Sunday, 08 March 2009 23:11 by Therese Hart | Variety News Staff
Guam leaders say history is repeating itself
On March 6, 1949, local leaders led by Assemblymen Antonio B. Won Pat and Carlos P. Taitano made a historical move by walking out in protest of the Naval government’s refusal to recognize their authority and power to govern their island.
The lack of respect and the seemingly insensitive treatment of the federal government decades ago continue today, according to members of the Guam Legislature, who looked back to the island’s history and its implications today during a discussion held at a pavilion across the street from the federal court in Anigua.
Led by Speaker Judi Won Pat, who wanted to commemorate the historical event, island residents and leaders held dialogue on issues such as Guam’s political self determination, non-reimbursement of over $400 million in Compact Impact funds, the military buildup and recent island-federal issues such as the consent decree projects.
“What are the lessons that we can learn from our past leaders?” asked Won Pat, daughter of the late assemblyman. “That’s what this is all about and how can we carry forth the pioneering spirit they had that moved them to do what they knew was right for their people. It seems that by fate we are facing the same challenges today.”
Local resident Felix Aguon said the 1949 event happened before he was born, but he felt that the federal governor’s treatment of the local community then has not changed.
“Why are we where we are right now? Why are we being kicked around like sheep and dogs? We are U.S. citizens,” Aguon said. “We want respect. I think it’s time to find better dialogue between ourselves and the federal government.”
Sen. Judi Guthertz said she felt that Guam was at a crossroads with the federal government since there are federal issues that are directly impacting the island. She mentioned, for example, the solid waste consent decree and the permanent injunction imposed on the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse and the Department of Integrated Services for Individuals with Disabilities.
“I believe the Guam Legislature should go to court to challenge the District Court depending on the decision the judge makes on March 17,” said Guthertz.
“If the judge decides to go forward and force the issue of grabbing the $1 million a week to give the receiver in a bank account, then we need to go to court and challenge that authority of the federal court,” she added.
One subject that needs to be addressed is Guam’s political status, according to activist and former senator Hope Cristobal.
“The walk out happened 60 years ago and today in the 21st century, we are still being strong-armed by the federal government. I really would like to encourage a walkout with the legislature because we need to show the federal government that 60 years later,” Cristobal said. “We are diminishing, population, and we are losing our ability to maximize our existence in our own homeland through real self government.”
Definition of powers
Former Lt. Gov. Frank Blas Sr. dialogued with the group and brought up the fact that Guam leaders must define exactly what powers it has and its relationship with the U.S. and to its people.
“I share the decision to be very definitive of who we are and what we are as a people. We need to define what kind of power we have and in terms of how to deal with a sovereign power,” Blas said.
“I support and I believe the walkout was done for the right reason. We need to know how much authority we have and relate it to how we can govern our island. There’s the concept of One Guam; Team Guam. I think that’s what needs to be accomplished,” he added.
Activist Jonathan Diaz said that he believed that the government of Guam is powerless.
“To me, there is no such thing as self-government in Guam. The federal government is trying to separate the land from the people. It is their strategic prerogative to go in and take over,” he said.
“All they have to do is define their strategic prerogative, and that’s it. There’s no such thing as sovereignty in Micronesia,” Diaz added.
Sen. Frank Blas Jr., said it’s time for Guam to ask for a stronger voice in Congress.
“Our people walked out on a government that refused to see them as equal,” Blas said. “We talk about a representative that has no voting power. We want a seat in Congress. We want a seat in the Senate. Our citizenship was conferred upon us by a congressional act, not by the U.S. Constitution. At the whim of Congress, they can take away our citizenship,” said Blas.
Won Pat said Friday’s peaceful demonstration was just a start and she expects more dialogues to continue as Guam faces a far reaching change that will determine the future of Guam.