Thursday, October 29, 2015
Serbisio Para i Publiko #29: Guam From the Past
Guam - Island Review
by Anne Perez Hattori
The Contemporary Pacific
Spiraling economic, social, and political crises occupied Guam headlines during the year, while campaigns for upcoming gubernatorial, senatorial, and congressional elections sought to offer solutions and rekindle the optimistic spirit of disillusioned island residents. Dropping income levels, rising unemployment rates, increased bankruptcy numbers, and other economic troubles plagued the island, as did mounting allegations of government corruption and mismanagement.
Finding answers to a laundry list of problems consumed the four teams in the running for the governorship with primary elections scheduled for September 2002 and general elections for November. On the Democratic Party slate, with lame duck Governor Carl T C Gutierrez ineligible for reelection due to term-limit regulations, his wife, Geri Gutierrez, geared up to take his place. After months of searching for a running mate, Geri teamed up with retired army general Benny Paulino. Basing their campaign on the slogan "Faith and Trust," the Gutierrez-Paulino team essentially positioned themselves as the incumbents. In the primary election they are running against the team of Robert Underwood and Tom Ada. Underwood, as Guam's five-term delegate to the US Congress and a former professor and administrator at the University of Guam, and Ada, a popular senator in the Guam Legislature and himself a retired army colonel, brought long résumés of public, private, and military service to their ticket. Espousing the slogan "Rebuilding Guam. Dinuebu!" both Underwood and Ada have been extraordinarily high vote-getters in recent elections; Underwood won his last congressional race with 78 percent of the vote and Ada placed first among fifteen senators for the third time.
On the Republican slate, a race between two teams of four senators in the Guam Legislature is expected to be tight. Long-time senator and current Speaker of the Guam Legislature Tony Unpingco partnered with senatorial colleague Eddie Calvo, son of former Governor Paul Calvo. Focusing their campaign on a call for honesty, accountability, and effective management, the Unpingco-Calvo team has made government reform a major issue. They will challenge a pair of senators whose fathers also occupied the seats to which they now aspire. Senators Felix Camacho and Kaleo Moylan are running as a team as did their fathers, former Governor Carlos Camacho and former Lieutenant Governor Kurt Moylan, using the slogan "There is Hope" to fuel their aspirations.
Running to fill the seat of the US delegate to Congress vacated by the gubernatorial-candidate Underwood are two Democratic candidates, current Lieutenant Governor Madeleine Bordallo and Senator Judy Won Pat; on the Republican ticket is former governor and current Senator Joseph Ada. The effects of Typhoon Chatha'an, a July storm that resulted in a federal disaster declaration for Guam, coupled with the island's severe economic crisis, forced the various candidates to rely on means other than costly media campaigns to inform and rally their supporters. In light of the financial problems facing much of the island population, few of the Gutierrez-style $500 and $1,000 political fundraisers were held; instead, the old-fashioned, grassroots style campaigns of the 1970s and 1980s returned, with almost nightly village meetings, pocket meetings, and rallies.
Despite retreating to the campaign styles of previous decades, politicians confronted vastly different demographic conditions than their political forerunners faced. In February 2002, the US Census Bureau finally released the official results of the 2000 census, attributing delays to the bureau's need to reprocess all of its data sets for Guam and adjust its data for undercounts. According to the census, Guam's population in 2000 was 154,805, only slightly more than the total reported for 1990. Ethnically, the census showed the indigenous Chamorro population at 37 percent, 6 percent less than in the previous census. The ethnic group with the largest gains in the 2000 census was the growing Filipino community, which at 26.3 percent showed a 4 percent increase relative to the total island population and a 35.6 percent increase since the 1990 census. The village of Dededo in northern Guam absorbed the vast majority of the immigrant community. From 1990 to 2000, Dededo saw its population increase by 35 percent, jumping from 31,000 to 43,000, with Filipinos constituting 45 percent of the total village count.
The latest census report also reflected changing economic conditions on the island. Compared to statistics gathered in the 1990 census, three times more residents are considered unemployed (3.8 percent in 1990, 11.5 percent in 2000). Perhaps most disturbing is the finding that 23 percent of Guam's population is officially classified as living in poverty, a stark increase over the 1990 census figure of 14 percent. Yet while the number of persons in poverty has increased substantially, government funds for social welfare programs have shrunk. In the 2002 budget, the Guam Legislature decreased public health and social service funds by 25 percent, and welfare recipients faced a cut in their assistance checks of about 57 percent.
The high poverty rates and escalating unemployment figures confirm that the troubled economy has affected Guam residents in nearly every walk of life. According to Department of Labor reports, average household income decreased by 9.3 percent from the 2000 level to less than $41,000 in 2001. But even that figure is deceptively high, as Guam households contain more members than the national average. Similarly, per capita income dropped by 5.2 percent over the same period, to $10,900 (compared to a per capita income of over $20,000 in the mainland United States).
The increasing poverty rates and falling income levels reflect the generally diminished economic opportunities in all sectors of island employment. Indeed, Guam's private-sector businesses saw the elimination of more than 4,200 jobs in 2001, including 2,000 jobs lost in the two months immediately following the September 11th terrorist attacks in the United States. Most of these jobs were related to tourism, and many of Guam's workers faced the threat of layoff for months after the attacks. Lowered occupancy rates forced hotels to let go many chefs, front-desk clerks, housekeepers, food servers, and other workers. The employment statistics for 2001 also reveal that while the number of full-time workers on the island has decreased, the number of part-time workers has increased. The private-sector trend of reducing the working hours of full-time staff to avoid layoffs has affected thousands of jobs in addition to the thousands that were eliminated.
The unemployment rate improved, although this could hardly be read as a positive economic indicator. While Guam's unemployment rate peaked in 1999 at 15.2 percent and hovered at 13.0 percent in 2001, the first quarter of 2002 showed a decline to 11.4 percent. This improved rate, however, merely reflected a massive surge in out-migration as well as increases in the number of people of working age who did not want jobs or who wanted jobs but did not look for work. According to Guam Department of Labor statistics released in January 2002, over 2,500 people in the island's labor force left the island since September 2001. In addition, earlier in 2001, approximately 3,000 residents had already left the island for greener employment pastures in the United States. Joe Bradley, Bank of Guam economist and vice president, estimated that as many as 20,000 job hunters have left Guam in the last few years (PDN,18 Jan 2002).
Besides layoffs, unemployment rates, and reduced income levels, bankruptcy filings in 2001 also testified to the economic slump. Court records showed a nearly 100 percent increase in bankruptcies between 2000and 2001. This trend continued into 2002, as Guam's bankruptcies in just the first quarter of this year totaled 103, compared to 288 bankruptcies in all of 2001. These various economic factors contributed to a reduction in Guam's gross domestic product by close to $300 million to an estimated $2.8 billion in 2001.
Tourism, Guam's primary industry, suffered its own setbacks in 2001, as Guam's Japanese-dependent market faltered. Continuing economic woes in Japan, compounded by the fears of flying to US destinations after September 11th, contributed to a sharp decline in tourist numbers. In the two months following the terrorist attacks, tourist arrivals dropped precipitously. For the month of November 2001, Japanese visitor arrivals declined by 55 percent from November 2000, with 47,175 fewer tourists visiting the island. The financial impact of this decline was considerable; for example, the November decrease translated to approximately $700,000 less in hotel occupancy taxes paid to the government of Guam. Gross receipts taxes for the month also decreased by more than half a million dollars. While visitor numbers began to increase by December 2001, levels still lagged far behind the pre-September 11th totals. For the year 2001 in total, Guam saw a 14 percent decline in Japanese visitors.
South Korean tourism, on the other hand, showed signs of revitalization, posting a 3 percent increase in the number of visitors from the year before. In December 2001, Korean Air resumed its flights to Guam, joining Asiana Air in providing transportation services between Guam and Korea. Korean Air's return to Guam was an emotional and sensitive one, only four years after the tragic crash of Korean Air Flight 801 that killed 229 of its 254 passengers. The return of the beleaguered airline contributed to growth in the number of tourists from Korea; nearly 90,000 arrivals in 2001 provided a glimmer of hope for the struggling tourism industry.
These trends in visitor arrival patterns continued in the first five months of 2002, as Japanese visitor numbers did not meet those reached in 2001 while Korean numbers continued increasing. The advertising and spending patterns of the Guam Visitors Bureau came under public scrutiny as prominent business leaders and regional economists urged the agency to pay more attention to the budding Korean market, rather than almost exclusively marketing Guam to potential Japanese visitors.
China loomed as another new market for potential visitors, and the government of Guam spent close to $100,000 in travel expenses for a trip there. A fifty-two-member delegation of public- and private-sector officials, led by Governor Gutierrez, traveled to Guangzhou in March 2002 in a bid to lure tourists, investors, and students to Guam, as well as to establish cultural ties with the city. Two months later, in May 2002, nine Guangzhou officials visited Guam as a part of the overall plan to lure Chinese tourists. Deep skepticism lingered, however, amid unanswered questions about the government's ability to obtain federal approval for Guam-only travel visas for potential Chinese tourists.
With the health of Guam's primary source of revenues in question, in October 2001 the Guam Legislature cut Governor Gutierrez's 2002 budget request by $94 million, arriving at a final budget of $420 million. The budgetary process thereafter became mired in political squabbles between the administration and the legislature as the two sides held to their conflicting estimates of the exact magnitude of the economic decline. For weeks, debate on the government budget ensued, leaving government of Guam (GovGuam) workers hostage to menacing threats of layoffs and pay cuts.
On 14 February 2002, after eight years as governor, Gutierrez gave his final "State of Our Island" address, filled with grim news of a bleak financial future for the government of Guam and proposals to alleviate his forecasted $60 million revenue shortfall. Governor Gutierrez proposed numerous dramatic measures, including a government-wide 10 percent pay cut, a 50 percent increase in the gross receipts tax, and the borrowing of $427 million in the bond market to pay for government employee retirement benefits. Members of the Guam Legislature, particularly those running on the various gubernatorial tickets, immediately denounced the governor's proposals, citing government mismanagement as the cause of the crisis and rejecting pay cuts and tax increases as solutions.
Less than three weeks later, on 6 March 2002, newspaper headlines screamed, "3,800 Layoffs Loom." Governor Gutierrez announced that because the legislature had rejected his February proposals to address the government budget crisis, even more drastic measures, including the layoff of 3,800 government workers, would be necessary. Beginning in mid-March, the governor began implementing his threatened layoffs by eliminating 33 of the 125 unclassified employees in his office, including 9 special assistants, 13 assistant staff officers, 4 office aides, and 2 special projects coordinators. Senator Kaleo Moylan, chairperson of the legislature's Ways and Means Committee and a candidate on the Camacho-Moylan gubernatorial ticket, attacked and dismissed the governor's layoff threat. According to Moylan's estimates, Guam's revenue shortfall for 2002 would be $37 million, far less than Gutierrez's estimate of $60 million. He thus charged that the crisis could be averted if Gutierrez's administration would simply collect tens of millions of dollars in uncollected taxes and overdue federal reimbursements.
Following Gutierrez's announced layoffs, television, radio, and newspaper reports swirled around the impending crisis. Economists predicted that the multiplier effect of the layoffs would dramatically impact the entire island economy, deepening an already decade-long financial downturn. The governor announced a government-wide hiring freeze, ostensibly as the first step in his plan to begin laying off employees. Meanwhile, administration officials continued to bicker with legislators over their differing budgetary shortfall projections. Unsurprising in the context of heated gubernatorial races, no action was taken by leaders in either the executive or legislative branches.
Justifying their inaction regarding pay cuts, layoffs, and other government cutbacks, legislators charged the governor with overspending and mismanagement. Senators pointed out that in every year since 1991, the government of Guam has spent more than its resources allowed and has consistently borrowed additional money when its bills became too large to handle. Exacerbating an already tenuous financial situation, in June 2002 Administration Director Clifford Guzman acknowledged before the legislative Ways and Means Committee that the government was expected to spend $69 million more than it budgeted for the current fiscal year and might face a severe cash shortfall of up to $100 million. Yet to the date of this writing, both branches of government have failed to take direct measures to address the dire situation, and in all likelihood no action will be taken until after the November 2002 general election.
In the midst of vociferous political squabbling, Wall Street financial analysts Standard & Poor lowered the government of Guam's bond rating to BB, considered noninvestment grade or "junk bond." This downgrade reflected the government's inability to address the deterioration in its financial position and the prospects that the island's weak economy would lead to further financial pressures. In particular, Standard & Poor identified three factors that influenced the lowered credit rating: overreliance on tourism and, in particular, a heavy dependence on the shaky Japanese tourist market; a very weak financial position "aggravated by the softness in the economy and the need to take adequate measures to reduce its accumulated debt"; and a high debt burden of $440 million, translated into $2,845 per person on Guam, with debt payments accounting for 12 percent of GovGuam spending (PDN,27 March 2002).
The bond downgrade again fueled public debate over the Gutierrez administration's fiscal mismanagement and aggravated fears regarding the health of Guam's retirement fund. Guam Economic Development and Commerce Authority (GEDCA) director Ed Untalan predicted that, because the government has continually drawn on the pension fund to cover its budgetary shortfalls, the retirement fund might face bankruptcy within ten to twelve years. Of the government of Guam's total $1.18 billion in obligations, almost 80 percent, or $774 million, is owed to the retirement fund (PDN,27 March 2002).
On top of the government's economic woes, throughout 2002, a number of financial and managerial reviews by both government and independent auditors revealed case after case of government mismanagement. Guam's first elected public auditor, Doris Flores Brooks, came into office in 2001 and immediately began conducting reviews of GovGuam agencies. Among her first audits were two of Guam's major computer purchases, the Oracle and Agupa systems, both of which have long been sources of public frustration. In 2001, Brooks called on federal officials to look into unresolved problems with the health department's $4.7 million Agupa computer system, which was supposed to have been operational in August 1999. The Agupa system was intended not only to computerize Guam's health records, including birth and death certificates, but also to provide integrated public health and social service information. To the date of this report, Agupa is not fully functional.
To address the second computer debacle, Brooks called on the US Department of Interior to evaluate Guam's $4.5 million Oracle-based financial management system, which was to have replaced the previous, non-Y2K compliant system in December 1999. Continual public outcry has accompanied the GovGuam Department of Administration's inability to get the system working appropriately. Because the expensive system has been unable to handle even the basic payroll and personnel management functions for which it was allegedly designed, administration department personnel have been forced to resort to a combination of manual operations and a retreat to the old computer system.
In addition to the problems concerning these multimillion-dollar computer fiascos, Brooks' audit of the Department of Parks and Recreation uncovered improper accounting procedures in the collection of permit fees, vendor contracts, and other collections for services, and pointed to thousands of dollars in missing revenues. An audit of the Retirement Fund for fiscal years 1998 and 1999 noted serious management deficiencies and weak internal controls, questioning the long-term ability of the fund to pay retiree benefits.
Additionally, federal and independent auditors raised their own concerns in the early months of 2002. A US Department of Interior audit report criticized the Guam Economic Development and Commerce Authority's handling of twenty-five land leases as well as the agency's failure to provide bond service and financial advisement to GovGuam agencies, costing the government millions of dollars. Another audit, conducted by the Georgetown Consulting Group, detailed managerial inefficiencies at Guam Power Authority that have resulted in lowered power generation and millions of dollars in increased costs. The auditors recommended that a private management company be hired to oversee Guam's power plants.
Yet another independent audit, by the accounting firm of Deloitte and Touche, raised concerns about the government of Guam's management of its federal funds. In particular, Deloitte and Touche assessed the administration's use of compact-impact funds and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) monies received after Supertyphoon Paka in 1997. Despite its attempted comprehensiveness, the audit did not cover all of the government agencies, as some, including the Department of Education, were deemed to have records in such disarray that they could not be audited. The education department's last audit was in 1997, and the agency is now three years behind in providing financial management information to auditors.
Allegations of government corruption busied Guam's federal courts as well. Indicted in January 2001, former GovGuam agency director AJ"Sonny" Shelton was convicted and sentenced to ten years in a federal prison by the US District Court of Guam on twelve counts of bribery, bid rigging, wire fraud, and money laundering. He was also ordered to pay restitution of $112,000 for accepting kickbacks from the 1997 Supertyphoon Paka recovery projects. Investigations revealed that Shelton conspired with other businesspersons to rig bids on seven projects worth about $640,000, from which he accepted more than $100,000 in payoffs.
As director of the Department of Parks and Recreation, Shelton had been responsible for managing the FEMA funds for the procurement of goods and services during the post-typhoon recovery. The kickbacks concerned repair projects at recreational facilities such as the Paseo Stadium, Hagåtña tennis courts, Paseo De Susana grounds, Ypao beach shelters, and Wettengel football field. In addition to having worked as parks and recreation director, Shelton's notable government career included one term as a senator in the Guam Legislature, and stints as acting general manager of the Guam Power Authority, deputy director of the administration department, and the island's public auditor.
In connection with Shelton's crimes, six other people were indicted for committing various acts of money laundering, bid rigging, and supplementary related charges. All six pleaded guilty and made plea agreements in exchange for their cooperation with federal prosecutors. At Shelton's sentencing hearing in January 2002, FEMA special agent Jae Song testified that ten investigations were underway concerning other possible misuses of federal funds.
Several months later, in early July 2002, two additional top government officials—Marilyn Manibusan, a former senator and agency director, and James Sablan, the lieutenant governor's chief of staff—were indicted for similar offenses. Both Manibusan and Sablan allegedly accepted money from real-estate developers in exchange for approving their housing projects.
At the time of the alleged abuses, Sablan was director of the Guam Housing Corporation, a government agency that provides low-interest federal loans to build homes, and Manibusan was chairperson of the Territorial Land Use Commission, a government commission that regulates land development. According to federal investigators, Manibusan and Sablan were paid by developers to use their official positions to approve two separate housing development projects, and $100,000 of the money was donated to Governor Gutierrez's 1998 reelection campaign. The two have been charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, misapplication of government funds, extortion under color of official right, and bankruptcy fraud, among other charges in a twenty-two-count indictment. Both have pleaded innocent, and their trial has been scheduled for early December 2002(PDN,8 August 2002).
In other court-related news, Guam's local banks took a blow when the Superior Court of Guam ruled that off-island banks could not be prevented from adding branches on Guam. The case reached the courts when three local banks, the Bank of Guam, Citizens Security Bank, and BankPacific, obtained a court order to prevent First Hawaiian Bank from opening a third branch. While the protectionist local legislation stipulates that out-of-state banks cannot open new branches unless they first purchase an entire Guam bank, the Superior Court ruled in favor of federal law that promotes fair treatment of state, national, and locally chartered banks. In effect, this ruling gives national banks on island the same rights as Guam banks. Thus, immediately after the court decision, First Hawaiian Bank announced that it would open a new branch within four weeks.
In addition to problems addressed by auditors and jurors, widespread concerns regarding Guam's water quality, power system, sewage disposal, and waste management plagued the island throughout the year. Public health and welfare concerns topped the headlines for months in 2002, as the government's funding crisis directly affected the services provided to Guam's underprivileged. One manifestation of the crippled public health services was a measles epidemic on the island.
On 9 May 2002, Guam public health officials declared an epidemic when the number of confirmed cases reached 8, meeting the standard for epidemics set by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Working with the centers, Guam Director of Public Health Dennis Rodriguez had declared a state of public health emergency on 27 April (when the number of suspected cases reached 16), in order to mobilize the resources needed to prevent a repetition of a 1994 measles outbreak, which had involved 224 confirmed cases of measles and three measles-related deaths. Public health nurses held free immunization clinics and visited targeted areas door-to-door before the epidemic officially ended. In total, public health officials confirmed 9 measles cases in the epidemic, and more than 4,700 children received immunizations between the 27 April emergency declaration and the epidemic's conclusion on 20 June.
Guam's public health system was further undermined when the island's health welfare insurance system faced collapse. Guam's Medically Indigent Program (MIP), with a roster of 14,000 enrollees, costs the government about $2.5 million a month in health care. At the same time, legislative allocations to the program have averaged only about $1.1 million a month, leaving the program $16 million in debt. Consequently, many clinics and pharmacies have stopped accepting MIP patients because the government of Guam owes them too much money, and thus the island's most needy patients find themselves without access to medical, dental, and mental health services.
The social impact of the crumbling MIP program has been heightened by the impending expiration of welfare payments to roughly 400 families. This cutoff comes as a result of the federal government's 1997 welfare reform, which placed a five-year limit on the receipt of funds from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. While the government of Guam has established a task force to address the needs of those families whose welfare benefits end in the summer of 2002, no plan of action has been formed and members of the legislature have been loath to act on any motion that could be interpreted as "political suicide" in this climate of election-year politics.
One long-standing issue, the privatization of Guam's government-owned utilities, moved forward, having received strong encouragement from Chamber of Commerce members who view it as a means for the local government to stop its financial slide and improve efficiency. In particular, chamber members identified the Guam Telephone Authority, Guam Power Authority, Guam Waterworks Authority, and the Port Authority of Guam as agencies that should be privatized.
The first of Guam's utilities to attempt privatization, the Guam Telephone Authority (GTA), sponsored a bidders' conference in January 2002to review the legal, financial, employee relations, and marketing issues involved in the bidding process. In 2001, the telephone authority posted net operating revenues of $45 million and a total net income of $4.6 million. At this conference, GTA officials presented the government of Guam's minimum selling price of $70 million. In June 2002, after an extended effort by the government to sell the telephone authority, TeleBlu Inc. was announced as the only company to submit a bid to purchase. TeleBlu, an Illinois-based holding company that provides wireless voices services through a number of subsidiaries, had to meet the utility's $70 million minimum purchase price as set by Guam law. Moreover, local legislation established that any buyer would have to protect the employment of the four hundred GTA employees for five years and assume a long-term GTA debt in excess of $100 million. Contract negotiations are expected to last several months before a sale is finalized.
Good news for Guam's indigenous landowners trickled in this year. In the first half of 2002, Congressman Underwood announced three transfers of military-held land to the government of Guam. These include approximately 241 acres of US military land in Dededo and Yigo deemed excess by US Air Force officials, as well as 81 acres deeded to the island for a fire station and a new high school and an additional 900 acres of land in the northern area of Harmon. The Harmon land return in May 2002 marked the twenty-second parcel of land transferred back to Guam from the US military through the Guam Excess Lands Act that Underwood passed through the US Congress in 1994. Underwood's 1994 legislation, Public Law 103-339, mandates that control of federally returned lands be transferred to the authority of the government of Guam. To determine the future of these lands, Guam senators enacted legislation in 2000 establishing that excess military lands would be placed in the inventory of the Ancestral Lands Commission. The Ancestral Lands Commission would then be responsible for helping original landowners and their heirs reclaim lands they lost during the US military's post-World War II land condemnations.
Two years after Congressman Underwood's excess lands legislation and more than fifty years after the military's land condemnations, the first of these lands were reunited with original landowners in the first land return of its kind in United States history. On 21 June 2002, six jubilant Chamorro families became a part of history when they received deeds to their ancestral lands: the families of Rosa DeJesus Cruz, Pedro Palomo Esteban, Jesus Sablan Camacho, Vicente Camacho Cruz, Mariano Taitague Torres, and Veronica McDonald Calvo all received title to lands in the villages of Barrigada, Asan, Dededo, and Yoña. According to Ancestral Lands Commission Director Joe Borja, twelve more claimants could receive title to their lands in upcoming months.
In another piece of historical land news, more than two hundred acres of land came a step closer to being reunited with original landowners after the owners' strident protest against the government's handling of a land trust encompassing the acres in question. In May 2002, the Guam Economic Development and Commerce Authority awarded A-L Pacific Incorporated a contract to develop 248 acres of government-owned land in Tiyan at the cost of $1 per year for fifty years. GEDCA officials justified the low price by explaining that the company would better spend its resources on developing and marketing the property. A-L Pacific plans for the Tiyan property included proposals for an industrial park and a medical economic zone.
The land in question, however, forms a block referred to as the Tiyan Trust, created after the US Navy officially transferred the land back to the government of Guam in 2000. In the process of returning the 248 acres to the government of Guam, federal officials stipulated in the deed that future use of the lands must be for the economic development of Guam. To oversee the development of these returned lands, the Guam Legislature established the Tiyan Trust, requiring the Guam Economic Development and Commerce Authority to pay money into the trust for Tiyan's original landowners as the property is developed and produces revenue. The Guam Legislature bill that created the trust also stipulates that contracts involving the Tiyan land cannot be implemented without legislative approval.
Public outcry greeted the GEDCA announcement of the lease award. Legislators criticized GEDCA officials for failing to put the lease out to bid and for finalizing the development project without public consultation. Additionally, landowners protested the GEDCA action and called for return of the land to its ancestral owners who could develop it themselves. In response to the public's overwhelmingly negative reaction to the A-L Pacific lease, Guam's senators removed their support for the Tiyan Trust and moved instead to have the land transferred to original landowners. Thus Bill 295 was created, terminating the trust and providing a process through which landowners could begin receiving deeds for lands that had been taken by the military during World War II. The new legislation, which took effect on 6 June 2002, requires landowners to develop the property for Guam's economic benefit, in accordance with the agreement made with the federal government.
In other hopeful news, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee of the US Senate approved a bill sponsored by Congressman Underwood to provide World War II reparations to residents who suffered torture, forced labor, internment, and deprivation during the Japanese occupation of Guam from December 1941 to July 1944. As the bill has already passed the US House of Representatives, it now awaits passage on the Senate floor and approval by President George W Bush. Underwood's bill would create a five-member federal commission to investigate and document the wartime traumas of Guam's survivors and estimate the cost of paying claims for wartime losses and suffering to people still alive today. The commission would have nine months to submit recommendations for war reparations to Congress and the Interior Department. Underwood estimates this measure would bring between $30 and $50 million dollars in reparations to the war survivors. War-restitution bills have been introduced by every Guam delegate since 1972, the year Guam attained non-voting membership in the House of Representatives. The passage of this measure would bring tremendous resolution to a long-standing issue between Guam's war generation and the federal government.
The year 2002 was a good one for the University of Guam, as a US accrediting commission, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, removed the university's probationary status and reaffirmed its accreditation through 2008. The university had been on probation since July 2000 for not meeting several accreditation standards, including institutional integrity, finance, and planning. But changes in the university administration have brought dramatic improvements to the institution. Since 2001, Interim President Roy Tsuda and his successor, President Harold Allen, have led the university in making sweeping changes to restore integrity to the way the university conducts its academic operations.
In unresolved political news, according to members of the Gutierrez administration, funding shortages will cause a delay in a decolonization political status plebiscite that was scheduled for September 2002. This plebiscite is intended to give those classified as "native inhabitants" in the 1950 Organic Act of Guam an opportunity to select their preference for the island's future political status from among the choices of US statehood, free association with the United States, and independence. Lack of political will and only halfhearted support by both the administration and legislature, however, resulted in a poorly funded and ineffective education campaign, as well as a nonexistent voter registration drive. While officials estimate that as many as 16,000 people could be eligible to vote in the plebiscite, election authorities revealed that only 15 had registered as of January 2002.
The plebiscite was established by Guam law in 1994, and while the election was originally scheduled for September 1998, inefficiencies in education and voter registration have led to numerous postponements. Decolonization Commission chairperson Leland Bettis explained that due to the government's financial crisis, funds were not available for either education or voter registration, and thus the taskforces that were created to educate thepublic on the three status options have faced severe limitations. Guam Senator Mark Forbes, the author of a 2000law that appropriated money for the plebiscite, charged the administration with demonstrating a lack of initiative and effort in utilizing the monies that were already appropriated. With the election date looming, inaction by both the administration and the Guam Election Commission signaled that the plebiscite would again have to be rescheduled for a later date.
This year marked the passing of two of Guam's prominent and beloved cultural leaders, Elizabeth Perez Arriola and Clotilde Castro Gould. A former senator in the Guam Legislature, teacher, and Catholic Church lay leader, Elizabeth Perez Arriola was respected and revered for her commitment to family values, the Roman Catholic Church, and Chamorro culture and history. Affectionately dubbed the "Mother of Historic Preservation" for her legislative support of funding for the protection and preservation of Guam's historic landmarks, Senator Arriola is perhaps best remembered regionally and nationally for her impassioned pro-life stance and anti-abortion activism in the 1980s.
Clotilde Castro Gould, known as "Auntie Ding" to her friends, colleagues, and family, was acknowledged locally and regionally as a master storyteller. Auntie Ding was one of Guam's leading activists for bilingual education, fighting specifically to include Chamorro language education in the public school system. Successful in garnering support for her cause, she subsequently served as the long-time administrator of the Department of Education's Chamorro Studies division. Recipient of numerous awards for her achievements in the areas of Chamorro language and culture promotion, her "Juan Malimanga" cartoon, placed prominently in the right-hand corner of the Pacific Daily News cartoon page, will remind generations into the distant future of Auntie Ding's contributions to Chamorro culture and history as a dramatic and humorous weaver of stories.