Saturday, August 15, 2015

Japanese Peace Movements #6: Meanwhile, in Guam...

One issue that constantly appears while traveling in Japan and speaking to people, is Guam's political status. I am not saying in any way that people here are knowledgeable about it or that they understand it. But there are constant, irritating reminders about Guam being a colony and how that means to much of the world you simply belong to another country and that is the extent of your existence.

The first time I traveled to Japan, I met with a large number of antiwar, demilitarization and peace activists. This was at a time when the transfer of US Marines from Okinawa to Guam was considered to be a hot issue, and somewhat controversial. Japan had agreed to pay more than half of the cost of the move, which had caused an uproar throughout Japan, because of the strange surreal fact that Japan had agreed to pay the expenses for moving another nation's military out of its borders. A number of Japanese political delegations had visited Guam, including representatives from Japan's Communist Party. As one Japanese politician told me, "People are starving and sleeping on the streets in our country, how did our government agree to spend all this money to move someone else's military?"

When I met with those Japanese activists, they were all very happy and excited and proud that protests and pressure had succeeded in accomplishing some things, such as the moving of US Marines from Okinawa to Guam. Some of them actually told me that I must be so happy to have the Marines coming to Guam, and that didn't it feel better to have them in American lands as opposed to Japanese lands. Some activists proposed that Guam should take more of the US military in Japan and that bases be closed throughout Japan and reopened in Guam.

I think that for most Chamorros, this is exactly how they would feel, since most Chamorros feel American throughout the day, until it is rejected or challenged somehow and then causes them to puke up colonial dread. But for me this was ridiculous. I wondered what kind of peace or antiwar or demilitarization activists these people could be if they simply saw Guam as just another US base, a colony on the other side of the world which just existed conveniently for the US to move military to. In order to understand the points of these activists, it should first be noted that their sense of critique regarding bases and militarization ended at the borders of their nation and their national imagination. Bases within their country, especially US bases were problematic, but once elsewhere and not posing a danger to them, the bases were perfectly fine.

As their own consciousness was built primarily on national borders, there was little room to interrogate those claims and challenge those lines drawn over sands and oceans. This meant that Guam as a colony did not exist for them. It was just American lands and nothing more. It mattered little that Guam was a colony of the Japanese during World War II, in their minds Guam was Guam U.S.A. a quaint piece of America ideal for their cheap tourist vacations. They saw Guam complete with all the colonial castles of illusion, the fictions that help to erase the violence of Guam's colonization and militarization, and did not further their demilitarized critiques to see that as a colony or a possession, moving troops there might be different. The people there might not have a safe, might not be in charge of their lands, and end up shouldering another burden on behalf of their colonizers.

These initial conversations were difficult, but with each visit to Japan, I felt like they were making a difference, that more and more activists in this country were able to perceive that Guam was not just any piece of America. If Japan had taken Guam as a colony, sure it meant that it could be a colony of the United State as well, no?

When I traveled to Okinawa things shifted remarkably. For them, the issue of moving US Marines to Guam was a ruse, a spectacle to distract, a tempting tableau as the US kept pretty much the same contingent in Okinawa, just shuffled around, with one base closed and another expanded. For activists I met with in Okinawa it was very easy for them to comprehend Guam's status because it paralleled so tragically with their own. They had experienced a long history of discrimination by mainland Japanese, just as Chamorros had with the United States. They had a period of postwar displacement to build US military bases just as Chamorros. They have families still fighting for compensation from that era, just as Chamorros do. Okinawans feel like they are discriminated against or oppressed because of the absurd amount of US military facilities they have to host. Chamorros, sometimes as we saw in the DEIS period when Pagat was threatened, sometimes feel the same. Ti na'magof i lina'la' gi i puntan i lansa. 

As I've been away from Guam all summer, things have started to heat up with regards to Guam's political status. The Commission on Decolonization that I'm a part of as been meeting more regularly. The three political status task forces are set to receive money in the coming months to conduct educational campaigns to advocate for Independence, Statehood and Free Association for Guam's future. The issue has even been appearing more in the news, especially through the columns/letters to the editor of former staffer for Congresswoman Bordallo Joaquin Perez. I've included his latest column below as well as a few other recent articles.

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"Self-Determination has been denied"
Letter to the Editor
Pacific Daily News
August 15, 2015

The discussion and debate between the two UOG professors brings up interesting points. However, the two teachers make no mention of why discussions over political status and self-determination were even initiated. I do not doubt that the two gentlemen know their history and fundamentals of U.S. government, but these two scholars seem to avoid addressing agreements built into the treaty that ceded Guam to the United States.

They do not address certain treaty obligations, commitments and responsibilities, signed by the president and ratified by Congress in 1898. I understand that one Congress cannot bind another and perhaps, one president can choose not to honor the agreements of his predecessors, but then how does this speak to America’s honor in their commitments, governance and respect of the principle constitutional benchmarks on which America was created in the first place?

The two professors, when they decided to move to Guam, exercised their right to determine for themselves the political status and environment under which they would live for however long. Every individual, whether Filipino, Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese or Korean, who comes to Guam and becomes a U.S. citizen recites the naturalization oath, exercises their right to determine for themselves their political status by becoming a U.S. citizen and a resident of Guam.

That same right of self-determination has never been granted to or exercised by the indigenous inhabitants of this island or their descendants.

We are possessions
As an unincorporated possession of the U.S., Guam enjoys no permanent political status. The Chamorros, the indigenous inhabitants, and their descendants, are also possessions, property of the U.S. government, which defies that fundamental of the Constitution which states that human beings cannot be become the property of another.

Until the island becomes an incorporated territory, with even a slight hope of becoming an integral part of the U.S., Guam will always be a possession. In recent years, U.S. policymakers and high-ranking government officials have made statements to that effect, alluding to the idea that the U.S. can do anything it wants with this island because the U.S. “owns” it.

The Organic Act of Guam granted limited and conditional U.S. citizenship, but, as recently ruled by a federal court, a citizenship not extended by the Constitution. The U.S. Supreme Court has stated, in the past, that the Constitution does not follow the U.S. flag. In this vein, the indigenous inhabitants of Guam, and their descendents, who choose to remain and live on their home island, have no constitutional guarantee of their U.S. citizenship, even though the U.S. flag flies on every flagpole from Ritidian to Dano.

To the two professors: You have determined for yourselves the political status under which you are willing to live. Now, please respect the inalienable right of the indigenous inhabitants of this island, and their descendants, to exercise their right to determine their political status. Your terminal degrees declare that you are awfully smart — we ask that you temper that intellect with a bit of wisdom and an understanding that many of us wish to exercise those same rights, rights that are promised to us under the fundamental principles of the Constitution upon which the U.S. was established and the guiding light to its principles of governance.

Joaquin P. Perez is a resident of Santa Rita.

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"Commission on Decolonization to meet Friday"
Steve Limtiaco
Pacific Daily News
August 14, 2015

The Commission on Decolonization, which is responsible for determining whether the island’s native inhabitants prefer statehood, independence or free association with the United States, is scheduled to meet 3 p.m. Friday at Adelup, provided enough members show up to form a quorum.

The commission last was scheduled to meet July 28, but only one of its 11 members, Republican Sen. Tony Ada, showed up for the meeting. It was canceled for lack of quorum.

Commission Executive Director Ed Alvarez also was at the July 28 meeting, but he is not a commission member.
The following commission members did not attend the July 28 meeting, based on the current membership list:
  • Gov. Eddie Calvo,
  • Speaker Judith Won Pat,
  • Sen. Rory Respicio,
  • Piti Mayor Vicente Gumataotao,
  • Youth Congress representative Leonard Orsini,
  • Michael Bevaqua,
  • Jose Garrido,
  • former Sen. Eddie Duenas,
  • Lisa Natividad, and
  • Lisa Baza.
Although Respicio didn’t attend the last commission meeting, he sent a representative from his office.
The Legislature wasn’t in session July 28.

According to Guam law, any commission member with three unexcused absences shall automatically be disqualified from the commission and replaced by a new appointed member.

The commission’s purpose, the law states, is to “ascertain the intent” of Guam’s native inhabitants with respect to the island’s future relationship with the United States and transmit that desire to the president, the U.S. Congress and the United Nations.

Guam currently is an unincorporated territory of the United States, or one of the world’s last colonies.
A political status plebiscite for native inhabitants first was scheduled to happen in 1998, but it has been postponed several times, primarily because of a lack of resources committed to the effort and a failure to register and educate eligible voters about the three options.

It now is scheduled to take place after an education campaign is completed and after the Guam Election Commission has determined that enough eligible native inhabitants are registered to participate in the vote, although the Election Commission’s executive director and Calvo have said the law needs to be clarified.

No legislation has been introduced to clarify the law.

Governor’s spokeswoman Oyaol Ngirairikl has said Calvo now wants the plebiscite to happen sometime in 2017, but said that is not a firm timeline.

A case in federal court, challenging the plebiscite on the grounds that it discriminates against voters who are not native inhabitants, is scheduled to go to trial next summer.


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"Decolonization Meeting"
Letter to the Editor
Marianas Variety
August 18, 2015
 
ON FRIDAY, Aug. 14, I attended the Commission on Decolonization meeting at Adelup. I arrived first and Mr. Paul Zerzan arrived soon after. After we introduced ourselves, we spoke briefly and learned that we had both just recently returned to Guam after an extended absence. He had been gone for 10 years, teaching English in China; and I for 14 years in the military, some of that time in the active-duty Army and some of that time in school pursuing graduate degrees. Mr. Zerzan joked about how his job was not done in China because not everyone there speaks English yet.

This led to a conversation about language and he intimated that when he tried to speak Chamoru, he was not well received because he got the impression that Chamoru people did not like a non-Chamoru speaking “their” language. He stated that the world would better off anyway if everyone just spoke English. We started to delve into a discussion on Guam’s self-determination when he shifted suddenly to make a point that the U.N. demands that all adult persons, no matter what race, ethnicity, or national origin must be allowed to participate. I began to opine that Rice v. Cayetano is inapplicable to this type of vote, the Voting Rights Act is inapplicable to this type of vote, and the court system is the incorrect forum anyway to resolve these issues, and finally that the U.N. and all international law is “soft law” and nonbinding when it comes to decolonization. That ultimately the body politic of the territory can and should decide for themselves, the method and means of self-determination. By this time, many others had arrived for the meeting. Mr. Zerzan then exclaimed that nothing can be done until the courts resolve the Dave Davis case. I then rhetorically asked Mr. Ed Alvarez whether or not the commission is being influenced or driven in any way by the Dave Davis case. Mr. Alvarez then remarked that his work is not in any way being influenced by the case.

Quorum being met, the meeting started and the members started discussing budget issues. I noted that in the audience was Mrs. Trini Torres and Mr. Tony Artero Sablan (first cousin of my late grandfather Pedro Sablan Santos). At one point Mr. Alvarez, the executive director, proposed funding a governance study, and a member of the public, Mr. Jose Tudela Sablan (also first cousin of my late grandfather), yelled, “Bull crap” and mumbled something about too many studies. Mr. Alvarez sternly advised Uncle Jose that he was not recognized and that he was out of order. Uncle Jose later apologized for his outburst and explained that he was unhappy about yet another study. I thought that Uncle Jose’s little outburst was exciting and fun.

Later in the meeting while commission members started to delve into discussing the process of self- determination Mr. Zerzan interjected. Mr. Zerzan is not a commission member so he too was out of order, however the commission decided to recognize Mr. Zerzan and allow him to speak. He repeated his spiel about how the U.N. requires universal adult suffrage and that any other method will be unrecognized and illegitimate. He started to cite “examples” of other territories that had gone through the process and that those territories or colonies had permitted everyone to vote. This led to an exchange between Mr. Alvarez and Mr. Zerzan arguing point and counterpoint and at one point Mr. Alvarez asked Mr. Zerzan to cite what article or section he was relying on to assert these “requirements” of the U.N. Mr. Zerzan could not cite anything but stated that he’s read a lot about the issue of decolonization and read everything the U.N. has to say about it. Mr. Alvarez cited the articles from the U.N. declarations that he was relying on and Mr. Zerzan demanded that Mr. Alvarez provide the copies immediately. Mr. Zerzan at this point had raised his voice and was practically yelling. Sen. Rory Respicio who is the chairman, directed that the meeting move forward. Only moments later while discussing a wholly different subject Mr. Zerzan stood up and began yelling at the top of his lungs. He repeated over and over again that his rights cannot be denied. Mr. Zerzan was extremely obnoxious and disrespectful, just repeating the same things over and over. This went on for a few of minutes. Finally Mr. Alvarez, who had been gracious and patient, asked Mr. Zerzan to leave since this was highly disruptive, unproductive and inconsiderate of all who were in attendance. Mr. Zerzan continued to scream and shout as he reluctantly left the room. I could hear him shouting some more out in the breezeway. The meeting resumed and a lot of good discussions took place.

God, it’s good to be back home.

Peter J. Santos,
Santa Rita

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