Monday, October 12, 2009

Bordallo: War claims bill alive: 'I am going forward with this bill next year'

Bordallo: War claims bill alive: 'I am going forward with this bill next year'

By Laura Matthews • Pacific Daily News • October 12, 2009

Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo said she wasn't given enough time to make a decision that represented the view of Guamanians regarding the war claims bill when offered a compromise by Senate leadership.

She added that she couldn't have made the decision without consulting the people of Guam.

In a town hall meeting yesterday at the Hilton Guam Resort & Spa, Bordallo told more than 50 residents that she only had a half an hour to decide whether to accept a compromise on compensation for Guam residents killed during World War II and living survivors of the Japanese occupation. The Senate compromise would have excluded payments to spouses and children of Guam's war survivors who have died.

Bordallo said the bill is still alive and that she won't exclude anyone who suffered until she exhausts all other avenues.

Bordallo was criticized by some for not taking the compromise, including Vice Speaker Benjamin Cruz, who worked on the war claims commission. Cruz said past Guam Legislatures and other officials have pushed for heirs to be included in the measure, but it goes against established, recognized legal precedence.

Cruz also said the only way the war claims bill would be enacted is to hold a public hearing in Washington, D.C., and to revise the bill to comply with that legal precedence.

Congress has awarded compensation to Japanese Americans and Aleutians who suffered during World War II, but the reparations were limited to survivors and not their heirs, Cruz noted.

A number of Senate and House representatives decided not to include the Guam World War II Recognition and Loyalty Act to the last version of the defense spending bill. Bordallo said Senate Armed Committee chairman Sen. Carl Levin and Sen. John McCain were concerned about the precedence the war claims measures might set.

The war reparations provision would repay Guam Chamorros for their suffering during the brutal occupation by Japanese forces in World War II. There are about 8,000 survivors, 1,000 people who died in the war and between 9,000 and 10,000 who died, Bordallo said.

"The ... 9,000 to 10,000, ... that was the group they were going to take away, so I don't think it would be fair for me alone to make that decision in Washington, D.C.," Bordallo said.

"I had to make some agonizing decisions in Washington, D.C., on your behalf because I had 30 minutes to do it. I just felt that it wouldn't be fair to my people to make that decision to exclude one group," Bordallo added. "They wanted to take my bill and take it apart. It had three components in there which addresses the survivors and those that were injured or raped and the ones that died during the war. And it was the third section they wanted to remove and that is why I wouldn't compromise."

Bordallo said the bill will have to be heard at next session of Congress.

Both the Senate and the House have promised a public hearing on the measure, the delegate said.

"Knowing that we still had one more chance, one more year, I decided to go with that," said Bordallo.

The bill will go through the same process as before. Bordallo said she will probably put it on the defense spending bill for 2011 and have hearings on it. By this time next year, the bill could be passed or a compromised reached, she added.

Some residents who attended yesterday's meeting said Bordallo should have pressed for more time because it could be too late to get a resolution.

"We see what she had to go through, but given you should have already, if you are pushing for the hearts of the people of Guam, have fought for more than 30 minutes," Margaret Taitano, the heir of a someone who endured the occupation, said. "For 65 years the people of Guam have waited for the injustice to be corrected."

Bordallo's war claims bill would award Guam's World War II victims or their heirs a total of about about $126 million. Some said that wasn't enough.

"(The) $126 million will never pay for the injustice of what happened in Guam," said Larry Ramirez of Ordot, a war claims heir. "How can this pay all those people justly?"

Bordallo said Guam has come a long way and she will bring closure to the war claims issue by next year.

"I am going forward with this bill next year. We're going to have the hearing, track it carefully and probably put it on a defense authorization bill or an appropriation bill or whichever we can get it on," Bordallo said. "And if there is no change in the minds of these senators, then we will go ahead with the compromise, but otherwise I would like to keep it as it was."

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