It couldn't have come at a more significant time and just as Guam commemorates 75 years since the invasion by the Japanese during World War II, the Senate has passed legislation for war reparations.
It's being described as a historic day for our island, with Guam Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo's chief of staff, Matt Hermann, saying, "This I know it means a lot to the people of Guam. There's a lot of important meetings of getting this done. It feels really good. It's because it's been a longstanding injustice for the people of Guam, and we're well on our way in closing this very painful chapter in the history of Guam."
Today the congresswoman announced the Senate passed the war claims bill included in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017. Herrmann added, "Basically it authorizes the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission to establish a war claims process and it would pay claims to survivors and to the descendants of those that died during the occupation. And it sets up a process or begins the process for the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission to establish regulations and puts forth what would be required for people to actually submit claims."
According to the Guam World War II Loyalty Recognition Act, it lists payments to Guam victims from $10,000 to $15,000 and to descendants of survivors of $25,000. "Now that the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission can begin a claims process we'll certainly get a better sense of the total cost, it's going to be and how many people have been impacted, but unfortunately no good estimates exist right now," Herrmann added.
Herrmann meanwhile says the congresswoman hopes to work with Governor Eddie Calvo in petitioning the incoming Donald Trump administration to hold Guam's treasury harmless in the payment of claims. "In order to address the concerns that have been raised by fiscal conservatives, we established an offset and that offset is saying any amount of Section 30 funding above the amount of Section 30 funding that was received for Guam in FY14 could be used to pay for claims to pay for war claims," he explained.
In response to the news, Calvo says he hopes to work with both Bordallo and the Trump Administration to find ways to least burden the funds that are coming into GovGuam. "But I feel this is a big moral victory. It's passage shows that the Congress recognizes the people of Guam did suffer and suffered greatly in world war II so for that I'm very thankful," the governor said.
Bordallo says securing the passage of this bill was a long and difficult process and thanks her predecessors in Congress along with members of the Guam War Claims Commission. Vice Speaker BJ Cruz was appointed to the commission more than a decade ago and said, "But I'm very happy about the fact and the think the most important thing is this addresses the first thing in our commission report which was recognition that the act itself, that's the reason it's called the Loyalty Act - the commission wanted the Congress to recognize the suffering of the people of Guam and to recognize the loyalty they displayed during that occupation period."
Bordallo also hopes to work with Guam War Survivors Memorial Foundation president Frank Blas, Jr., who told KUAM News, "What this bill ultimately means is closure for our survivors, it means that for all the suffering and atrocities they had to experience and go through, that a nation they had so loved, now recognizes them for everything they had to go through. So on behalf of the survivors, they waited far too long, and I think it's a positive step forward."
He says the group's plans for a lawsuit against the feds will be put on hold for now. Meanwhile, the bill goes before President Barack Obama is who expected to sign it into law. Once signed, the Foreign Claims Commission has six months to establish the rules and regulations that would govern the claims process with one year period to file claims.
Herrmann said, "So claims conceivably wouldn't really likely be paid until 2018 or after, so we would have time to work with the Trump Administration to make our case and work with a One Guam approach to seek that additional appropriation."
Aside from War Claims, the FY17 NDAA includes several other provisions such as full funding for Guam's Fiscal Year 2017 military construction program including $67.5 million in additional funding for water and wastewater upgrades. The measure also frees up funding for the construction of a cultural repository. One provision that didn't make it into the NDAA was the mandate to provide U.S. Customs and Immigration Services with flexibility in administering the H-2B program on Guam.