Thursday, July 31, 2008

Guam's Self-Determination

Guam's self determination: Where dreams really do come true
Thursday, 31 July 2008

Entertainment comes in many different forms and our political self determination process on Guahan shouldn't be reduced to such levels.

It is clear that many before me have tried in vain to change political relationship (and they should be commended), but I am reminded constantly that people in leadership (both here and in the continent) shape our destiny. Where might you be in this script? What character do you play and whose line is up next?

Perhaps we might find that the self-determination process on Guam is complicated because those who have held office have not done enough or have become too jaded over the negotiations with our administering power. Perhaps we have been too apathetic to think that this is the way it has been for so long that we just don't want to see real change.

Yet in my mind, this is insufficient and further dictates our efforts to move forward and start anew if we are willing to share the load. I hope that I can share with you a story so that the message is loud and clear. It is a story filled with hopes and dreams about one who has been in the movement from the sidelines and now speaks to you today. Her name is Maria Nieves Materne and she is my auntie, my mentor, and my friend. It is through her that I understand what self-determination is and what it is not. Many people know this person and she deserves our attention today.

I first met Auntie Nieves last year around this time, although her family and my family went to school together over the years. She knew who my family was because some of her older siblings went to school with my mom and uncles. Auntie Nieves is my reminder of the good ole days when Uncle Angel Santos jerked our consciousness in the 1990's. I was in high school then, but was intently listening, reading and watching from the sidelines.

She was there, right beside our Uncles and Aunties who took a stand over the Chamorro right to own property in our homeland. I was an altar server at that time. I watched Uncle Angel line his kids in full formation at the Barrigada Church after I opened it at 5 a,m. (with the help of Tan Marian Siket) preparing for the 6 a.m. Mass. Uncle Angel was praying to a God that his mother and father, Tan Amanda and Tun Angel knew because it is what they were taught by their parents who lived during the hell years of World War II.

Uncle Angel's gaze was so penetrating that I grew to fear this man who eventually became our hero. He reminds us today to be strong and to push forward with our dream of self-determination. I grew to be afraid of this man that I only knew from a distance because he helped to move us in the right direction. Natural born leaders, like prophets, are feared because they speak the truth. Yet, Auntie Nieves knew him and stood by his side just like the many others who came to his aid.

Like Uncle Angel Santos, Auntie Nieves always gives of herself, no matter the cost to others and for the sake of the next generation. She has always said that to be Chamoru, you must be humble, self-less and never wanting the more. She is almost always by my side and I am very happy that she is now mentoring me to be the gentleman and steward of Guahan, the place that always has something to give even if we don't have it. It is with this kind of steadfast diplomacy that we must use to see to it that our dream of self-determination comes true. We owe it to the next generation of island children who are watching the adults intently at our next move. Auntie Nieves teaches me to be humble and to always remember that everything in life is about relationships – how we treat each other and how we react towards each other.

Self-determination today calls for drastic measures that can be accomplished if we all work together. If you are someone who comes from a different background, whether ethnic or racial, please stand with your Chamoru today who seeks a better life for ALL who call Guahan home. Rise my friends from the ashes of the past, forgive others, and let us move forward. We must educate everyone on this island that the Chamoru has been treated unfairly, unjustly, and unequivocally dehumanized throughout the centuries. Without adequate education or tolerance, our dreams can never come to fruition. If you wish to help, contact your leaders today and encourage them to collect more names on our registry and draft a plebiscite so that everyone can have their input into the process. Non-Chamorus should also help with constructing this plebiscite because Guam is home too.

I remain steadfast that our quest for self-determination is alive and well and will continue forward no matter the cost. We must be humble and determined that we will see a plebiscite drafted so that we can vote in the 2010 elections. We need everyone's cooperation during this process and it is with great hope that we determine what we have dreamed about for centuries. Our pride as individuals should take the back seat so that we can move forward together. Every script is written so that the next generation understands that peace can be achieved if we really want it. There is no more time to waste and with your help, all things can be achieved.

So let's work with our sisters and brothers from the continent so that greed and selfishness does not take precedence. Our very dignity as a collective multicultural community is dependent upon competent and capable servant leaders who can see this through to the very end. Stand in solidarity with your Chamoru sisters and brothers who have long awaited this dream of self-determination.

Jonathan Blas Diaz
2008 Guam Congressional Delegate Candidate

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Fiji Government Yields to Bottled Water Company Pressure

Fiji government yields to bottled water company pressure
By Chris Bolwig on Jul 26, 2008 in International, Society comments(0)
A proposed tax on bottled water in Fiji has been scrapped following pressure by an industry lobby group on the island.

The interim Fijian government repealed its 20 cents per litre tax on bottled water following the factory closure of Fiji Water, the last of the bottled water companies to stop operations after the cabinet introduced the new taxation system.

Bottled water companies on the South Pacific island have welcomed the move. According to Fiji One News, the Fiji Bottled Water Institute, which represents nine companies, has said that consultations need to be held first on any future tax proposals before they are implemented.
Industry spokesman Jay Dayal said, “We are very pleased that at least the prime minister and attorney general intervened in the matter and resolved the whole issue. And now the bottlers will get together with the government and work out a form of compensation that is suitable to the government for the resource that we are extracting.”

Last year bottled water exports from Fiji counted for around $130 million, in an industry employing more than 700 people.

However, conservationists have pointed to the growing environmental costs associated with bottling water in Fiji. Typically plastic bottles are transported from China and then sent around the world to consumers in the United States and Europe.

A BBC Panorama documentary released earlier this year also highlighted the fact that a third of Fijians are still living without access to clean water. It showed that people were falling ill and dying of typhoid and other diseases related to contaminated water.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Ypao Condos Approved

Commission approves condos:
32-story towers OK'd to be built next to Ypao Beach
By Gaynor Dumat-ol Daleno
Pacific Daily News
July 25, 2008

The undeveloped, beachfront land next to Ypao Beach Park is one step closer to being transformed into a 646-unit condominium complex that includes two high-rise buildings.

The Guam Land Use Commission voted 4-2 in favor of the project's application to build 159 more condo units than the 487 the project would have been limited to because of land constraints.

The application has been on and off the commission's agenda since it was filed in May and has met opposition from some of the area's longtime residents.

The commission's action allows the developer, Access Ypao Inc., to build 32 percent more condo units than what Guam's current land-use rules allow.

The project is called Ypao Luxury Condominiums.

The approval of Access Ypao's project, however, is subject to a long list of conditions.

The conditions include the developer's financial contributions of about $300,000 for the renovation and upkeep of the Ypao Beach restrooms and a process to monitor compliance with the conditions attached to the GLUC approval.

The two commissioners who voted against the 646-unit project were Conchita Bathan and Frank G. Blaz.

Commission Chairman Jay Lather, commissioners Art Salomes, Lawrence Rivera and Peter Gill supported the developer's application.

'Too much'
Bathan said the project's request to build 32 percent more units than what would normally be allowed "is too much." Blaz failed to get the majority of his fellow commissioners to keep the project's number of units from going beyond the normal threshold.

"I didn't hear anything persuasive that we have to change the standard," Blaz said.

But the commission's chairman said the commissioners shouldn't just focus on the project's proposed number of units. Lather said the units will have smaller floor space, with one or two bedrooms each instead of larger units with more rooms.

"We shouldn't look at number of units. What we should look at is impact," Lather said.

If the project had proposed three-bedroom units and then asked to be allowed 159 more units above its limit, Lather said his response would have been to tell the developer, "You're out of your mind."

Lather said it's a flaw in Guam's land-use rules to use number of units instead of floor space in computing whether a project meets or exceeds density standards.

In this case, if the developer wanted to build within its 487-unit cap, but then makes the units larger and design massive buildings that obstruct views of the bay, the commission wouldn't have a say, Lather said.

"There's little that we can hold the developer's feet to the fire for," Lather said.

Bull-cart trail
The commission's approval also was conditional upon a resolution of the previously raised bull-cart trail issue.

An ancient bull-cart trail bisects the two lots that will be the project's site.

The Chamorro Land Trust Commission has jurisdiction over the trail, and has provided the GLUC with a letter indicating it would agree to the relocation of the trail.

Attorney Jay Arriola, who opposes the project, said the developer doesn't own all of the property it seeks to develop because it doesn't have title to the bull-cart trail.

And Democratic Sen. Ben Pangelinan, in a letter to the Chamorro Land Trust yesterday, said he doesn't see how the developer's proposal benefits the local people, who are beneficiaries of the Land Trust.

Any further action by the Land Trust on the bull-cart trail issue should allow beneficiaries of the trust to state their position, Pangelinan said.

Simon Sanchez, the chairman of the Consolidated Commission on Utilities but speaking as a private citizen, said the $240 million project would still allow the developer a $36 million profit even if it was limited to a 487-unit project.

"Let's not forget the sins of the past by allowing all the growth that money can buy," Sanchez said.

Area resident Jackie Arriola Marati said part of her concern is the traffic congestion a project of such scope would create.

The island also doesn't have the capability to fight high-rise fires, Marati said.

Sanchez said the traffic issues raised by some of Guam's residents were ignored by the Land Use Commission, even though the project includes 1,000 parking stalls.

"We think the GLUC is setting a dangerous precedence" by allowing developers to build beyond limits set by Guam law, Sanchez said.

Friday, July 18, 2008

GPA Bills May Increase

Power bills may increase:
GPA wants another fuel surcharge hike
By William B. Martin Jr.
Pacific Daily News • July 18, 2008

Plan to find a way to reduce your spending in the next few months so you can pay higher power bills.

The Guam Power Authority asked the Public Utilities Commission in June to approve an increase to the Levelized Energy Adjustment Clause, or fuel surcharge, portion of customer bills. It once again cited rising fuel costs as the reason behind the increase.

If approved, Guam residents can expect to pay an additional 7.3 percent of their total bill, or about $17.33 on an average 1,000 kilowatt-hour monthly consumption rate, the commission docket states.

Simon Sanchez, chairman of the Consolidated Commission on Utilities, said that, if passed, the increase would push the fuel portion of power bills to about 75 percent.

"We all see the prices at the pump," GPA General Manager Joaquin Flores said. "We must all be aware of how volatile (the oil market) is right now."

The adjustment proposal comes a little over a month after an emergency LEAC adjustment hit islanders' wallets to the tune of a 10 percent increase.

Flores said the June adjustment was an emergency measure to recover fuel costs lost over the previous LEAC cycle, while the proposed increase is the result of a "mechanical" review process that takes place every six months.

Sanchez said the adjustment is designed to account for another six months of fuel purchases.

"The hope is when you make these fuel cost projections," he said, "it will hold six months, unless the (fuel) market goes crazy again."

Acting Gov. Michael Cruz yesterday signed a loan document for the government of Guam to settle its $13.8 million streetlight debt to the Guam Power Authority.

The debt caused the power authority to begin disconnecting village streetlights earlier this year, prompting the Guam Legislature and administration to pass legislation to borrow money to pay off the debt.

"We're closing a chapter -- hopefully -- in our history that really needs to be closed," said Cruz.

The payment will offset a 2- to 6-percent base rate increase to customer power bills that would have gone into effect last month. If the debt hadn't been paid, the increase would have gone into effect this year instead of next year.

Sanchez said the payment also will take some $5.3 million off the top of fuel costs, which, if not recovered, would require an even higher fuel surcharge increase.

Flores reminded Cruz and other government officials that a shortfall still exists in the payment of current streetlight operations and will need to be addressed or the problem will arise again.

Bureau of Budget and Management Research Director Bertha Duenas said there is a provision in Public Law 29-85 that allows General Fund money to be used for this fiscal year's shortfall -- around $1.2 million -- but questioned why lawmakers didn't allow the provision for future years.

"Why don't we just do everything as we should in one bill?" she asked.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Farmers Face Difficulties

Farmers face difficulties:
Farmers co-op would help agricultural leaseholders
By Steve Limtiaco
Pacific Daily News
July 15, 2008

Dededo farmer Ernie Wusstig, who leases 20 acres of agricultural land from the Chamorro Land Trust, said there are many farmers who use their Land Trust property.

"But a lot of them aren't using it either," he said. "They're planting (junk) cars."

Wusstig, who is using his leased property to grow sweet corn -- which he sells along the roadside in Barrigada -- doesn't fault those who aren't using the land.

It's more expensive than ever to farm on Guam, he said, because of increases in the price of water and fertilizer. The water agency increased the price per gallon for agricultural accounts, and fertilizer that used to cost $600 a ton now costs $1,200.

And there also isn't a consistent market for local produce, he said -- one of the reasons he sells produce on his own instead of to local grocery stores. Grocery stores sometimes buy local only until their off-island shipments arrive, he said.

But ongoing efforts to form a farmers cooperative could change all that, he said, and make it easier and profitable for those with agricultural leases from the Land Trust to begin using their land.

Of the 3,666 leases issued by the Land Trust, 955 are one acre or larger, which means they are considered agricultural leases.

The Land Trust requires agricultural leaseholders to use their land -- at least two-thirds must be cultivated at all times -- or risk losing it, but that requirement hasn't been enforced since the Land Trust lease program was implemented nearly 13 years ago.

Land is leased for 99 years to Chamorros -- defined by law as those who are citizens because of the Organic Act, or their descendants.

"With the military coming in, we're going to be using more produce. I believe our farmers can supply that. We've got to plan it out good and make it work," said Wusstig, who is vice president of the new cooperative's board of directors.

The involvement of Land Trust leaseholders is critical to the success of the new farmers cooperative because the Land Trust administers 90 percent of the island's agricultural land, particularly the larger parcels, said Bob Barber, agricultural economist for the University of Guam's Cooperative Extension Service.

Wusstig said the Cooperative Extension Service currently is working on grants for a feasibility study and is entering into an agreement with the Guam Hotel and Restaurant Association to begin supplying local produce to its member businesses.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Fallen Soldiers Mourned

Fallen soldiers mourned: Injured Guardsman now in stable condition
By William B. Martin Jr.
Pacific Sunday News • July 13, 2008

Friends and family are mourning the loss of two Guam Guardsmen killed serving our country.

Sgt. Brian S. Leon Guerrero, 34, a father of three from Tamuning; and Spc. Samson A. Mora, 28, a car-show enthusiast from Dededo who was engaged to be married, died of injuries sustained when their vehicle struck an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan Thursday.

The explosion also seriously injured another Guam Guardsman, Spc. Kalani Echang, 25, from Mangilao.

Leon Guerrero's wife, Emely, said her husband was a fine man.

"He was a great soldier, a great father and a great husband," she said. "I'm very proud of him and his children are very proud."

Emely Leon Guerrero also said she sends her love and prayers to the Mora and Echang families.

Brian Leon Guerrero's mother, Rose Pangelinan, said her son told her after his first deployment that he would never come back the same. "That was his third deployment," she said. "It's breaking my heart so much."

Mora family
Agnes Mora said Samson Mora, her brother-in-law, would be missed.

"He was a good guy," she said, unable to hold back her emotions. "We love him very much and we miss him."

Samson Mora's father, Abraham Mora, said he hasn't had the chance to fully process his son's untimely death.

Sheila Indalecio of Mangilao -- who's son Jaeden is godson to Samson Mora -- said that upon Samson Mora's return, he was set to marry her friend, Rosanna Castro of Ordot, who she said is currently off island with family.

"(Rosanna) was his high-school sweetheart, so you're talking about a very long relationship," she said. "She was anticipating his return so they could get married."

The deaths of the two Guardsmen bring the number of sons of Micronesia killed since the War on Terror began in 2001 to 28. More than 4,100 U.S. servicemen have been killed since the start of the war.

Guam Delegate Madeleine Z. Bordallo said she, like the rest of Guam, is mourning the deaths of two of the island's sons.

"I join the people of Guam in mourning the deaths of Sgt. Brian Leon Guerrero and Spc. Samson Mora," Bordallo said. "We also pray for Spc. Kalani Echang, who was seriously injured in the same incident in Afghanistan."

On Friday, Gov. Felix Camacho and acting Gov. Mike Cruz said the two fallen soldiers "are heroes of our nation whose memory will live on in the hearts and minds of a grateful people."

Bordallo spoke with the families of both Brian Leon Guerrero and Samson Mora to offer her condolences, according to a news release from her office. She also spoke to Echang's family. "Our island mourns the loss of life and we honor their service to our nation. Their ultimate sacrifice for our freedom is a debt that we can never fully repay," Bordallo said. "We will remember them as heroes and we will do whatever we can to help ease the burden on their families."

Mora was featured in a 2004 Pacific Daily News "Cruising" article, having transformed his 1997 Toyota Tacoma into a car-show winner.

Samson Mora's cousin, Charlita Harper, wanted the people of Guam to know that Samson Mora was also a member of the Honor Guard, those responsible for giving fallen soldiers a proper military burial.

"That was very prestigious to him," she said.

Pangelinan said she will pray for all the sons of both Guam and the nation who remain in areas where conflict is taking place.

"I hope and pray that all the soldiers come back safe," she said. "I know Brian belongs to God. Right now he is safer than we are. I love him so much."

The three soldiers left for Afghanistan in January as members of the Guam Army National Guard 3rd Platoon, Alpha Company, 1/294th Infantry Battalion. About 180 soldiers from Alpha Company of the Guam Army National Guard are serving in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

According to a release from the Guam National Guard, Echang was in stable condition and responsive at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, after suffering injuries to his lower body.

The wounded soldier called his wife, Helory Echang, yesterday morning. He awaits transport to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, the release stated.

The families of Brian Leon Guerrero and Samson Mora have been assigned casualty assistance officers, said Maj. Gen. Donald Goldhorn, adjutant general for the Guam National Guard. He and other Guard officials yesterday visited the families.