Friday, December 04, 2009

Committee supports war claims measure

Committee supports war claims measure

By Dionesis Tamondong • Pacific Daily News • December 4, 2009

House Armed Services Committee members expressed their support for the Guam war claims measure in a hearing that aimed to gather more evidence to sway the Senate into approving the provision.

"I am embarrassed that we need to be here today talking about this. It should have been resolved a long time ago," Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., a committee member, said during yesterday's hearing in Washington, D.C.

Two Guam senators, a war survivor, and the former chairman of the Guam War Claims Review Commission were among those who testified in support of a bill that would compensate those killed on Guam during World War II and living survivors.

While the House has supported Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo's war claims bill, the measure has consistently stalled in the Senate.

Questions during yesterday's hearing focused on the objections raised by Senate members during final negotiations on the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act.

Earlier this year, the war claims provision was tacked onto the military spending bill but rejected by ranking members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Michigan Sen. Carl Levin and Arizona Sen. John McCain objected to, among other things, payments for spouses and children of Guam's war survivors who have since died.

Levin and McCain offered to keep Bordallo's provision if the claims were awarded solely to those killed during the war and to living survivors of the occupation, but Bordallo didn't accept their offer.

During yesterday's hearing, Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., asked whether heirs of occupation survivors who have since died should be eligible for claims.

Mauricio Tamargo, former chairman of the commission that came to Guam to investigate the war claims process, said they should. "The Guam War Claims Review Commission included survivors in its recommendations strictly as a matter of parity because that is how all claim programs were administered," he said.

Guam Sen. Frank Blas Jr. spoke in the place of the many war survivors who have since died or are too frail to attend the hearing. He said many are upset that the federal government has failed to compensate its fellow Americans but will ask more from them when the U.S. military expands its facilities and beefs up its personnel on Guam.

"There is a demoralizing sentiment that is growing among the survivors. This sentiment is that the United States government is waiting for all of the war survivors to pass on so that this issue will not have to be dealt with," Blas said in his testimony. "Although my upbringing has taught me to apologize for this statement, I chose not to and challenge our nation's leaders to prove that opinion wrong."

Guam Sen. Ben Pangelinan reminded committee members that the island's people don't expect the long-sought payments to change the past.

What they do expect, he said, is "recognition of a people's sacrifice in upholding the honor of America, maintaining their dignity in the fight for their liberty, and demonstrating steadfast loyalty remain priceless."

War survivor Tom Barcinas and Assistant Secretary Tony Babauta of the U.S. Department of the Interior also testified before the committee.

Committee Chairman Ike Skelton committed to including provisions of the Guam World War II Loyalty Recognition Act in the National Defense Authorization Act for next fiscal year if other legislative vehicles are not successful, Bordallo said.

"The commitment from the Chairman reiterated the need for the hearing to build a stronger legislative history that the Senate can reference in future negotiations," she said.

Additional hearings on Guam's war claims will be scheduled.

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