Friday, September 24, 2010

Workless Rhetoric

After the Record of Decision was signed, the Pacific Daily News collected responses from Senators in the Guam Legislature, detailing their thoughts and concerns on the military buildup finally being officially declared "begun."

I have pasted them below for people to read and reflect on. I have heard so many people over the past few months speak with some satisfaction that the rhetoric of so many of our political leaders have changed, that the efforts of so many who were critical of the buildup have helped make it so that no potential political leader who wants to be taken seriously can be 100% supportive of the military buildup, but instead has to hover around 50% - 70% good and the rest bad. This is a very real shift in rhetoric since for the first few years of the buildup, politicians would try to convince people that the buildup was a boon, that it was great and that the problems were minor and not such a big deal. That was how the public was shaped back then, in such a way that leaders of Guam felt that it was their role to communicate the greatness of the military buildup, to be part of the effort to sell it to the public.

The fact, that if you go now and speak to a Guam Senator about your concerns about the buildup and they won't try to convince you otherwise, but may actually agree with you and give you some answer which "sounds" like they might be against the buildup, is not something to be taken lightly. Fihu annai hu hassuyi put este na tinilaika, mana'hasso yu' ni' ayu na kantan Tony Fegurgur, "ai matulaika i siniente!"

Although it is much more comforting to have elected leaders who are neutral sounding about the buildup or make their faces look very grave with furrowed brows when they talk about the buildup, I can't help but be irritated. When I read the comments below, and hear the tone and the nature of the comments, and the pure tonnage of words which are being used to try and convey the "concern" of our leaders, which is an attempt to get the public to understand the depth of those notches in their furrowed brows, it sounds nice, but it is easy to forget what the purpose of leaders are supposed to be. They are supposed to lead. Sometimes that means leading a conversation, getting out information, taking advantage of teachable moments, guiding the discussion in a society, but more than anything it is supposed to mean creating laws and passing laws. That is the part which sadly has been almost completely absent in the past five years with regards to this buildup. While the rhetoric has sometimes been critical and has been what it should be, there has been little to no action to back it up.

A case in point has been the chine'guen Senator Judith Guthertz. During the past year, as the Chair for the Legislative Committee who is supposed to be in charge of the buildup, she has regularly been in the news for firing off fiery and gof kalaktos emails and letters about everything from transparency of the military, lack of communication, contradictions in their statements and so on. She appears to be on top of the issue, always ready to pounce and speak into a microphone about what is not right with the process and how the way things are going right now will not result in a "win-win" situation for Guam and the Feds. These letters may say some very critical things, but writing letters and making statements is only part of what the job of each Senator is. They are also meant to be the people who write and make the laws for Guam. If there is a large, looming, massive problem out there on Guam's horizon, then while it would be very easy to write letters about how massive, looming and large it is, their first priority should be to find ways to mitigate it, stop it or take advantage of it through the laws they pass.

As the Chairperson in charge of this, it is primarily her responsibility to lead on this issue, not just in word, but in deed as well. It is her job to work with others to craft legislation which can protect the island from the potential badness of the buildup which everyone is now talking about. I scanned through the bills which have been introduced, passed pat masotta in the past two Legislatures, seeking anything that Guthertz had written or co-sponsored which would have shown her leadership on this issue, and could only find two. The first was signed into law several years ago and set aside several hundred thousand dollars for an independent study to be conducted on the effects of leakage from nuclear submarines in Apra Harbor. The second, was her much makase' bill which would have set up toll booths outside of US military installations on Guam, to collect tolls for their entrance into the civilian side of Guam until such time as war reparations for Chamorros would be passed. I meggaina na taotao Guahan, ma sangan na este na idea "puru ha' babarias" ya pues mana'suha este, ya siempre Si Guthertz ga'o'na na esta manmaleffa todu nu ayu na chinagi.

This level of action comes nowhere close to matching her level of rhetoric and that is precisely the problem with the way things have shifted ideologically with Guam's leaders. They have latched onto to a way of appearing to do something, appearing to be active, while not truly fulfilling their mandates. This is not something which is endemic to Guam of course, but part of i lina'la yan minatai of all politicians.

Politicians live to find the places and spaces in life and in discourse where one can appear to be doing something, without doing anything. It is their bread and butter, mantikiya yan pan, their will to live. Finding now and improved ways of not really doing their job but appearing to be active and doing something is their Holy Grail. When they come across a new taicho'cho' na strategy, or a new taisetbe na tactic, you can almost imagine choirs of angels singing in the background.

Doing things requires time, effort. It generally requires the expenditure of political capital. In democracies it requires making deals, promises, you have to shake hands with those who may not otherwise. It means putting your reputation, your i gef matungo' on the line, and possibly failing, looking foolish or making things worse. This is especially so in terms of politics and making and passing laws. This is something that Senator Guthertz learned when she submitted her bill for creating toll booths in front of the military bases on Guam. The more radical a law or attempted piece of legislation is, the more it proposes to change or upset things, the more dangerous it is for you and your political future.

That is why the resolution is such a big part of being a politician. It can be one of the biggest and flashiest ways of formally and officially doing nothing. It can inspirational and help guide the memories of people, the meaning of the community, its identity and how it perceives itself, but it is usually just a big way of not confronting a big issue. You pass resolutions about everything, from old people, to athletes, to historic events, to strongly worded statements condemning something, politely or rudely requesting that something not be done or not happen. You can comment on the state of all of these things, without doing much to affect the conditions of existence or the balance of power. You can pass a resolution which celebrates a Guam sports team, which is much easier than supporting them through more funding or better facilities. In the same vein, you can pass a resolution condemning something which might happen, and it is far easier than trying to prevent it from happening.

That has ultimately been my frustration over the past few months. Is that while the rhetoric has changed, and for the better in my opinion, so much time was lost which could have been used to turn that rhetoric into necessary action.


September 22, 2010
Senators question Record of Decision
By Oyaol Ngirairikl
Pacific Daily News

Senators, many of whom are running for office Nov. 2, shared their reactions to the signing of the Record of Decision.

A copy of the Record of Decision hasn't been sent to senators or posted on the Joint Guam Program Office website. Speaker Judith Wonpat said she talked to Assistant Secretary of the Navy Jackalyne Pfannenstiel, and said Pfannestiel told her shortly after the document was signed there was only one major change reflected in the Record of Decision after comments from the lawmakers and the community with the release of the final Environmental Impact Statement -- a delay in the decision regarding the firing range near Pågat, Mangilao.

The Record of Decision is a document that solidifies the military's plans for most of the buildup projects. Once signed, contracting work can begin, followed by actual construction.

Sen. Frank B. Aguon Jr.

Aguon questioned the Defense Department's Record of Decision on the military buildup, citing "a failure to address Guam concerns on a broad array of issues."

"Unfortunately, they seemed to have ignored the many concerns raised by the community regarding infrastructure, land use, and the impact on our people and our culture," Aguon said. "Final as it may appear to be, this so-called 'Record of Decision' cannot be allowed to stand without visible financial support for Guam. Working with our congresswoman, Madeleine Bordallo, we need to pursue this at all levels to ensure that Guam is fairly treated."

Aguon, who chairs the Legislature's health committee, highlighted several shortcomings in the Defense Department plans with respect to health care.

"Guam's existing health infrastructure does not have the capacity to deal with the projected surge in population, and yet DOD projects that approximately 25,000 foreign laborers may be needed to meet DOD's 2014 relocation deadline," Aguon said. "Largely unanswered is how health care will be provided to all these workers. Will they have health insurance? Will emergency care be provided alone by GMH's already overburdened emergency room? What preventive measures will be in place to prevent the possible spread of communicable diseases that may accompany such a massive influx into our population? ... We also have to keep in mind that after the major construction period, our island will see an enormous permanent increase in our population. The ROD does not really address the concern about the strain on our health-care system by this permanent increase."

Vice Speaker Benjamin Cruz

"This last week, the Pacific Daily News reported that U.S. Naval Facilities Engineering Marianas awarded $167 million for the first phase of a $446 million reconstruction of the U.S. Naval Hospital Guam, the government of Japan provided $96 million for a clinic at Apra as well as $14 million for a new kennel at Apra, (all inside the fence)," Cruz said. "The Record of Decision does not commit any funds to address any hospital needs outside the fence. The ROD does not consider the hospital as part of the 'infrastructure' that the Adaptive Management Program will be invoked to prevent any more workers coming to work on Guam until the hospital shortcomings are addressed.

"The ROD does not include the explicit testing regimen that U.S. EPA provided me in a Sept. 10, 2010, letter to prevent the spread or disposal of radioactive nuclides when they dredge Apra Harbor. The ROD does not take the Pågat firing range off the table. For these and a score of other reasons I am dismayed that the ROD was signed without giving true consideration for the comments and resolution of the people of Guam and their elected leaders."

Sen. Judith Guthertz

After waiting overnight for word of the signing of the military buildup Record of Decision, Guthertz, chairwoman of the Legislature's Military Buildup Committee, found few surprises as sketchy details of the ROD began to emerge.

"I'm trying to be optimistic and constructive in order to make this buildup work," Guthertz said. "The military has its responsibility in this, which is to get all of their projects going and completed and we have ours, which is to make sure this proceeds with the best interests of all the people of Guam in mind. It's that win-win approach that I've been pushing for a very long time."

Guthertz said she was particularly pleased that the Record of Decision officially incorporated her earlier proposal to stretch the buildup over a longer period and to revisit the construction schedule to minimize impact on the island. A civilian military group will be responsible for making such adjustments.

Sen. Tina Muña Barnes

Upon learning that the Record of Decision was signed this morning, Sen. Tina Muña Barnes remained cautiously hopeful that the concerns raised throughout the EIS process would be addressed by the federal government. However, the release of details contained in the Record of Decision confirmed the truth that history already dictated: the concerns and issues raised by the people of Guam fell on deaf ears.

"It is very disturbing that the federal government continues to disregard the concerns raised by the people of Guam," Sen. Muña Barnes said. "It is upsetting to come to the realization that after all the town hall meetings, public hearings, and over ten thousand comments submitted we were ignored by the federal government."

Sen. Ben Pangelinan

"The economic cost of this military expansion outweigh the benefits based upon the FEIS and now the Record of Decision. It will negatively affect the people, environment and culture of our island as admitted to by the experts hired by the military to plan and execute their plans in the FEIS," Pangelinan said. "The military and the federal government have not committed the necessary resources to mitigate the negative effects. The military and the federal government have been deaf to our voices and blind to our vision on how to make this a win-win proposition. We must stand united and support each other to stop their plans to steamroll our island and way of life."

Sen. Rory Respicio

"In 1949, our island's leaders did something as a group to cause the United States government to be embarrassed. This walkout led to the signing of our Organic Act on Aug. 1, 1950, by President Truman," Respicio said. "It took an action of such enormous courage in order for Guam to be noticed back in 1949, but in 2010, a walkout won't work. Instead, we must stand up to the powers that be in Washington, D.C. We have to remain vigilant and relentless in communicating that we are relevant to the rest of the United States, we must be treated fairly and equally, and our federal government must remedy all past injustices (self-determination, political status, war reparations, etc.).

"They must stay within their footprint, protect our environment, and provide for the means to fund their own buildup needs. President Obama promised, 'One Guam, Green Guam,' and so far -- and especially with today's signing of the ROD -- the president's pledge has been nothing more than an empty promise. If the United States wants the people of Guam to welcome their buildup, then the federal government must stop treating us as second-class citizens. We have a right to make this claim because of our loyalty to the American flag and our strategic importance in the global arena."

Speaker Judith Won Pat

"About 7:30 a.m., after the Record of Decision was signed, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Jackalyne Pfannenstiel called me. She said to me the Record of Decision is the same as the FEIS, with the exception of the deferment of the Pågat site. I'll continue to say that they have not addressed our concerns at all. It's obvious the DEIS was released and we submitted 10,000 comments. The FEIS came out and the only change was Apra Harbor, and now with the ROD, there's only one thing different, it's the Pågat site decision.

"I was hopeful there was going to be some change when they decided to hold off from signing the ROD several weeks ago because I thought they were going to take more of our comments, the concerns of the people of this island, to send us. We were appealing to their sense of justice. After all, the U.S. is known for their fairness, justice and compromise, but I don't think that's being applied to our situation here.

"We are going to join others in the calling for a rally, 'Realizing Our Destiny.' We're looking at Oct. 1. We want to unite the people. We want to get international and national media involved so that the people around the world will know about this. The staging of this base here is for international peace, therefore people internationally need to know what's going on and nationally because the people in the continental U.S. will be footing the bill. The world needs to know that the people on this island are united."

Sen. Adolpho Palacios

"I'm not surprised, first of all, that there's little change in the Record of Decision. Second, there's been a lot of discussion regarding the military buildup and I have faith in people who worked (on the Record of Decision). It's not a perfect document, I understand that. But I've decided that my role, as a member of the Legislature, is to facilitate in the implementation of the military buildup and the programs that are to occur to make them possible. But at the same time I want to get involved and make sure we minimize the adverse impact that comes with the development. I'm ready to sacrifice and I am ready to sacrifice. The bottom line is the security of our nation.

Sen. Frank Blas

"I think it's premature to make comment on the Record of Decision until I see it. Yes, there are concerns voiced as a result of the DEIS and FEIS. I think that we need to go through the ROD to see what they have in there. My disappointment with the process itself this was an opportunity to discuss issues related to the social and cultural impact of the buildup. I don't know if the ROD addresses these cultural and social concerns or not -- so I'm waiting to see it before I make any real comment."

Sen. Edward Calvo

"We can breathe a temporary sigh of relief that a decision to take Pågat was not made yet. It shows the concerns of the people of Guam are being heard. As a people, we must raise our voices even louder in opposition of any land taking. The federal government seems to be showing more of a willingness to listen to Guam's concerns.

"The next step is to ensure Guam is a partner in this process, not simply a spectator. This is important because so many of our people are looking forward to the opportunities this buildup can bring to them. People are looking for good jobs and opportunities to open their own small business. We have to do our jobs in the local government to lead this buildup so those opportunities come to our people.

"The federal government can take more proactive steps to show a true willingness to partner with Guam by resolving longstanding issues between us. This includes war reparations, compact-impact reconciliation, political status, visa-waiver programs, and more. I will continue being a proponent of a Guam buildup. I will continue pushing issues in the best interests of the people of Guam."

Sen. Telo Taitague

"The signing of the ROD early this morning marks a monumental time in our history. I am filled with mixed feelings as I understand that the impact the buildup will have on Guam can have positive effects to our community, but only if it is done with full cooperation and input from our people and only if necessary assurances are made to protect our culture, land and environment.

"My concern relating to the FEIS has largely focused on the impact the military buildup will have on health-care services. If the ROD does in fact mirror the FEIS, then improvements to our hospital to mitigate the impact the projected influx in our population will have on our hospital still need to be addressed.

"I, along with my colleagues in the Legislature, will continue to hold DOD accountable to their word in ensuring that negotiations and discussions continue in addressing our concerns. However, I will not stand for this buildup if it does not ultimately benefit our people and if the impact to health-care services is not made a priority."

Sen. Ray Tenorio

"I'm thankful controversial plans to use Pågat and dredging our island's precious coral were delayed. I'm hopeful the military buildup will move forward with the best interests of our people in mind.

"I believe many of our residents are concerned about the pending increase in our population. Population increases anywhere, if not planned right, can lead to more crime. I want to make sure we bring down the crime rate and keep our people safe. I want to see how the Record of Decision proposes working with the government of Guam to make that happen."

1 comment:

Desiree Taimanglo Ventura said...

I feel so disappointed in our leaders, even the one's who have "articulated concern." I find myself having a hard time wanting to vote for anyone, when all of their responses only mimic the helplessness and disempowerment that I think our local leaders should be trying to rid our community of.

At the Chamorro Women's Debate thing a month or two ago, every single female candidate gave responses that showed how terrified and upset they were about the build-up. Every single one of them wished it weren't happening. But whenever they were asked for an answer, they some how managed to say "yes."

It's like asking someone asking you how you feel about them cutting off your arm. You respond and say, "oh god no; it's terrible. I wouldn't be able to do everything I love. I would be so uncomfortable. It would be unfair of you to do that."

But then when they ask you a second question: "Can I cut off your arm?"

You pause, close your eyes, try not to look and say "Yes."

They tell you that your vote matters, that what you think matters; but how can that be something you believe if they don't even show you that what THEY think matters.


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