Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Ancestral Lands in Chamorro Hands

At the funeral for Maga'låhi Ed Benavente today, I got a chance to talk to former Governor of Guam Felix Camacho. When Felix Camacho was first elected the group Nasion Chamoru was in decline in terms of its political power. Angel Santos had been elected into the Guam Legislature years earlier and formally left the group. Nasion itself had continued to fight and gotten a number of reforms implemented around land for the landless and for families that had lost land after World War II to the US military. Felix Camacho, seeking to make a sort of peace with Nasion Chamoru, which had been a notorious thorn in the side of the previous administration, reached out to Ed Benavente and offered him a position in his cabinet. I remember that time well, as I had already started hanging out with members of the Colonized Chamoru Coalition and so I got to listen in while members of Nasion Chamoru discussed whether or not Ed should join with Camacho. I won't describe the deliberations in detail, but most agreed that since it would give Ed possible control over issues related to the return of lands to Chamorros, that it would be an important inroad. I remember leaning against his pick up truck, while he was mulling over the issue and how another activist had challenged his reasons for joining the administration. He said something along the lines of, "Forget the politics. If it gets lands back to our people, I'll dance with anyone." From 2013 to 2010, Ed served as the director for the Guam Ancestral Lands Commission.

Almost everyone on island has heard of the Chamorro Land Trust, even if they know almost nothing about it. They at least know something of it, even if their knowledge is a ridiculous caricature of what it is or represents. But fewer people know about the Guam Ancestral Lands Commission. In the press release in honor of Ed's passing that I helped write, we included this paragraph:
Maga’låhi Benavente also served as the director for both the Guam Ancestral Lands Commission and the Commission on Decolonization. The GALC was first created in order to facilitate the return of excess U.S. federal lands to their original landowners, some of whom waited decades for their lands to be returned. Through Maga’låhi Benavente’s efforts, hundreds of acres were deeded back to their original owners, despite pressure from the U.S. Federal government not to return them.
That was the conversation I shared with former Governor Camacho earlier today, discussing Ed's passion for getting the lands back to the original landowners, even if it meant defying the wishes of the US Federal Government. I know that there is much more to that issue, and I know that Ed was often at odds with his own boss during those years. But still, amidst a day where the memories seemed to teem like water splashing atop the sea in a rainstorm, it was still a touching testament.

Here are some articles below related to the Ancestral Land Commission and in particular those in the Tiyan area around the airport.


Lease payments collected, not distributed to landowners
By Steve Limtiaco
Pacific Daily News
June 22, 2009

The Guam Ancestral Lands Commission so far has collected about $400,000 from leases and licenses to compensate original landowners who never will get their land back, but it is unclear when that money will be paid out or to how many people.

The commission still hasn't created rules or regulations for the landowners trust, despite a law that requires it and despite the findings in a 2006 report by the Office of the Public Auditor. There are no rules for leases or licenses and no process for determining who should be paid or how much.

Land has been leased or licensed by the commission without any adopted rules, and several large parcels of Ancestral Lands Commission property in Dededo and Mangilao are in the process of being leased to the highest and best bidder. The target date for those leases is October and December of this year.

Benny Crawford, who is chairman and spokesman for a local landowner's task force, said he believes the process of leasing land to pay ancestral owners is problematic and should be scrapped.
"I don't think government can represent my best interest," Crawford said about the leases.
Land is better than cash, he said, and the government of Guam should instead identify land that can be transferred to the ancestral owners or their heirs.

The Guam Ancestral Lands Commission was created in 1999 to administer the transfer of excess federal land to its original owners. The military on Guam had downsized, leaving behind large tracts of excess land, and GovGuam's policy was to return it to its original owners, who had not been properly compensated during the condemnation process.

But GovGuam still is using some excess federal land, so the commission has been leasing or licensing some of the returned federal land --"Spanish crown land" --to earn money to eventually compensate those landowners. Spanish crown land is property that belonged to the former Spanish government on Guam and which therefore has no ancestral owners to claim it.

Crawford is chairman of a task force recently created by law to identify land, including crown land that can be transferred to the ancestral owners of property at Tiyan.

The Tiyan land -- about 1,400 acres -- was returned to Guam by the federal government as part of the former Naval Air Station Agana, but it was not returned to its original owners because the airport still is using it.

Guam law currently is setting up a land exchange only for Tiyan families, but Crawford said he believes the same process should be expanded to include all ancestral landowners whose land is being used by GovGuam.

As an example, he said, ancestral land along the back road to Andersen Air Force Base still is being held by GovGuam for future school construction.

If any ancestral land remains with GovGuam after land is distributed to ancestral owners, it can be leased to benefit those whose property still is being held by the federal government, such as the families who owned land at Naval Station, Crawford said.

Crawford's task force completed its work this month, and submitted a report to the Legislature June 9, recommending that 976.92 acres of Spanish crown land in Dededo and Mangilao be moved into a new "Tiyan Trust" so it can be given to the Tiyan families. The report states 37 heirs to Tiyan property have been identified.

Crawford said Gov. Felix Camacho now has until July 9 to submit a bill to lawmakers, which would transfer that property from the Ancestral Lands inventory to the new Tiyan Trust.

In the meantime, the Guam Ancestral Lands Commission continues to collect thousands of dollars each month from businesses or government agencies that use ancestral land. The money is deposited into a trust account at First Hawaiian Bank, with no plan for what to do with it. According to the 1999 Guam law that created the commission, the commission needs to adopt rules for the trust through the government's administrative adjudication process.

The commission has not adopted rules and it currently is not working on any, said commission board Chairwoman Anita Orlino, who said the commission is focusing its efforts on returning land to its original owners and generating as much money as possible for the trust.

She said the commission could draft rules and regulations "very soon," but she declined to say when that might happen.

"Right now, their (the board's) biggest concern is to build up the trust account," said commission Executive Director Ed Benavente.

The public auditor, in a 2006 report, was critical of the commission's decision to lease property without first adopting rules, and noted that licenses for property were issued "arbitrarily and inconsistently" with some licensees receiving "relatively favorable terms and conditions."

The year after the audit was released, the Ancestral Lands Commission entered into an agreement with the Guam Economic Development Authority, which has taken over the leasing process for crown land. Under the agreement, the ancestral lands board must give final approval to any lease.
Director Benavente said the commission has no expertise in leasing property, which is why it has been working with GEDA.

"They're expected to know what it is to lease," he said.

Leases for the use of ancestral land now are bid competitively by GEDA, which requires a minimum annual payment of at least 8 percent of the property's appraised value, among other compensation.
That's the standard lease amount in the real estate industry, said Mike Cruz, GEDA's real property division manager. Other standard lease requirements for ancestral land are: the payment of at least 2.5 percent of the gross annual business income from use of the property; and an 11 percent share of the gross rent paid by anyone who subleases the property. Those who offer to pay more get a higher score during GEDA's selection process, according to requests for proposals issued earlier this year by GEDA.


Tiyan landowners storm Adelup
by Janjeera Hail
September 21, 2009

A protest was held at Adelup this morning as Tiyan landowners are upset about the governor's decision to appoint his assistant legal counsel as the acting administrator at the Ancestral Lands Commission.  Tiyan Land Exchange Task Force members made sure their message was heard loud and clear this morning at the Governor's Complex.

Benny Crawford, Task Force chairman, proclaimed, "It's not the right kind of person to be down there!"  He would also say, "We would like for him to rescind that appointment to Ray Haddock and appoint it to someone else."

Task Force members held a peaceful protest at Adelup this morning, calling for the removal of Haddock, who has been appointed by the governor to head up the Ancestral Lands Commission while director Ed Benavente is out on medical leave.  Task Force members maintain Haddock isn't the right person for the job.

The governor's assistant legal counsel is the son-in-law of Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Torres, who is the governor's brother-in-law.

Crawford says the acting director's relationship with his in-laws raises a serious conflict of interest.  You see, the Ancestral Lands Commission contends they are entitled to profits from land the Torres family sold.  "The attorney general realized that the family's attorney didn't follow the instruction to have the court determine the legality of the sale of the property, so they came back to Ancestral Lands months ago and the attorney general says, 'Let me represent the Ancestral Lands against the Torres family,'" said Crawford.  "Maybe we can recoup some of those funds, which I think are about $15 million."

Haddock, however, says the concerns are unfounded, stressing that none of the work he'll be doing as acting director relates to the Torres case.  "If there was some type of action, then I would naturally recuse myself from that particular matter. But I think it was very important and I think the governor recognized I had some service that I could provide to the Ancestral Lands Commission."

But landowners say that there is an appearance of impropriety, with Haddock even leading the agency.  "Ray Haddock being down at Ancestral Lands might really jeopardize some of the paperwork, and it's just not a good thing.  We really don't think he's the right person, it's really a conflict of interest," continued Crawford in opposition of the chief executive's decision.

Despite the concerns raised this morning, Governor Felix Camacho maintains the concerns of a conflict are "ridiculous".  "Absolutely not," he responded.  "[Haddock] is a professional, he must adhere to certain standards and the like, and in his capacity as legal counsel here for the Governor's Office he upholds those standards.  And so their claims against him are totally absurd and I will not pay attention to it."


Original landowners ready for fight over Tiyan
by Mindy Fothergill,
Wednesday, February 08, 2006

It's a controversy that's been brewing for months now. As KUAM News has been reporting, the federal government is pushing for the return of Tiyan lands designated for the construction of an access road. The problem is that same property has been returned to original landowners who have since renovated and moved into the homes.

The government has been put on notice and now has less than thirty days to respond to the feds who visited last month to assess the situation. What will happen to original landowners who have waited decades for the return of their property with a possibility of that land being taken back again?

Catherine McCollum is frustrated - primarily that the federal government wants to take back her family's property in Tiyan that was recently returned. After decades of waiting for her grandfather Bernardo Punzalan's property, McCollum isn't going to leave without a fight. "The people are here to stay. If they do get up and leave, my heart goes out to them because maybe they don't have the fight in them, but the ones I've spoken to are willing to put up a fight," she told KUAM News.

Now with the local government's looming deadline to explain why the land was returned, McCollum says she wanted to send a message to the government to protect the interests of original landowners. This morning the tamuning resident staged a one-person protest in Tiyan today parking her car in the middle of the road, a Guam flag prominently raised.

She was arrested on charges of obstructing a public highway, assault on a police officer, and resisting arrest."

This is the first of many fights...a knee on my rib is not going to stop me from going out there and making my statement again," McCollum says. She feels appalled that elected leaders have failed to fight for original landowners and property that she maintains is rightfully theirs, adding, "The elected officials should come up and start saying no enough is enough you guys leave these people alone. They're home now. You don't do this to my people. Don't tell me what to do on my land. He's got the power. They've all got the power but they're not doing anything about this power."

United States Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration division administrator Abraham Wong wrote a letter to Governor Felix Camacho, expressing concerns about the Government of Guam's "unauthorized actions".

In October 2000 a quitclaim deed conveyed Tiyan properties to Guam's public sector for the sole purpose of building a highway - specifically to develop the land for three parkways from Route 20, Route 16a, and an extension of Route 10. The deed prohibited the government from further transferring the property without the consent of the Federal Highway Administration. On May 31, 2005 the government, through the Guam Ancestral Lands Commission, conveyed the Tiyan property to original landowners like McCollum's family. A reversionary clause in the contract provides that in the event the government decides not to build the highway, the property would be given back to the feds.

Wong threatens that without correction, Guam's actions may result in reversion of the land, the withholding of federal funds or other legal action.

Governor Camacho says there's no easy answer to the predicament the government is in, but he was made clear that the feds are threatening to pull money if the property isn't taken back. "There's threats of losing federal dollars in grant money in the millions of dollars either way there's a high price to pay," he told KUAM News.

The Governor says his legal counsel is currently reviewing the feds' letter to draft a response. For now, Camacho says he's looking for a win-win situation. When lawmakers passed legislation to return excess lands to original landowners, the Governor says he was told by certain senators that he refused to identify that it was unlikely the federal government would take the land back."

I believe their bluff has been called and we're stuck with having to decide," said the Governor. "Either way there's going to be a loss one way or another, either to the landowners or to the government or to the highway. There's no easy answer here and not everyone's going to be satisfied in the end."

It's not an answer residents like Catherine McCollum are pleased to hear. "This is sad - it's really sad," she dejectedly expressed. "It's a stab in our back when our own people have to do this to our own people." 


Camacho pleads Tiyan case in D.C.
Governor seeks compromise solution to land dispute
By Oyaol Ngirairikl
Pacific Daily News 
March 2, 2006

Gov. Felix Camacho is pushing for a middle ground in the Tiyan land issue in Washington, D.C.
"Our people can have their land and we can build a road," Camacho said before the Interagency Group on Insular Affairs yesterday.

Leaders from U.S. territories, including Guam, the Virgin Islands and American Samoa attended the annual meeting with representatives from federal agencies, such as the Department of the Interior, Department of Transportation and the Department of Defense. The interagency group's task is to recommend policy to help territories address issues that require the approval of more than one federal agency. The property along the Tiyan cliff line was among many parcels that the U.S. military took after World War II for defense purposes. In 2000, the federal government returned the property to the local government, which in turn returned the parcels to heirs of the Chamorro people documented to have owned the property.

Last year, Federal Highway Administration Division Administrator Abraham Wong sent a letter to Camacho, saying the property was given to the local government in order to build a highway, and unless the property is used as a highway, it must be returned to the federal government.
Camacho has said federal officials fail to recognize the suffering and sacrifice of Guam's people.

"Our people allowed (the) U.S. military to use this land for defense purposes, but that is clearly not their need anymore, so it rightfully belongs in the hands of our people," he said in his plea for help.

Camacho and Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo expect to meet with U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta today.

Descendants of the previous landowners have either moved in to the Tiyan homes or have started working on plans to use the property in some other manner. Some of the descendants have said they want to retain their newly received properties.

Descendants have voiced their displeasure at the turn of events that threaten to remove them from Tiyan by staging peaceful demonstrations.

Land is an emotional issue throughout Micronesia because of its ties to the island cultures of the region, said Micronesian historian, author and University of Guam professor Dirk Ballendorf.

Ballendorf said the land issue goes deeper for the Chamorro people, who have been under American tutelage for more than a century.

"Guam, in essence, is a piece of real estate owned by the United States. It's difficult for many Chamorro people to accept that and you can understand why -- it's their homeland."


GIAA launches public relations blitz
'Project Airport Now' seeks to inform despite tensions with landowners
By Steve Limtiaco
Pacific Daily News

The island's airport is in the middle of a $95,000 public relations effort, including broadcast and print advertisements, brochures, and a press conference, to "elicit public support and participation" for airport issues, projects and activities that affect the community.

It's called "Project Airport Now," and the airport's board members approved its budget more than a year ago, according to the board's minutes.

The A.B. Won Pat Guam International Airport Authority has been distributing information about ongoing and planned capital improvement projects at Tiyan, and last week issued a report crediting the airport with contributing $1.7 billion to the island's economy last year.

It's no coincidence that the airport's message about its positive contribution to the island is being sent just as ground is being broken for the commercial development of former ancestral land at Tiyan -- land coveted by families who have been returned only a fraction of what was condemned by the federal government five decades ago.

"It's a proactive approach to tell the people of Guam, including the subsequent claimants of those (Tiyan) properties, that these are the ABC's and XYZ's of what we are doing right now," said airport Executive Director Jess Torres. "Development of the Tiyan Industrial Park is part and parcel to our development. It just happens to be on the first part of the old enlisted (housing) area."

The government of Guam's policy is to return, through the Ancestral Lands Commission, excess federal land to the families who owned it before it was condemned. In the case of the former military housing area at Tiyan, which is adjacent to the airport runway, only the strip of land between the road and cliffline was returned. Most of the land once owned by the families is on the other side of the street and was deeded by federal officials specifically to the airport for its use.

The airport erected a multimillion-dollar fence in June to separate its property, and last week Triple B Forwarders broke ground on a $2.5 million shipping facility on the land. The airport expects to collect $1.6 million in lease payments from Triple B over 10 years.

Torres said the airport's goal is to do, "What is best for our island. What is best for our people, instead of just a select few."

He said if the commercial projects envisioned at the Tiyan Industrial Park materialize, the children of the ancestral owners, "very likely would end up working for these companies."

"I'm against building more stuff. There's no jungle anymore. What's Guam without jungle?" said 27-year-old John Leon Guerrero, who lives with his cousin in one of the former military houses returned to its ancestral owners.

Asked what should happen to the fenced-in land across the street, Leon Guerrero said, "It should go back to the people who own it... Jobs are good, but where's Guam gonna go? It's gonna be one big industrial park."

Torres said, "We've taken a position that we don't have any excess lands to return to anybody." He said the former military property was not deeded to the government of Guam as a whole, but to the airport as a specific entity, and only for its use to benefit the public.

"I don't think it's fair. Why give partial (to the families), and claim the other side (of the road) to be theirs, when actually the whole lot belongs to my family," said 38-year-old Monica DeVera, who has lived in the former military housing along the cliffline for about 2 years.

Her family's ancestral lot is 91,000 square meters large -- most of it in the hands of the airport.

The approximate value of her family's entire ancestral property, including the majority portion held by the airport, is about $4.9 million, based on comparable property values in the area.

"Give it back to the landowners," she said about the land the airport has fenced in. "If not, then compensate them for it."

The airport stands to receive millions of dollars through the lease of the property, but Torres said the airport's bond agreements, as well as the deed to the property, prohibit the airport from using that money as compensation to the families.

"What more do they need to expand? For what?" DeVera asked. "It's not gonna benefit me. It's just going to cause more headaches."

Global economy
The airport terminal itself has about three times more passenger capacity than Guam currently needs, but airport officials said the development of the industrial park is intended to diversify the airport, beyond serving passengers. The revenue that's generated from the property will help the airport make its bond payments and will pay for any needed increases in airport operations, they said.

"The benefit would be that Guam would continue to be in a position to grow the economy," said airport board Chairman Frank Blas. "If we don't have these warehouses, these people who are transporting cargo from one place to another -- they'll probably go to another airport."

Blas said if Guam were to isolate itself, then the airport probably wouldn't need any further development.

"But we can't help but be part of this growing global economy," he said. "If you don't do what the airlines require, you're going to be left behind."

Sen. Jesse Lujan, R-Tamuning, chairman of the legislative aviation committee, said he supports continued development of the airport-held property.

"If we can become a cargo hub ... that's a great thing," he said. "It creates jobs, they become taxpayers, and there's more economic activity." 

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