Hafa na Liberasion? #15: The State of Self-Determination on Guam
I wrote last year about the importance of reading and supporting the Marianas Variety because unlike the Pacific Daily News, which takes very seriously the limiting of discourse and discussion in Guam in protection of the United States and the US military, the Marianas Variety doesn't have as effective filters. The result is that the paper can be scattered and sometimes machalapon, but on the plus side, ideas which the Pacific Daily News has deemed as insane or ridiculous, are treated as valid or critical.
The Pacific Daily News has long positioned itself as the "voice of America" in Guam. As the media outlet which translates America for Guam, which informs everyone on Guam what America is, what it means to be American and how. It operates as a perfect foil for maintaining and stoking the flames of Guam's colonial fire. For an island full of people who are only semi-American, but are conditioned from birth to desperately want to be Americans, almost anyway in which they are told they can be more American, is seized upon! By not giving any presence or voice to the voices of decolonization activists and others discontented or resentful over continuing American colonialism in Guam, and by also wholeheartedly supporting the US military buildup and by glorifying in sometimes shameless ways (for journalists), the colonial landscape is thus reinforced and renewed. There is nothing else but the United States, and the way in which you can become more American, move closer to the colonizer and hopefully have that tahdong na chinachak colonial filled at last is to support the military in anyway possible.
The Marianas Variety by contrast, hasn't found its voice yet. It is far from a "leftist" paper or an "activst" na gaseta. It does give far more space to those voices, and in further contrast to the Pacific Daily News' long history of anti-government discourse, it provides some very clear and visibile space for the "government side" of things to be discussed or defended. But this current role that it serves now is similar to that of the The Guam Tribune in times past. The Guam Tribune also became known as a freer and more open newspaper, as opposed to the diligent message maintaining of the Pacific Daily News.
I can only hope that somewhere on the horizon (and its very possible that I'll play some role in this), there will be more possibities for alternative and critical media in Guam and for Guam.
In the meantime, put fabot taitai este na tinige', gof hassan este na klasi tinige' gi i media pa'go, pues gof impottante na ta hokka' siha, kada na manhuyong.
PART 1. Special Report: Guam - On the way to self-determination?
Tuesday, 22 July 2008 by Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Variety News Staff
SIXTY-FOUR years ago yesterday, U.S. Marines bombarded Guam after a perilous landing that eventually vanquished the Japanese forces that had occupied the island since December 1941. Each year, Guam commemorates this event as "Liberation Day" with grand ceremonies and festivities.
But for nationalist Chamorros, the celebration of Liberation Day is a tricky deal.
"Liberation from what?" Chamorro activist Debbie Quinata asked, scoffing at Guam's annual commemoration.
"As long as Guam is a colonized territory, the term 'liberation' will continue to be an oxymoronic concept for the island," Quinata said.
"All those strange-looking Raptors flying over the island tell us that we are not a free people. What it's all about is a show of force. The U.S. is determined to keep us economically dependent so that they can keep their power over us," Quinata said.
But Liberation Day, according to Sen. Ben Pangelinan (D-Barrigada), is a significant phase in history that brought Guam to a transition period that will eventually lead to self-determination.
But after being freed from the Japanese regime in 1944, Guam has lingered in a long transition period.
In the June issue of National Geographic, Guam was featured along with 15 other non self-governing territories for their oddity as being the "last colonies" in the post-colonization era.
The 16 colonies remain on the list almost 50 years after the United Nations signed a treaty that called for their delinkage from foreign rules. The UN's target is to put an end to colonialism and see the remaining colonies obtain home-rule by 2010.
Guam's quest for self-rule continues to hang in limbo because past efforts toward self-determination kept ending in a stalemate.
In 1997, the Commission on Decolonization was created with the task of educating the public on the political status options available for Guam: statehood, free association, and independence.
A plebiscite was initially scheduled to coincide with the 2000 general elections but was later reset for the 2002 primary elections.
With the Guam Election Commission facing the challenge of meeting the required percentage of voter registration, the process hit a snag anew. The plebiscite was reset for the 2004 general elections, but the legislature was compelled to postpone it indefinitely for the same reason.
The time is ripe to revive the quest for home-rule, according to Pangelinan, who hosted a voter registration drive at his office yesterday.
"It's important that we do this now; later would be too late. I think we're ready. This is the right opportunity," said Pangelinan, author of the law that provides for the indefinite postponement of the plebiscite.
"What's most important is to educate our voters to make sure that everyone is informed. It's important that they understand what they are casting votes for," Pangelinan said.
Quinata agreed. "Educating the people is the only way you can build an informed electorate. Even if you're pushing for the registry, we're not sure we will get the best result unless voters know what option is best for Guam," she said.
A commonwealth status was another option that was made available to Guam by virtue of an executive order signed by President Ford in 1975.
But Guam missed the opportunity because federal officials blocked the commonwealth initiative by keeping tons of documents pertaining to the island's political status in a safe vault.
The 30-year-old documents on the "Secret Study on the Political Status of Guam" remained concealed from Guam until federal officials were forced in 2003 by a federal court to release them as a result of the Freedom of Information lawsuit filed by University of Guam professor Dirk Ballendorf and historian/lawyer Howard Willens.
All pertinent documents have been compiled in the book titled "The Secret Guam Study: How President Ford's 1975 Approval of Commonwealth Was Blocked by Federal Officials," which Ballendorf and Willens released in 2005.
Sen. Jesse A. Lujan (R-Tamuning), who tried in vain to push for the revisiting of Ford's recommendation, said Guam must grab the remaining opportunity that it still has to achieve a change of political status.
He said the political status change can be Guam's bargaining chip for the Pentagon's plan to relocate 8,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam.
"To be honest, I think this issue is bigger than us," Lujan said. "When we first heard of the military buildup, I thought that was a great opportunity for us to pursue a status change. But when the negotiation (on the Marines' relocation) started, the opportunity started to slowly slip out of our hands. We're being left out in the negotiation."
"Realistically, if we look at the situation, the window of opportunity is starting to shut a little tighter. But it is still there, and this is the best time for us to tell the U.S. government what we want for ourselves," Lujan said.
(To be continued, tomorrow the article will look into the Chamorro Registry controversy)
Special Report: Time is running out on self-determination
Wednesday, 23 July 2008
Time is running out on self-determination
IN the next couple of years, Guam will turn into a full-fledged US military post and the resulting economic growth will draw more outsiders to the island. The population will be completely diluted.
And when that happens, the voice of the resident population would be muffled even further, according to Jonathan Diaz, a Democratic candidate for the delegate seat.
"This is why it's urgent to start the voter registry and move ahead with the self-determination process. When 60,000 people come in to our island, that would be the death of the civilian community," Diaz said.
"If our political status is strong, we will have more say in shaping our island's future. Right now, the U.S. is spending billions of dollars but only the big corporations are likely to benefit from this buildup," Diaz said.
The military buildup presents a paradox for Guam It is seen both as an opportunity and a threat to self-determination.
"Self-determination is not a simple 'yes' or 'no' issue. It's something that has to be negotiated," said Sen. Ben Pangelinan (D-Barrigada). "It is important to start the process now to ensure that our options are not clouded by outside influence."
Sen. Jesse A. Lujan (R-Tamuning) acknowledged that achieving self-rule is "an uphill battle, but if we do it as a team, and if we do it now, it can happen."
The campaign for self-determination, however, gets little support from the Camacho administration, which is dependent on the revenues that the government of Guam hopes to gain from the military expansion.
The existence of the Commission on Decolonization is the government's token expression of desire to achieve home-rule.
The commission gets an annual budget of $111,000. While it is tasked to educate the public about the political status option available for Guam, the public hasn't really heard from this agency, which doesn't even maintain a website and doesn't have its own office. Repeated calls to the commission's director, Jim Underwood, were not returned.
"The commission has done absolutely nothing. It has done zero accomplishment in terms of educating the public. Their budget only pays for Jim Underwood's insurance and benefits," said Chamorro activist Debbie Quinata.
Neither the administration nor the commission sends representatives to the United Nation's annual forums on decolonization. Activist groups take their own initiative to send delegates to the UN on personal expenses.
In general, the self-determination movement doesn't seem to be a popular campaign on an island with a largely indifferent population.
And for families that send their sons and daughters to the war zones, the thought of delinking from the U.S. is not reconcilable with patriotism.
"Activism is a dirty word in Guam. We, activists, are being labeled as radicals," young activist Julian Aguon said.
"The truth is, we are fighting for human rights issues. We're not fighting for loose or radical ideas. Self-determination is a right that belongs to us," Aguon said.
"This is not an issue that is exclusive to Chamorros. This is a human right issue that activists and human rights workers all over the world are fighting for. This issue is being supported by the UN. The UN's goal is to eradicate colonization in the modern times. We have the UN and the law on our side," Aguon said.
Diaz, who runs on a campaign platform with self-determination on top of his agenda, said Guam needs to review the political situation and historical data since the island began its rehabilitation in 1946.
On Aug. 1, 1950, President Harry S. Truman signed the Organic Act, which designated Guam as an unincorporated U.S. territory and established a limited self-government and installed a civilian governor.
"Our people need to be educated about what happened in 1950. It gave us this opportunity to achieve self-determination," Diaz said. "Unfortunately, our politics remain the way they always are: dictated by the US."
Special report: Choosing the best option for Guam
Thursday, 24 July 2008
by Mar-Vic Cagurangan Variety News Staff
SELF-DETERMINATION is again becoming a buzzword, but it remains an abstract concept that seems beyond reach because of lack of public education about the implications of the political-status options for Guam.
When the "native inhabitants" registry is completed and the plebiscite is in place, voters will be presented three options: free association, statehood, or independence.
To familiarize themselves with each political status, one has to look at places with which Guam shared history and see how their political landscapes have been shaped based on the decisions that they have made.
Hawaii chose to become a state. The Philippines opted for independence. Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia have kept their ties with the United States through free association.
Young activist Julian Aguon, however, warned that without adequate public education, voters might end up checking a box on the ballot at random.
"Unless our people are properly informed, we wouldn't know what we are walking into. We can't depend on illusions. Our people would be ready to vote if they are really aware of the options that we have and they have a practical knowledge about the choices that they will pick," Aguon said.
Guam is ready for independence, according to Antonio Artero Sablan, former chairman of the Commission on Decolonization's Independence Task Force.
"All we have to do is decolonize our thinking. We have been taught by our colonizers that we couldn't do it on our own," Sablan said.
"We were independent for 4,000 years before the colonizers took over our island. If the Philippines and Palau can be independent, why can't Guam be independent likewise?" he asked, rhetorically.
Having an independent government, Sablan said, would allow the people of Guam to shape the future of the island the way they want, control their own economy, and build independent ties with the United States and foreign governments.
If Guam were independent, Sablan said, the local government could make billions in rent from the lands and resources that the United States has been using in Guam.
"Right now, we are nothing but the 'tip of the spear.' We are exposed to the U.S. enemies, not our enemy. But what do we get from exposing our people and our future generations to danger? Nothing," Sablan said.
Sen. Jesse A. Lujan (R-Tamuning) said that becoming the 51st state of the United States would be the best option for Guam.
Guam, he added, will have better chances at achieving statehood if it links up with the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, which will be under complete federal control starting next year.
"The CNMI federalization law allows Saipan to have a delegate in Congress. We're one people and it's time to solidify our relationship with the CNMI so that we can have a louder voice in Washington," Lujan said.
"Rather than fighting individually for our situations, we have to unify our efforts. Together, Guam and the CNMI can be the 51st state," he added.
Statehood means full integration with the U.S. political family.
Sen. Ben Pangelinan (D-Barrigada), on the other hand, prefers a reserved relationship with the United States through free association.
"Free association can give us the opportunity to maximize our own capacity and take advantage of what we have. This option can give us the opportunity to govern ourselves while we maintain our ties with the U.S.," Pangelinan said.
"That will ensure that we maintain our democratic form of government," he added.
But before getting to the first phase of the self-determination process, the voter registry must reach the 70 percent requirement.
Past attempts to start the registration process were hampered by the controversy on the question of who can register and who can take part in the process.
Opponents and skeptics of the self-determination movement argue that the plebiscite is exclusive to Chamorro voters only.
But Pangelinan said although "self-determination" is reserved to "native inhabitants," the plebiscite is not a race-based privilege.
Under the Plebiscite Voter Registrar's Manual published by the Guam Election Commission, those eligible to vote are "persons designated as 'native inhabitants' of Guam or their descendants."
The local statute defines "native inhabitants" as those "who became U.S. citizens by virtue of the authority and enactment of the 1950 Organic Act of Guam and descendants of those persons."
Jonathan Diaz, Democratic candidate for the delegate seat, said, "Everyone who calls Guam their home" will gain the benefits of being in an island that exercises self-determination.
"We have a multiethnic community. It doesn't matter if you are Chamorro, Filipino, Chinese, Korean, or Thai. As long as you consider Guam your home, you are part of this community," Diaz said.
"Although not everyone can vote in the plebiscite, we would ask for everyone to support this campaign," he added.