Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Chairman Skelton Gets Guam's Drift

Chairman Skelton Gets Guam's Drift

Linking War Claims To The Buildup

Written by Jeff Marchesseault, Guam News Factor Staff Writer
Tuesday, 01 December 2009 15:43

GUAM - On Wednesday, the House Armed Services Committee of the United States Congress will be hold a hearing to review the Guam War Reparations process. According to a release from Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo's office, the hearing will focus on the war claims issue and its impact on the military buildup.

What is most promising about Wednesday's Congressional hearing is that Congresswoman Bordallo has raised the profile of Guam War Claims to the point that a man as influential as House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton would link the Guam War Claims issue to the military buildup, something that no other leader in Washington, D.C. has been willing to do thus far.

Now Is The Moment

The schedule for this hearing could not be timelier as Guam's leaders and residents are now in the process of reviewing the U.S. Department of Defense's Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the vast buildup on island.

As Congress reviews the Guam War Claims process -- thousands of miles across the Pacific through the lens of the DEIS, Guam is seeing, for the first time, the very real impact the massive military buildup will have on our island. No doubt, throughout both reviews, positive and negative impacts will be discussed. No doubt, some will support the measures and some will not. And, yes, each side will stand firm in its position.

But, clearly, the $70 million or so dollars that would pay for the war claims seems miniscule in the context of the $15 billion military buildup or the trillion-dollar United States Government budget. It would not take much to simply add a line item to an appropriations bill to put this nearly sixty-year issue to rest once and for all.

It's Not About The Money

But what must be conveyed to Chairman Skelton and all others in Congress is that the money is only a small part of what Guam's War Claims cause is about. Then, maybe more in Washington, D.C. would understand the link between war claims and the military buildup.

Many of Guam's grandparents and even our parents have been shaped by their experiences in World War II and in post-war reconstruction. The sacrifice and hardship endured and the witnessing of brutal war murders of family, friends and neighbors has left indelible impressions on their lives. And in post-war reconstruction, many were made to believe that their native tongue was a sign of ignorance and that they were to speak English only. The thousands of Marines and Sailors that swarmed our island home brought fear to many because while they were here to help, the clash of cultures was overwhelming for many.

In the decades since the liberation of Guam, many of our leaders have brought the cause of war claims to the steps of Congress only to be told to wait. And during those same years, we watched the military grow behind the fences that blocked us from Guam's most pristine prime properties. Then we saw Guam's vital role in the Vietnam conflict, in the evacuation of Kurds from Iraq, and in Desert Storm. During those same decades, Guam's patriotism never waned, as the Territory continued to rank among the highest in per capita enlistment into military service.

Then in the 1990s, we watched the military presence on Guam shrink, taking precious jobs and aggravating an already weakening economy. And with those jobs, family members left, leaving many on Guam with a sense of loss and betrayal. Still Guam's patriotism never waned, and our per capita military enlistment rate still ranked among the highest.

Now, the United States government is looking to reposition its troops in Asia, and Guam has become central to those plans. Yet, many on Guam are left wondering what is to be done about the issues still remaining from the past. Issues like war claims have been pushed aside in a rush to bring the Marines to Guam.

The conversation in Washington, D.C. about War Claims and the military buildup cannot center simply around money. If Members of Congress are to truly appreciate the magnitude of this issue to the people of Guam, the war survivors and their families, they must be willing to hear and understand the deep emotional ties that these people link to what their nation is asking of them today and the insensitivity with which they believe their beloved nation has treated their sacrifices and patriotism in the past.

'One Guam': Now DOD Can Show Us That It Means What It Says

Today, Guam is one step closer to receiving its hard-earned War Reparations, having found an understanding man in Ike Skelton, who is willing to give Guam its voice with the understanding that war claims and the military buildup, while not directly related, cannot be separated in the dialogue with Guam's people.

Like the occupation, liberation and subsequent reconstruction of Guam have all changed the lives of Guam's people forever, so too will this massive military buildup.

Although the War Claims issue is not believed to be one that will stop the buildup from occurring, it is one that can truly demonstrate the U.S.'s proclaimed commitment to a "one Guam concept," an approach that is vital to the people of Guam -- and an approach that is a stated commitment of the federal government.

Here is a release from Congresswoman Bordallo's office announcing the House Armed Services Committee's Wednesday hearing on Guam War Reparations:

House Armed Services Committee To Hold Hearing On Guam War Claims

November 30, 2009 – Washington, D.C. – Congresswoman Madeleine Z. Bordallo today announced that the House Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on assessing the Guam War Claims Process on Wednesday, December 2, 2009. Congressman Ike Skelton of Missouri, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, convened the hearing at the request of Congresswoman Bordallo and in accordance with an agreement reached regarding Guam war claims in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010.

The House Armed Services Committee invited Governor Felix Camacho and Speaker Judith Won Pat to testify at the hearing. Unfortunately, both are unable to attend due to prior obligations but the Committee, at the request of Congresswoman Bordallo, has agreed to allow Senator Ben Pangelinan and Senator Frank Blas, Jr. of the 30th Guam Legislature to testify in lieu of the Governor and Speaker. Assistant Secretary Anthony "Tony" Babauta of the U.S. Department of the Interior, the Honorable Mauricio Tamargo, former Chairman of the Guam War Claims Review Commission, and Mr. Tom Barcinas, a survivor of the occupation of Guam during World War II, have also been invited by Chairman Skelton to present testimony and are scheduled to attend. Mr. Barcinas has agreed to testify before the Committee and will discuss the importance of Guam war claims from a survivor's point of view. Mr. Barcinas' airfare was donated by the Guam Chamber of Commerce.

The hearing will focus on the issue of Guam war claims and its impact on community support for the military build-up. The hearing will not focus specifically on H.R. 44 as the Guam World War II Loyalty Recognition Act has already passed the House of Representatives in February and Committee's do not hold hearings on legislation that has already passed their respective body. The testimony and questions asked during the hearing will continue to build on the legislative record of Guam war claims.

"This hearing will continue to build on the legislative history for the issue of Guam war claims and help to better position ourselves for passing this legislation in the Senate in the future," Congresswoman Madeleine Z. Bordallo said today.

"I thank Chairman Ike Skelton and Ranking Member Buck McKeon for convening this hearing as it is an important step towards resolving the issue of Guam war claims. This hearing demonstrates the House of Representative's continued commitment to the importance of Guam war claims legislation. I appreciate Chairman Skelton's leadership in convening this hearing and adhering to the agreement made during conference negotiations on the FY10 NDAA to hold further hearings on this matter. I would also like to thank the Guam Chamber of Commerce for their gracious support in bringing Mr. Barcinas to testify before the committee. The Chamber's generosity reflects the community's strong support for H.R. 44 and recognizes the unique opportunity to make the case for Guam war claims before Congress. I thank Chairman Frank Campillo and President David Leddy, and the Board of Directors for their assistance in bringing Mr. Barcinas to testify on behalf of all those who endured during World War II. I look forward to hearing from the witnesses at the hearing this Wednesday and to continuing the fight to bring the issue of Guam war claims to President Obama's desk for his signature."

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