GUAM WAR CLAIMS COMMISSION WRAPS UP HEARINGS

By Steve Limtiaco

HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Dec. 10) - Now that the Guam War Claims Review Commission has finished hearing oral testimony about the treatment of Guam residents by the Japanese military, the commission's focus will shift to U.S. Navy and congressional documents, commission members said.

It will try to find out why many people did not apply for compensation under the Guam Meritorious Claims Act of 1945 and how much was received by those who did file claims. The commission must complete a draft report by May, stating whether Guam residents were compensated fairly and recommending solutions if they were not.

Commission Chairman Mauricio Tamargo said commissioners are scanning copies of Navy records stored at the Richard F. Taitano Micronesian Area Research Center at the University of Guam.

"(We) will read them all and digest that," he said.

"We're also looking at all congressional records. As everyone has been testifying to, much of this has been dealt with in the Congress for some time. I think there will be a lot of information we can collect from those previous efforts."

Although the war claims involve atrocities committed by the Japanese military, it is unlikely that Japan ever will be a part of the claims process, said commission member Benjamin Cruz, former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Guam.

"Japan can never be brought into this process," Cruz said during a break in yesterday's hearing. "A group of prisoner-of-war veterans filed a suit in the states asking for compensation from a number of Japanese corporations for the forced labor they had to endure. Their suit was tossed out because the Treaty of San Francisco precluded it."

Cruz noted that the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal on the grounds that the terms of the treaty are binding.

The United States agreed to absolve Japan of any obligation and that applies to everybody, not just Chamorros, but also American prisoners of war, Cruz said.

Cruz said it remains to be seen whether Congress would be willing to reopen a war claims process if the commission recommended it.

"As a number of witnesses have testified, it's not an issue of money, it's an issue of recognition and acknowledgment of the fact that they did suffer these indignities and these atrocities and the United States has to address it," Cruz said.

When asked whether she believes the hearings will result in additional compensation for Guam, Delegate Madeleine Bordallo was uncertain, but said it appears most want some sense of closure for the issue.

"I can't speak to compensation," she said, noting that some witnesses yesterday told the commission they are not interested in the money," Bordallo said. "I think it's just a matter of closure -- coming up with either some type of recognition or some type of compensation -- whatever the case might be."

December 10, 2003

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