Retired decolonization director says voters ready for political status vote
Thursday, 24 December 2009 05:47 by Mar-Vic Cagurangan | Variety News Staff
SAYING that Guam has waited long enough to resolve the political status issue, former Decolonization Commission executive director James Underwood has recommended that the legislature amend the local statute to set the self-determination plebiscite in time for next year’s general election.
Underwood also said scheduling the plebiscite for next year would also entail the removal of the requirement for a “native inhabitants” registry that accounts for 70 percent of eligible voters.
Under the local statute, only those who fall in the category of “native inhabitants” as defined by law are qualified to vote in the self-determination process.
“Seventy percent is extremely high; it’s equivalent to 30,000. That’s an extreme burden on the people to have to wait; I don’t think that’s necessary. People should be allowed to vote in the plebiscite now,” Underwood told Variety.
“The legislature has this opportunity to amend the law to set the date for the plebiscite and delete the 70 percent threshold at the same time,” said Underwood, who retired from public service on Sept. 30. “I made the recommendation to the governor to direct the legislature to hold the plebiscite next year.”
Not too fast
Senator Ben Pangelinan, on the other hand, said it would not be fair to push the people of Guam into making a hasty decision just because the registry requisite has not been met soon enough.
“Just because we waited so long doesn’t justify that action. It would be a big disservice to the people of Guam,” the senator said.
“It is important that we get the widest participation as possible and that we have well-planned and well thought-out education program to allow the people to make an honest and informed decision,” Pangelinan said, stressing that the self-determination plebiscite requires a comprehensive preparatory work.
Pangelinan noted that Guam stands receive $2 million under Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo’s bill that provides technical assistance grants and other forms of help to facilitate the political status public education programs on Guam, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The U.S. House of Representatives approved the Bordallo’s H.R. 3940 on Dec. 8.
“Once we find out what kinds of resources we can count on, then we develop the process for the education campaign and set the plebiscite date when we’re ready,” Pangelinan said.
Eligible voters are allowed to redesign Guam’s political relationship with the U.S. government by choosing one of the three identified options: free association, statehood and independence.
The Decolonization Commission is subdivided into three task forces assigned to conduct an education campaign that correspond to each option.
“I think the people are ready to make a decision and there’s ample time for the commission and that task forces to continue the education campaign between now and next year,” Underwood said.
The local law defines “native inhabitants of Guam” as those “who became U.S. citizens by virtue of the authority and enactment of the 1950 Organic Act of Guam and descendants of those persons.”
When asked about his opinion on the possibility of expanding the voting eligibility criteria, Underwood replied, “I’d like to see that but the law is clear on who can vote. That is a very delicate issue.”
To expedite the registration process, Pangelinan has introduced a bill that requires the inclusion of those whose names are listed in Chamorro Land Trust registry into the roster of “native inhabitants.”
“That will take us close to 50 percent of eligible voters,” Pangelinan said. The bill has been public heard and is awaiting committee action.
Pangelinan, who is one of the vocal advocates of self-determination for Guam is not eligible to vote. He is a native of Saipan.
“I have no personal agenda here. I am not even qualified to vote. I just want to see the people of Guam,” he said.
Underwood acknowledged that the commission, which receives an annual appropriation of $100,000, has been dormant.
Governor Felix P. Camacho, who chairs the commission, has never convened the body since its creation.
“I cannot speak for the governor. I don’t know why he never called a meeting,” Underwood said.