Tuesday, December 29, 2009

‘Don’t’ take our lands’

‘Don’t’ take our lands’

Wednesday, 30 December 2009 04:19
by Therese Hart | Variety News Staff

Public hearing raises anti-military sentiments

LAND is one subject that has always stirred the hearts and minds of the Chamorro people and yesterday’s public hearing at the legislature once again charged emotions as landowners opposed the military’s plan to take their properties.

The public hearing also raised anti-military sentiments among Chamorro activists, who also took the opportunity to discuss the decolonization issue.

Lands that their ancestors fought for are passed down from one generation to the next until they were indiscriminately taken away “for purposes other than sustaining and nourishing the family clan,” said Gloria B. Nelson.

Nelson was one of over 40 people who submitted testimony during yesterday's public hearing on Resolution 258, which drew angry property owners who are wary of federal government possibly condemning lands under its eminent domain power.

Nelson and her children provided testimony in support of the resolution, which strongly opposes any land condemnation by the federal government for use in the military buildup.

No decision yet

David Bice, executive director of the Joint Guam Program Office, was invited to the hearing but did not make it. He sent a letter to Sen. Judi Guthertz, chairman of the military buildup committee.

In the Dec. 24 letter, Bice stated that the Department of Defense personnel were prohibited from providing testimony on the resolution since it could be interpreted as “predecisional actions,” which would indicate that alternatives “contemplating the acquisition of non-DoD lands will be selected.”

Bice said DOD has not made any decisions regarding which alternative will be selected or whether acquisition of land would be necessary. He added that strict procedure would be followed if DOD decides it is necessary to acquire land.

This means that the Department would seek an agreement with landowners and pay fair market value for any lands acquired.

Not for sale

However, it was clear during yesterday's hearing that property owners, especially those who own property in the Sasayan Valley, are not interested in selling their lands to the military.

They stressed their intention to keep their lands for future generations.

Juan M. Unpingco, 85, who owns properties in Marbo Cave, supported the resolution, saying how he had worked extremely hard to save enough money and sacrifice all his savings to buy property so that he could use it for his livelihood which has paid off, since it has helped him to pay his medical bills.

“I plan to deed it to my children upon my death. I anticipate that my children would do otherwise and deed the property onto the next generation,” said Unpingco.

Lourdes Sgambelluri Pisarri, whose grandfather bought the whole Sasayan Valley and used it to sustain his family, said she spoke to Capt. Neil Ruggiero from JGPO in June and told him that she would not allow anyone to enter her property for any purpose.

Pisarri said Ruggiero stated that much of the military land was saving the lives of various animals, as in a conservation area for birds. She said it unnerved her that the federal government would first consider displacing people who have lived on their lands for years, who use the land to farm for food.


Superior Court Judge Steven Unpingco, a resident of the Sasayan area, also supported the resolution. “Guam will need every square meter of land to keep our community safe. The upshot of condemning GovGuam land is that Guam's responsibility to provide for the future and Guam's ability to secure financing will be stifled and the impact will be devastating to the quality of life for all,” said Unpingco.

If government land is taken and the local leaders are amenable to these takings, Unpingco said, this would mean more public lands are susceptible to further takings because of the unpredictability and contingencies of war and national security interests.

Unpingco said if the Marines’ relocation were to happen, then GovGuam will have no choice but to take away private land from residents and the intergovernmental domino effect “will change Guam's demographics and way of life forever.”

“As described by a high ranking military official in a cable news documentary interview, “after the buildup, Guam will be a floating battleship,” he added.

Unpingco said the U.S. military has a moral duty to consider the history of the federal landtakings and reflect on the “dark chapter of land being taken away by coercion and oppression.”

Guthertz said the hearing brought up many concerns that cannot be ignored. Guthertz said the resolution will send a clear message to Washington that land condemnation by the federal government will not be tolerated.