Senator Rory Respicio: "Respect the CHamoru people"
Rory J. Respicio
There is a time for talk and there is time for action. I congratulate I Mina' Trentai Kuåttro Na Liheslaturan Guåhan (the 34th Guam Legislature) for rising to the occasion and taking decisive action to stand by the Chamorro Land Trust and the cause of self-determination.
Earlier this month, both the Chamorro Land Trust and the self-determination plebiscite came under assault by the federal government in the District Court of Guam and challenged by President Donald Trump's Justice Department.
First there was a ruling against the self-determination vote by a federal judge, which was followed by the public announcement that the Department of Justice (DOJ) was seeking a consent decree to essentially overturn the Chamorro Land Trust.
The injustice of Guam's status
Both these issues go to the heart of the injustice of Guam's status as a colony. Uncomfortable as this truth may be, and despite the fact that our colonial status is in direct contravention to American ideals of democracy and consent of the governed, Guam has been an American colony for over a century. Our destiny ultimately rests in the hands of a president we did not elect, and a Congress we have no vote in. Ignoring this history and pretending our political status does not matter can only impede our ability to move forward and progress as a united community.
There have been many initiatives over the decades to address this injustice. None have been more crucial than the decolonization vote to deal with Guam's political status and the Chamorro Land Trust, which attempts to redress the taking of lands from the native inhabitants by colonial powers with the creation of a perpetual trust to provide land for housing, and development to financially support new neighborhoods.
Action by federal authorities against these initiatives calls for a strong response by Guam's leaders to defend them. We should all be pleased that a One Guam approach has formed around this issue. Spearheaded by Vice Speaker Therese M. Terlaje, who obviously had to bypass Rules and Federal Affairs Committee Chairperson Sen. Mike San Nicolas, the Guam Legislature voted 12-0 to approve two resolutions to appeal the decision on the decolonization vote and to fight any effort by the Justice Department to dismantle the Chamorro Land Trust and the 4,000 leases that have already been issued.
Gov. Eddie Calvo supports both positions, and Attorney General Elizabeth Barrett-Anderson agrees to legally fight the threat to the Chamorro Land Trust, but is still considering the next legal step to take in the decolonization vote case.
After a public hearing at which the two resolutions received overwhelming support, the legislature promptly moved to act on them in a special session with overwhelming bipartisan approval. The only exception was Sen. San Nicolas, who gave a bizarre series of excuses for skipping out on voting on the resolutions one way or another.
San Nicolas argued for more time for debate even though the decolonization vote and the Chamorro Land Trust have been under discussion for literally decades. He said that this matter was being rushed even though we faced a deadline for filing an appeal in the decolonization vote case, and the immediacy of the need to respond to the DOJ letter on the Chamorro Land Trust. He dismissed the intelligence and passion displayed by both the legislators and people who testified in support at the public hearing as "emotional." And San Nicolas put forth the distraction of going to the United Nations instead of dealing directly with the challenges presented by the federal government.
To be fair though, San Nicolas' positions were consistent to previous stands he has taken against funding the Commission on Decolonization and Chamorro cultural programs.
However, it is to the credit of his colleagues that they were not swayed by such excuses and chose to act decisively on a bipartisan basis to take a principled stand, and face these challenges directly.
Talk is cheap and taking action is always harder to do. I commend the senators from both political parties who overwhelmingly chose to do what is right, instead of taking the easy path of hunting for reasons to do nothing.