.S. presidential candidate Sen. John McCain to discuss the issues. "I've met with John McCain, to discuss issues that matter to Guam."

The governor's office is lobbying for financial assistance from the federal government over the next few years, money that is to be spent outside the bases' fence lines. This would mean roads, seaport, utility improvements and other projects.

In a visit to Guam last year, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney stressed Guam's role in the U.S. bases' relocation.

"The U.S. can move quickly and effectively to protect our friends, to defend our interests, to bring relief in times of emergency, and to keep the sea lanes open for commerce, and close it to terrorists," he said. "This island may be small, but it has tremendous importance to the peace and security of the world."

Yet even with Guam's significant role to the U.S. military, Camacho pointed out to McCain that Washington, D.C., could give Guam better treatment.

"We are also Americans, and we need to change the way Guam is treated," Camacho said.

But no matter how you cut it, you are never going to make everybody happy.

Billions of dollars will be spent in Guam by the military, the American government and the Japanese government. That should make the businessmen joyful.

Millions of dollars, if not billions, will be spent to upgrade our roads and highways, and transportation in general.

We also can rest assured that the U.S. government isn't going to just drop the Marines off here. They will need better air transportation. They will need water and power and a garbage dump.

The people of Guam, if they can see into the future, should know that the Marines, their families and associated workers will pay more in taxes, and thus provide a bigger, better tax base, which should help our schools.

Communication should get better too, with better TV and movies. We will have more restaurants and night spots.

It is going to hurt somewhat that the traffic, already bad, will worsen.

More jobs will be created for local people, and more taxes will be paid into GovGuam, broadening that base.

The people of Guam have always been on the low end of the gross national product, but I think this will change, too. I see clearly that new and better houses will be built. The island people should have more money to spend on vacations and education.

Health care will become an essential issue, and we may get a new, up-to-date hospital built.

If we watch the military buildup, and don't complain too much, maybe we can count on a plebiscite that would grant this island more freedom than it has now, in the form of a commonwealth.

Joe Murphy is a former editor of the Pacific Daily News.

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