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By Dennis Camire

WASHINGTON (Pacific Daily News, 21) - The Bush administration snubbed a U.S. House of Representatives committee's invitation to testify Wednesday on a bill to compensate victims on Guam from the Japanese occupation in World War II.

The House Resources Committee had invited U.S. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, or his designee, to testify, but no one showed up.

Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo, sponsor of the bill, said she was "very disappointed" in the administration's failure to take a stand on the bill.

It's not the first time the Bush administration failed to give a direct answer on the compensation issue. At a July hearing, David Cohen, deputy assistant secretary of the Department of the Interior for Insular Affairs, said he was told to not be specific about the Bush administration's position on the Guam War Claims Review Commission's recommendations, on which the bill is closely based.

The five-member commission determined that the Chamorros were not treated the same as other Americans on war claims matters, said Ben Garrido Blaz, a former war claims commissioner.

Blaz, a retired Marine Corps brigadier general and former Guam delegate to Congress, said the "disparity has long been the centerpiece of Guam's repeated appeals to Congress for resolution."

Guam Sen. Benjamin Cruz, also a war claims commissioner, told the committee he was "dismayed that the administration is withholding its support," and called for expedited approval of the bill.

"Almost 61 years have passed since the end of the Japanese occupation of Guam," said Cruz, a former Supreme Court of Guam chief justice. "With every passing day, several survivors pass away."

Under the bill, which now has 68 co-sponsors, $25,000 would be paid to surviving family members of the almost 1,000 residents who died as a result of Japan's occupation of Guam from December 1941 to July 1944, when the island was liberated.

The bill also calls for $12,000 to be paid to each resident -- or their survivors -- who suffered injury, forced labor, forced march, internment or hiding to escape internment.

A foundation would also be created to pay for scholarships, medical facilities, research to encourage remembrance of the occupation and other activities to benefit the people of Guam.

Representative Richard W. Pombo, R-Calif., chairman of the committee, said it was time to address the issue, and that he hoped an agreement could be reached on the bill.

"The issue is important not only to Guam, but to the American people," he said. "Today's hearing was an important step toward fully and thoughtfully approaching this emotional and difficult issue."

Bordallo said it's going to be an uphill battle to get approval for the bill.

"I think the biggest concern is funding, but we are optimistic," she said.

Compensation would be limited to an estimated 9,000 Chamorros who were alive in 1990 and survived the occupation or their direct survivors, according to the bill and the commission's recommendations. Others who were affected by the occupation but died before 1990 are not eligible.

The cutoff point was selected because it was the last time the federal government and the Guam Legislature's leadership were close to reaching agreement on the compensation issue.

Guam Sen. Antonio Unpingco, also a former commission member, told the committee he voted for the commission's 1990 closure date even though it meant his mother and father, who died in 1972 and 1983, respectively, would be ineligible for compensation.

"I wanted to bring closure to this emotional issue," said Unpingco, who was a child during the occupation. "Dad, Mom, please forgive me for doing what is necessary to bring some dignity to our people."

Lieutenant Governor Kaleo Moylan said the sentiments on Guam are that all victims should be recognized and made whole in the war claims process.

"Unfortunately, a vast majority of survivors will be left out if (the bill) is passed in its current form," he said.

Bordallo said she supported changing the eligibility requirements based on the fact that it is causing delays and survivors are dying before a bill can be approved.

Robert Underwood, a former Guam delegate to Congress, said the central issue is whether Congress will let bureaucratic concerns derail the process again.

"The apparent failure of the federal bureaucracy to appear today except as note-takers may be taken as a positive sign that while they will not openly support, they will not openly oppose," he said.

January 22, 2005

Pacific Daily News: www.guampdn.com

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