Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Letter of Solidarity from Australia Regarding the Possibility of Chamorros Become a Native American Tribe

A Letter of Solidarity from Australia Regarding the Possibility of Chamorros Become a Native American Tribe:

Dear Hope Cristobal and all our Chamorro Friends

What distressing news this is. If the Chamorro Peoples become an internal tribe of the United States of America this will surely undermine your rights as a Non-Self Governing Peoples listed before the United Nations Committee on Decolonisation. Yet another stone is being thrown at the sovereign right of the Chamorro Peoples to the long-promised Act of Self-Determination. Without your Indigenous stewardship who will care for your ancestral lands and waters? We wish all Chamorro and supporters the strength, courage and clarity that you need to keep up the fight. You speak for all fair minded people - Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike. The day must surely come when Chamorro will be free. One day we will finally eradicate colonialism.

In lasting solidarity

Dr Zohl de Ishtar, Nobel Peace Prize 2005 nominee

And the Kapululangu Elders of the remote Aboriginal community of Balgo, Western Australia

Also the Peace Convergence Australia – a Citizen’s Protest against Militarisation including of the North West Pacific Ocean

Monday, September 29, 2008

Welcome to Guam, USA

"Welcome to Guam, USA"
Catherine Lutz
The MojoBlog

Guam, USA" is the tagline on the western Pacific island's license plates. It resonates with the fact that fully one-third of Guam's territory is occupied by US military installations, from the giant Anderson Air Force Base in the north, to the Naval Magazine, where deadly ordnance is stored, in the south. For there is nothing more American, in many ways, unfortunately, than a place bristling with weapons and soldiers.

Despite being 12 hours by plane from California (and just 3 from the Philippines), Guam has been under the control of the United States since 1898, with the exception of a few years of Japanese control in the 1940s. The US declared Guam's residents citizens of the United States in the wake of World War II, as it recognized that the accelerating global push for decolonization would make continued colonial occupation untenable. But this legal fig leaf did not fully cover: Guam remains on the UN's list of the world's few remaining colonial states.

Guam's license-plate slogan also highlights the irony that the islanders are treated as second-class citizens—they cannot vote for President, migrants from the US mainland and elsewhere have undue influence and control over their land and politics, and for years they were paid far less than American expatriates for the same work. The Chamoru people, Guam's original inhabitants, are now outnumbered by the families of expatriates and others brought in by the Pentagon to build its bases.

Guam illustrates what the US empire of bases is all about. The Pentagon's rationale for posting soldiers, airmen, sailors, and marines overseas is that they provide security to the places where they are located. The joke around Guam is that few, save employees in the Kremlin's nuclear targeting offices, even know where they are located. Meanwhile, toxic pollutants from the bases, and other dumping by the military, have left the island with the most basic insecurity—living with the biological time bomb these things represent. Just 30 miles long, the island has 19 Superfund sites, and high cancer rates.

Another common argument is that American bases serve as the vanguard of freedom and civilization. While locals were grateful when the US retook the island from the horrific Japanese occupation in 1944, the US immediately drew up plans to relocate all of Guam's people to a reservation in one small corner of the island and turn the rest into a bounty of military installations. The Pentagon ultimately settled for taking just one-third of the island's 212 square miles from the people who owned and farmed it.

US bases are often portrayed as purely defensive in orientation, but those in Guam have been used to wage wars thousands of miles away in Vietnam and the Middle East, wars that have had nothing to do with the security of either the US or the Pacific islands; every day for years tons of bombs were unloaded at the Naval Station, hauled across local roads and loaded onto B-52s at Anderson Air Force Base to be used for bombing runs over North and South Vietnam.

Finally, it is often argued that US bases provide economic advantages to locals. While US corporations and land speculators have benefited mightily from Guam's bases, the costs in social disruption and personal tragedies have been immense. Like bases elsewhere, those in Guam have brought higher rates of violence against women, auto crashes, and environmental and health damage, none of which the Pentagon includes in its accounting. In contrast to other US base sites, however, the neighborhoods around Guam's military facilities have provided fertile recruiting grounds: 70 of Guam's small population died in Vietnam, a rate three times the US average, and 11 have already died in Iraq.

The rhetoric from Washington and the punditry tell us that our bases are a gift to the world's people, and to US security. The reality on the ground, from Guam, to South Korea, to Iraq, to Vieques, tells a very different story.

A massive new military buildup is underway on Guam today as the US begins relocating 8,000 Marines from Okinawa and adding 40,000 more base-related civilians to the island’s population of 170,000. A women's group there, Fuetsan Famalao'an has led the way in drawing attention to the fallacy of each of these arguments for US basing, and the hypocrisy of imposing citizenship on a people while denying them the most fundamental human rights.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Guam's Haul Roads

Feds on island discussing haul roads
by Clynt Ridgell, KUAM News
Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A delegation of federal officials are on island working on the massive plan to overhaul Guam's roads in preparation for the military buildup. The amount of money it's going to take to get Guam's transportation infrastructure on the road to recovery is taking some very drastic twists and turns.

DPW Director Larry Perez says that his agency continues to meet weekly with federal officials about beefing up the haul road system in preparation for Guam's military buildup. This week key federal officials from organizations like the Joint Guam Program Office, Naval Facilities, Defense Access Roads, and the Federal Highway Administration are on Guam meeting with DPW engineers and their consultants from Parsons Brinkerhoff to discuss the improvement to Guam's roads, better known as haul roads, that are needed to handle the military buildup.

DPW director Larry Perez said the feds are out here to basically see if they agree with Guam's estimates. Originally the Governor's Office pegged these costs at $945 million then estimates were increased several times until they reached an estimate of roughly $4.5 billion, a figure produced with help from Parsons Brinckerhoff, Parsons Transportation Group, the Federal Highway Administration, the University of Phoenix, Arizona, central federal lands and others. Today Perez says that $4.5 billion figure has been cut in half.

"A lot of assumptions were clarified with these key officials and now we have a tally of roughly just under $2 billion that we're working on," Perez said. He says this drastic decrease is due to the fact that they now have a better understanding of the specifics of the haul roads projects after having met with more federal officials. This, despite the fact, that back in May, Perez returned from a trip to Washington DC with this to say.

"Bottom line at the end of the day it was not disputed the $4.5 billion is a requirement that was done by experts in the field," he stated. As KUAM has reported DoD was originally planning on building a brand new defense access road to run from the Naval base in the southern end of the island to Andersen Air Force Base in the northern end of the island at a cost of about $1 billion.
This idea was then changed to instead beef up existing roads because a brand new one would take too long to construct due to the environmental impact studies required by federal law.

Now the plan is to beef up an existing road that connects the Port Authority to NCTAMs which is currently the preferred but not necessarily the only potential site for basing the 8,000 Marines from Okinawa who will be transferred to Guam. The projected route to transfer constructions materials and other supplies will run from the Port Authority Road onto Rt. 1 or Marine Corps Drive then from Marine Corps Drive on to Rt. 8 or the road that passes through Mongmong Toto Maite alongside Tiyan past the tri-intersection in Barrigada to Rt. 16 or the road that passes by the Barrigada Post Office and down the overpass where it connects back to Marine Corps Drive and then on to NCTAMs road.

This was to be completed through a sort of step by step process in which federal funding would be given year by year beginning with $50 million for 2010. That figure too has changed. Perez said, "Right now they've identified something to the tune of $41 million that they can give up front they've given us half a million already for some NEPA studies."

With the figures constantly changing and no decision yet on what federal entity or combination of entities will fund the haul road buildup the only thing clear is that the feds will pay something.
"Bottom line, it's a federal statement the federal government is going to pay for these things and the local funds that we have will be earmarked for other areas that have been neglected for decades past," he said.

Once done with inspections they will submit their figures for a projected operations administration and maintenance budget for the years 2010 through 2014.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Guthertz: End Moratorium

Guam Investors Should Stay the Course

Heilala Tangitangi ‘o Salote Pilolevu


By Josephine Latu, Pacific Media Watch

AUCKLAND (Pacific Media Watch): Tongans gathered at the University of Auckland’s Fale Pasifika today to celebrate the launching of a new book by Professor ‘Ilaisa Futa Helu entitled Heilala Tangitangi ‘o Salote Pilolevu.

The book studies 23 Tongan compositions - some by the late Queen Salote – and was published in honour of the King’s sister, Princess Pilolevu Tuita.

The event also doubled as the official opening of the fledgling company that printed the book, ‘Atenisi Press.

‘Atenisi representative Palupula Sailosi presented a copy of the book to Princess Pilolevu’s daughter, Lupepau'u, as guest of honour.

Commending Helu on the achievement, she said: “It is by no means a small feat to dwell and analyse on what is hidden in the composition in tis book, especially by those by her majesty Queen Salote.”

The title translates loosely as “Weeping blossoms for Salote Pilolevu: An analysis of songs, poetry and love songs”.

Although Helu was unable to attend the launch, his appreciation was conveyed in a letter to the audience. This was read out by senior education lecturer Dr Linita Manu’atu, of AUT University.
Helu’s son Niulala also spoke as an agent of ‘Atenisi Press.

Niulala said ‘Atenisi Press planned to provide an equal opportunity for any Tongan to publish his or her work.

The press will also be able to produce local material that readers would not be able to find elsewhere.

He said the idea originally emerged as a way for ‘Atenisi University to make some extra income.

The independent educational institution, founded by his father in 1963, continues to struggle financially.

Although ‘Atenisi has traditionally been snubbed by Tonga’s elite classes, the press project was ultimately backed by a welcome donation from Princess Pilolevu.

Currently, works are being printed in Hong Kong, but edited in Tonga and New Zealand by Siaosi ‘Ilaiu and Wendy Pond.

Dr Manu’atu welcomed the publication of Helu’s book in the Tongan language, and hailed the ‘Atenisi Press plans to print in Tongan as well as English.

She said this enabled Tongans to access their own histories and literature in their native tongue.

“If the Tongan language cannot be used in print culture, then we have a long way to go,” she said.

Other works by Helu include Art of the community – The people’s art and critical essays.

He is currently working on Ko e Mo’ui faka-Tonga, about the lives and customs Tongans in their homeland and abroad.

Josephine Latu is a Masters in Communication Studies student at AUT University who is attached to the Pacific Media Centre as contributing editor for Pacific Media Watch.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Conference Aims to Strengthen Chamorro, Language, Culture

Conference aims to strengthen Chamorro language, culture
Friday, 19 September 2008
By Junhan B. Todeno
Variety News Staff

ORGANIZERS of the 3rd Annual Chamorro Conference yesterday finalized the program for the two-day gathering which aims to provide a forum for the new generation and the senior citizens to articulate their views on Chamorro language and culture.

Organizers of the upcoming 3rd Annual Chamorro Conference pose after their meeting yesterday at the Saipan World Resort. Photo by Raymond A Martinez

The conference is scheduled for Sept. 26-27 at the Saipan World Resort in Susupe.

Former Rep. Daniel O. Quitugua, the chairman of the organizing committee, said the conference will look into the language issue, particularly the compliance of Public School System with Article 15 of the CNMI Covenant which mandates the promotion of local language and culture.

He said they will make a “critical review” of the accomplishment of PSS on the educating children about Chamorro language and culture.

The primary objective of the conference, he said, is to discuss issues affecting local culture.

“We like to find out from the young generation how they can maintain and protect our culture,” said Quitugua, who is also a former Board of Education chairman.

The conference may ask lawmakers to pass measures that will help protect local culture.

Quitugua said they are expecting 200 participants from Guam, Tinian, Rota, Saipan and the Northern Islands.

Last year’s conference was held on Rota while Guam hosted the first conference

This year’s panelists will include Dr. Faye Untalan, Dr. Rita Inos, Dr. Benit Dungca and Dr. Tony Palomo.

Participants are expected to discuss indigenous rights, the political status and laws of the CNMI and Guam affecting Chamorros.

The CNMI panelists are Paz Younis, former Alvaro Santos, Jose Dela Cruz, Oscar Rasa, Quitugua, Gregorio Cruz and Vicente Santos while the Guam panel is composed of Joe Garrido, Tony Sablan, Hope Cristobal, Therese Terlaje, Ed Benavente and Michael Lujan Bevacqua.

After Centuries the Sakman Returns to Guam

Federalization Lawsuit an Uphill Battle

Lawsuit will be an 'uphill battle'
Fitial rep barred from DHS meeting in DC
By Agnes E. Donato

Gov. Benigno R. Fitial yesterday acknowledged the difficulty of overturning the law that will impose federal immigration rules on the Commonwealth next year.

“I know it's an uphill battle,” said Fitial, who is suing the U.S. government to stop the new immigration law from being implemented. But he also said, “I've always believed in doing the right thing. This is the right thing for our people.”

Fitial reiterated that by ignoring the objections he had raised since the law was in the drafting stage, the U.S. Congress left him no choice but to turn to the court. Negotiation, particularly in the case of the labor provisions at the center of his lawsuit, is no longer an option, he said.

Yet he protested the decision by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to bar local businesswoman Marian Aldan-Pierce from its meeting with the Marianas Integrated Immigration Task Force earlier this week in Washington, D.C.

According to reports, the task force shortly before the meeting got word that the DHS did not want any CNMI representative in the meeting because the DHS had not had a chance to review the then-just-filed lawsuit.

“My own representative was excluded from the meeting. And yet, [U.S. Virgin Islands Rep. Donna] Christensen is coming out and saying she wants the federal agencies working closely with the CNMI leaders? What kind of a statement is that?” asked Fitial.

Christensen, chairwoman of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs and sponsor of the CNMI immigration measure, has said she will continue to encourage the DHS and relevant federal agencies to consult the CNMI leaders as they move toward implementing the new law. She has also said lawsuit might put at risk the working relationship with the U.S. and CNMI government.

But Fitial said, “We're not risking anything [by filing this lawsuit]. To not do anything is to risk our livelihood.”

The governor said he hopes the CNMI Legislature will back him and provide the money for the suit. The U.S.-based Jenner & Block law firm is representing the CNMI government for a fee of $50,000 a month for a period of eight months. Top lawmakers have come out in public saying they oppose the lawsuit for two main reasons: they prefer to negotiate with the U.S. government, and the Commonwealth cannot afford a court battle against the deep-pocketed U.S. government.

“Whenever I hear people talk about the cost of this lawsuit, it makes me sad. They worry about $400,000. [If federalization happens] they will be worrying about their lives,” said Fitial.

He also ruled out a suggestion from some lawmakers to have the CNMI Attorney General's Office represent the CNMI government in the suit. He said the AGO does not have the expertise in U.S. constitutional matters that a firm like Jenner & Block possesses.

“We're looking for the best representation. I'm not saying that our Attorney General is not capable. But we're looking for experts,” the governor said. He added that his special legal counsel, Howard Willens, is working with Jenner & Block on the lawsuit.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

20 Years of Growth in 5

20 years of growth in 5:
Guam population will add 42,000 by 2013
By Gaynor Dumat-ol Daleno
Pacific Sunday News
September 14, 2008

During rush-hour traffic in Dededo, Tamuning and Tumon, cars often move at barely a crawl in bottleneck areas...

That's Guam today, with its population estimated at close to 173,000.

Add more than 42,000 people to that figure five years from now, according to data from a draft transportation plan.

"Guam will experience 20 years of population growth in just five years with the military buildup," the 2030 Guam Transportation Plan states.

The plan, which takes into account the U.S. military buildup, outlines massive projects that include widening and building new roads for civilian as well as military needs. The plan includes a mass transit system that would work for a lot more people than its current small pool of riders.

The military buildup has been projected to cost as much as $15 billion, and would include: relocating thousands of U.S. Marines and their families from Okinawa; expanding the Navy and Air Force bases; and building an Army ballistic missile defense facility.

By 2015, when the military buildup is expected to be complete, Guam's population will top 231,000, according to the report. Without the military buildup, it would take Guam at least two decades to reach that level of population growth.

The Department of Public Works plan proposes seeking a combination of funds from the Department of Defense, the Federal Highway Administration and other pockets within the federal government.

Some members of the community have voiced a mix of optimism and concern regarding the growth.

John M. Lee, who owns a Shell service station along Route 3, in the general area of the preferred site for a Marine base, said he welcomes the anticipated growth.

"Wow," was Lee's initial comment when he heard of the population growth projection.

A larger population means more opportunities for entrepreneurs such as Lee, who's also opening popular Japanese pastry shop Beard Papa's at Guam Premier Outlets.

But, at the same time, Lee would like to see Guam -- as a community -- prepare better to handle the projected growth. He offered the analogy of would-be parents who must learn parenting skills as best as they can before having children.

"If we are going to expect that," he said of the population surge, "we must do our homework."

And that homework, he said, includes establishing social safety nets and a system that makes sure quality of life for those who already call Guam home doesn't suffer.

Potential strain
Economist Joseph Bradley said the bottom line is that, yes, Guam can handle the projected growth.

"After all, we did so during World War II, and again during the Vietnam War," said Bradley, a senior vice president at the Bank of Guam.

Defense Department representatives have called the proposed buildup the biggest military move in Guam since World War II.

The host community, Bradley said, won't like the potential strain of that growth -- crowding, traffic congestion, sewer overflows and water shortages.

"Unless we make some rather enormous moves now, today -- which we should have made last year, or the year before -- if we don't do whatever we can in the civilian community to prepare for what we know is coming, we will come nowhere close to optimizing the benefits that we might still receive," Bradley said.

"It is time to make the tough decisions and take the aggressive actions that are needed for the prospective growth and prosperity of Guam. Given the global economic situation, we can't afford to wait," Bradley said.

Part of the challenge when 20 years of growth is compressed into five years is whether there will be enough homes for all the newcomers.

Between 1990 and 2000, Guam has seen a population growth rate of 14 percent.

In five years, if the plan's projection is correct, the number of people on Guam will surge about 24 percent -- that means one additional person for every four people who currently live on Guam.

There's no reason to doubt the population growth projection in the transportation plan, states SMS Research and Marketing Inc., a Honolulu research partner for PCR Environmental Inc. PCR has been selected to conduct a housing study for the government of Guam.

Accommodating a population of 215,000 by 2013 would require housing construction rates on Guam to increase by 40 percent to 50 percent, according to SMS.

"If ... the 215,000 projection is used, and there is no change in the housing production rate, Guam would need an additional 5,573 new units, or almost 1,115 units per year, between 2008 and 2013," SMS officials said.

Contrasting markets
The military buildup puts Guam's economic outlook in stark contrast with the gloom engulfing the housing market in the U.S. mainland.

In most of the nation, the number of new homes being built has fallen to lows not seen in decades, while home purchases have seen double-digit drops, according to wire news service reports.

In contrast, Guam faces an overall construction boom that's in the billions of dollars for both private-sector and military projects.

Based on the 2015 population projection, Guam would need about 7,500 more civilian housing units, said Nick Captain, president of Captain Real Estate. His company tracks local housing data.

The military also is expected to build houses within the proposed Marine base in the Finegayan area on Route 3. About 8,000 Marines and their 9,000 dependents are expected to move to Guam.

The bulk of the military buildup construction is expected to start in 2010 -- if the military receives all the environmental clearances it needs by early next year.

During the buildup's construction phase, 12,000 to as many as 20,000 additional construction workers are expected to be needed on Guam, and their count is included in the 2015 population projection.

The military, in an industry forum on Guam earlier this year, floated the idea of Olympic-village-style housing for the temporary workers. The worker housing could be converted into low-cost housing for Guam residents when the projects are completed, according to initial discussions between the local government and Defense Department representatives.

Captain emphasized that Guam is in a unique position of being perhaps the only U.S. location with guaranteed and significant major boost in population and economic growth within the next several years.

"Guam is looking at a phenomenal period of population and economic growth over the next five years, and there will be good and bad accompanying that growth," Captain said. "It is a phenomenal growth."

Guam currently has about 26,500 stand-alone housing units and approximately 5,000 condominium units, according to Captain's estimates. The vacancy rate for the stand-alone houses, or single-family dwellings, is around 10 percent at this time, he estimated.

"If we play our cards right, and the government makes good decisions, the quality of life will increase," Captain said.

Developing social safety nets for local residents is key to helping Guam residents as the island transforms into a much bigger community, Captain said.

Friday, September 12, 2008

More Financial Woes for GPSS

Financial problems continue to mount for GPSS
By Michele Catahay
Published Sep 12, 2008

The problems just keep rolling in at the Guam Public School System. Classes only started about a month ago, and now there's word schools could possibly shut down. The start of the new school year means the start of more problems as GPSS may have to close the gates on public campuses if the Department of Administration doesn't release nearly $3 million dollars to pay its outstanding balance to cover lunch meals for students.

GPSS owes approximately $2.9 million to the Department of Defense Defense Supply Center Philadelphia for 2005 leading up to the present. If that amount isn't paid in full, more than 22,000 students won't be able to have free or reduced lunch and breakfast. Federal programs administrator Ike Santos says GPSS was given notice that it could not place food orders after next week until the money is transferred to them, telling KUAM News, "They literally locked us out of the system in procuring the needed milk (which is fresh fluid milk), eggs, cheese, rice, bread and meat which are critical components that are needed for the school breakfast and lunch program."

While lawmakers passed and Governor Felix Camacho subsequently signed a bill into public law that provided the $2.9 million to settle the debt, Santos is now pleading with the island's chief executive to authorize DOA to release the money to avert schools from shutting down. He says the program has been going on for the last 39 years and this is the first time GPSS has been put on notice.

Explained Santos, "Most of our students are eligible for free and reduced lunch, as we said. This is the only means of nutritious meals that they get. We are appealing to the governor to allow the payment of $2.9 million to us immediately so we can insure that the National School Lunch and Breakfast Program is not suspended."

According to superintendent Dr. Nerissa Bretania-Shafer, assurances were made to the federal government that they would be wiring the outstanding payment as soon as it was released or by the end of next week, but has yet to receive any funding. "I know that the governor does have compassion for our students. This is not grandstanding," she assured. "This is really about making an appeal. So the students are provided the meals they need and that we wouldn't have to shut down the schools."

Meanwhile, Speaker Judi Won Pat (D) says the money could be available when the entire Government of Guam's budget is passed. She says GPSS could have covered the Child Nutrition Program if the money from the Territorial Education Facilities Fund was paid back by the Administration. ($4 million dollars was used to pay for the Ordot Dump.)

Speaker Won Pat said, "Those monies were paid to pay for the dump. What I'm saying to the Administration since that money was taken and not given to them, and now they're saying they're realizing some extra money is coming in this fiscal year and the revenue is going up [sic]. Then by all means start to pay back the $4 million and first address the Child Nutrition Program."

Dr. Bretania-Shafer's Letter to Governor Camacho

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Guam Primary Results

Bordallo, Aguon, Calvo finish strong in Primary
by Ronna Sweeney, KUAM News
Sunday, September 07, 2008

Low voter turnout may have been the key to having ballot tabulation for Saturday's Primary Election for Decision 2008 wrapped up shortly before 2am Sunday. In the race for Guam's congressional delegate, the incumbent Madeleine Bordallo took it by a landslide against Democrat challenger Jonathan Diaz. The tally - Bordallo got 8,766 votes, besting Diaz's 2,962.

In the all-important senatorial race, for the Democrats Frank Aguon, Jr. laid claim to the top spot, followed by B.J. Cruz and Ben Pangelinan. Sitting respectively at number four is Judi Won Pat who is closely trailed by Rory Respicio. Tina Rose Muna-Barnes took home the number 7 position, Adolpho Palacios came in at 8, trailed by Dr. David Shimizu at 9. And for the finishers in ranks 10-16 the list saw Dr. Judi Guthertz, Joseph Leon Guerrero, Matt Rector, Rosanna San Miguel, Robert Benavente, Phillipe Cruz and Luis Duenas.

In the Republican senatorial race, Eddie Calvo came in at number one, with Jim Espaldon at number 2 and Ray Tenorio at number 3. Frank Blas, Telo Taitague, Frank Ishizaki, and Mark Forbes follow thereafter. And rounding out the listing of 10 members of the GOP are Doug Moylan, Jesse Lujan and Dr. Dennis Borja.

View real-time Primary Election results by clicking hereStream KUAM's Election Night specialResults from the UOG exit poll

Pan Pacific HIV Conference


HIV positive people, educators and support workers from around the Pacific gathered in Auckland last week to discuss the realities of HIV in this part of the world. Bain Duigan observed the conference from within and filed this report to GayNZ.com.

AUCKLAND (GayNZ.com/Pacific Media Watch): The four-day Pan-Pacific Gathering for HIV+ People 2008 got off to a great start this past week with a welcoming powhiri at Waipapa Marae, which was in stark contrast to the unwelcoming suggestion from Niue's director of health, Dr Sitaleki Finau, that the Pacific's positive people should be isolated on islands similar to leper colonies.

That shocking statement formed a backdrop for the conference and was a reminder to the more than 100 delegates from all over the Pacific, including Papua New Guinea and Australia, that prejudice and backward ideas still exist.

Media interest in the conference was high because of Dr Finau's comments, prompting TVNZ to send along two camera crews to the conference's opening day to gauge reaction.

Conference organiser Bruce Kilmister, CEO of Body Positive Auckland, stated publicly that "Dr Finau needs to educate himself first before he makes such ridiculous comments."

Speaking to GayNZ.com during the conference, a spokesperson for the Niuean government eventually distanced Niue's law and policy-makers from Finau's statement.

Day two of the conference, Wednesday, started with the especially topical theme of Human Rights.

Rosslyn Noonan, New Zealand's Chief Human Rights Commissioner, acknowledged the importance of Eve van Grafthorst, the six-year-old banned from an Australian kindergarten in 1986 because she had AIDS and who was subsequently embraced by a New Zealand kindergarten in Napier.

"Eve and her mother's contribution was in teaching New Zealand about AIDS through the bravery of being open," Noonan said. "They are an example of people who have made human rights real."

Former NZ AIDS Foundation head Warren Lindberg then spoke of how "human rights violations can clearly result in ill-health"

On Thursday, the delegates heard reaction to last year's controversial 'Swiss Statement' - "That individuals on effective treatment with an undetectable viral load and no sexually transmitted infections and good adherence to their drugs could consider unprotected sex as being as safe as using condoms."

Guest speaker John Rock from the Asia-Pacific Network Of People Living With HIV/AIDS explained the statement was only ever meant to be delivered to Swiss patients to enable them to discuss risk-taking with steady heterosexual partners. The conclusions were based on vaginal sex, not anal sex, so may not be relevant to men who have sex with men.

Peter Saxton, a NZ AIDS Foundation researcher, added: "It's a scandal that no further research has been undertaken in regard to how anal sex (rather than vaginal sex) relates to the Swiss Statement parameters of undetectable viral load, no sexually transmitted infections, drug adherence, to put the Swiss Statement in context."

Fellow researcher Tony Hughes from the NZAF then gave an overview on HIV and sexually transmitted infections among men who have sex with men. Delegates heard that in Auckland for the year ending July 2007 there were 92 cases of syphilis infection, 44 of which were detected in men who have sex with men and 4 of whom were HIV positive.

Hughes also brought the conference delegates up to date on how hepatitis C is emerging as a significant sexually transmitted infection in parts of Europe.

The conference was opened jointly by NZ's Minister of Pacific Island Affairs, Luamanuvao Winnie Laban and Papua New Guinea's first female cabinet minister, Dame Carol Kidu.

Other prominent New Zealand politicians added their weight to the conference, with lesbian MP Louisa Wall moderating the Human Rights session and Education Minister Chris Carter formally thanking the delegates during the closing ceremonies.

Workshops and sessions were held in different streams but a common theme to emerge over the four days was the difficulty many Pacific people face in disclosing their HIV+ status because of fears of discrimination, sometimes involving violence, for those in countries such as Fiji, Papua New Guinea and the Cook Islands.

Bruce Kilmister referred to that theme when he reflected on the conference as it ended yesterday afternoon.

"A highlight for me has been understanding more about the complexities that exist in indigenous settings in countries only a short flight away from New Zealand," he said.

"The stories we have heard have been both eye-opening and inspirational.

"The Pan Pacific 2008 HIV Conference has given us all new strength in our fight against HIV/AIDS. There is definitely more work to be done by all of us in the Pacific!"

Saturday, September 06, 2008

US DOE Witholding Funds

U.S. DOE withholding funds:
Feds want AG's opinion on who governs GPSS
By Beau Hodai
Pacific Daily News
September 8, 2008

The Guam Public School System won't receive any of the nearly $40 million in federal funds it expects to receive until it's clear who governs the school system.

GPSS Superintendent Nerissa Bretania-Shafer yesterday said she had been contacted by U.S. DOE Risk Management Services Director Philip Maestri on Saturday. He informed her U.S. DOE wouldn't provide any federal funding for fiscal year 2009, which begins Oct. 1, unless Guam's Office of the Attorney General provides an opinion as to who has authority over the school system.

"Even though the funds may be delayed a few days, these are issues that need to be clarified," Bretania-Shafer said, noting that Maestri has repeatedly praised the progress the school system has made in meeting its corrective action plan.

The school system will maintain its high-risk grantee status unless it completes the corrective action plan requirements, which includes improving financial accountability and correcting procurement shortfalls.

Bretania-Shafer said a conference call has been scheduled for 7 a.m. Tuesday between Attorney General Alicia Limtiaco, Maestri and other members of U.S. DOE. The superintendent said she is optimistic that the AG's office will respond quickly.

Bretania-Shafer said this latest concern from federal education officials came on the heels of a letter she and the Guam Education Policy Board sent to Maestri in late August. She said the primary issue was related to protocol in dealing with the handling of federal funds.

"I have purview over federal funds. The (Guam Education Policy Board) has purview over me, but not over federal funds," said Bretania-Shafer. "How could (the board) hold me fully accountable when dealing with something that they are prohibited from dealing with?"

She also said DOE officials were unclear over what role the governor has in regards to the oversight and governance of GPSS.

The school system receives about $40 million in federal funds each year. With fiscal 2008 ending Sept. 30, money for federally funded programs will soon run out.

Some GPSS programs that stand to lose funding include special education, the Reading First program, the English as a Second Language program, Direct Instruction and Success for All, among others.

Bretania-Shafer said school officials have been considering alternatives if the federal funding is withheld indefinitely.

"We're going to have to appeal to the local government to help us carry the load that was carried by the federal government," Bretania-Shafer said. "Of the utmost concern to me are the funds for students with disabilities."

She said that she plans to meet with Gov. Felix Camacho soon and inform the Legislature of the situation once GPSS has assessed its financial situation internally.

"The governor wants to get this problem solved as quickly as possible, because we will continue funding these programs with local funding," said George Bamba, Camacho's chief of staff. "But, that will have a rippling effect throughout the government and other programs will suffer. We need to have this resolved by the end of the week."

School board Chairman Joe San Agustin expressed frustration last night with what he said is a lack of formal notification.

"We're waiting for this in writing, so we can respond to it accordingly," San Agustin said.

Friday, September 05, 2008

New Defense Minister Tackles Futenma

New Defense Minister tackles Futenma
Weekly Japan Update
Date Posted: 2008-09-05

An amicable relationship with Okinawa Prefecture’s top leaders has been established by Japan’s new Defense Minister, who has visited the country’s southernmost prefecture only three weeks into his term.

Yoshimasa Hayashi is a seasoned political veteran, but a neophyte in the often tumultuous world of dealing with complex defense issues. Still, Hayashi has wasted no time traveling to Okinawa to confront the contentious Futenma Marine Corps Air Station issue, which has had local and central government officials at odds.

He’s already won points from Okinawa’s governor, Hirokazu Nakaima, for making Okinawa a priority. “Thank you for coming here early,” the governor quickly told Hayashi, as he reminded the new defense leader he had served under his father Yoshiro in the central government decades ago. Not one to miss an opportunity, Hayashi fired back “Now it’s my turn. I’ll serve under you,” a soft spoken retort that brought smiles from Okinawa officials.

Okinawa’s been at loggerheads with the central government over plans for constructing an airfield in northern Okinawa to replace Futenma, located in densely populated Ginowan City. The decision to replace Futenma was made a dozen years ago, but plans faltered amidst environmental and economic challenges. A revamped plan locating the airfield and its V-shaped pair of runways at Camp Schwab and extending into Oura Bay was instituted two years ago.

The 69-year-old Okinawa governor has basically supported the plan, but has called for shifting the runways farther into Oura Bay, a move the U.S. military has opposed. The new Defense Minister, a 13-year political veteran in Japan’s House of Councilors, says he’s listening. Okinawa’s Vice Governor, Zenki Nakazato, put Hayashi at ease by telling him “we have no intention to be guarded or aggressive against the government.”

Hayashi, who replaced Shigeru Ishiba as Defense Minister weeks ago, signaled he wants improved relations with Okinawa. Ishiba never visited Okinawa during his tenure as Defense Minister.

Akira Uehara, Nakaima’s top strategist on base issues while serving as head of the governor’s executive office, has told Hayashi “We’re not demanding a big move of the envisioned airfield.” Okinawa leaders are posturing themselves as not opposing the new airfield but rather, seeking technical adjustments to the plan so the U.S. can accept it without perceived ‘change’.

At issue is the exact location of the two runways to be built in a V-configuration, with the legs extending into Oura Bay. While the governor has not publicly stated exactly what changes he wants, all reports indicate he would like to see the runways moved 90 meters farther out to provide a more acceptable safety buffer zone for nearby residents. Hayashi says “we must listen carefully” to Okinawa leaders, but didn’t offer details as to exactly what he considered “reasonable grounds” for changing the plan.

The plan calls for closing Futenma and moving it to Camp Schwab, in Nago City’s jurisdiction, by 2014. Once the shift is made, provisions of a U.S. ~ Japan agreement to downsize the military population on the island and move 8,000 American Marines, plus their dependents, from Okinawa to Guam would begin.