Micronesia In Review: Issues and Events, 1 July 2004 - 30 June, 2005

Political Reviews
Micronesia In Review: Issues and Events, 1 July 2004 - 30 June, 2005


Kelly G. Marsh

The many issues and events to discuss for the year under review include privatization, the provision of health care, and budgeting the island's federally provided compact impact funds. Perhaps the most important undercurrent was preparations for the 2006 senatorial and gubernatorial campaigns.

Guam's public auditor and congressional delegate both ran uncontested and were easily reelected in 2004. Voters also chose to retain two Superior Court judges, Alberto Lamorena III and Steven S Unpingco, for another seven years. Republicans preserved their senatorial majority in the Guam Legislature, winning 9 of 15 seats. Returning Senator Joanne Brown was the fifteenth highest vote getter, retaining her seat after a recount determined her two-vote lead over the next candidate. The election results surprised some, as former Speaker of the Legislature Vicente "Ben" Pangelinan was denied his seventh consecutive term and ousted from the legislature completely. Republicans Mark Forbes and Joanne Brown were selected as Speaker and vice speaker respectively.

The community focused intently on two issues this year. The first was Proposition A, an initiative allowing controlled casino gambling. Much time, energy, and money were allocated to promoting the pros and cons of the proposition. Billboards appeared. Commercials ran. Editorials emerged. Groups sponsored forums. Web sites thrived. Pamphlets were mailed (though challenged legally as incomplete). People debated. In the end, by a vote of 17,078 votes to 10,724, voters in the October 2004 elections soundly defeated another in a long line of proposals to allow gaming on island.

The other contentious issue of the year concerned the health of the island's only civilian hospital, the Guam Memorial Hospital. Three physicians ran in the 2004 senatorial elections, illustrating how central and problematic the hospital issue had become. By early 2005, the island was split into two main camps. One faction held that the hospital administrators were competent but constrained by civil service and procurement laws as well as insufficient funding by the legislature. Advocates of this view saw themselves as victims of a witch hunt. The other camp believed that both administration and hospital managerial processes were grossly inept if not corrupt. The latter view prevailed, after months of investigation, public speculation, medical professional opinion, oversight hearings, as well as reports by the Guam Civil Service Commission and the [End Page 104] public auditor. They found an environment of intimidation, improper expenditures, illegal contracts, contracts without proper signatures, and more. By the summer of 2005, the hospital's chief pharmacist had resigned and its administrator and medical director were removed.

Mental health services were embroiled in an ongoing lawsuit filed against the Government of Guam (GovGuam) on behalf of several mentally disabled patients. The federal court found that GovGuam agencies had been violating patients' civil rights by not providing appropriate treatment. However, minimal progress was made in developing an appropriate system of care, despite a June 2004 court-issued permanent injunction requiring GovGuam to rectify this situation. By spring 2005, island government agencies were requesting a subsidy of $3 million in order to comply with the court order.

On a more positive note, Guam Memorial Hospital opened a cardio-catheter lab, an operating room suite used for open-heart surgery. This was a first for Guam, representing a major advance in the island's health care services. Prior to this, such procedures had to be administered off-island, typically in California or Hawai'i, incurring overwhelming debt for patients and their families.

Many remain skeptical despite some apparent improvements in Guam's economy, including a predicted doubling of US military spending, increased numbers of tourists, higher incomes, and rising rates of employment (PDN, 27 May 2005). The assessment of the state of Guam's economy is necessarily complex. What some may represent as positive gains are considered by others as controversial, more modest, or even negative. Some do not want an increased US military presence on Guam. Employment is still down from last year (PDN, 6 May 2005). Tourist spending has "dropped dramatically" in the last fourteen years (PDN, 13 June 2005). Incomes are up just "slightly" (PDN, 27 July 2004). Gas prices rose to newhighs and are still rising, as are monthly power bills. Costs for certain basic services have increased. The rollback of the Gross Receipts Tax from its short-lived high of 6 percent to 4 percent did not produce corresponding reductions in the price of goods. Dissatisfaction with the state of the economy spread across broad sectors of the community and was reflected by resurgent interest in increasing the island's minimum wage. In the final analysis, Guam's economy is still below what it was several years ago.

Those who could least afford to do so awaited payment of the federally mandated Earned Income Tax Credit, which many stopped receiving in 1996. GovGuam began denying claims, although some 30,000 could file for partial payments (PDN, 10 Aug 2004). The issue is still in litigation. Furthermore, it has become common for one, two, or three years to crawl by before even regular income tax refunds are received.

Pa'a Taotao Tano', a coalition of Chamorro dance groups that debuted in 1999, has steadily evolved. Pa'a dancers have entertained in the Guam and Micronesia Island Fair (held each May) and have helped represent Guam at the Festivals of Pacific Arts [End Page 105] and Cultures (FESTPACs). As its latest endeavor, Pa'a invited other Guam-based Micronesian dance groups to join the coalition, working toward defining themselves as the organization that would be the mainstay of a Micronesian Cultural Center of some sort (perhaps attached to a new museum or visitor's center). Individual dance groups within this coalition are reaching notable markers of longevity; for example, Natibu, Guam's largest performing arts troupe, celebrated ten years of existence in June 2005. Under the aegis of the Pa'a Taotao Tano' Foundation, a new Chamorro Cultural Village was established at one of the island's major hotels along Tumon Bay.

Years in the works, steady progress continued on the online encyclopedia, which can already be viewed at guampedia.com>. It is meant to develop into a comprehensive and reliable resource that sheds meaningful light on Guam's peoples, cultures, history, and heritage. There has also been continuing interest in revitalizing the historic district of Hagåtña, with $1.3 million slated for improvements.

The people of Guam have liked the idea of a new, functioning island museum since Typhoon Pongsona destroyed the last one in 2002. This year the governor created a museum task force, which has been meeting regularly to locate funding as well as discuss possible locations and the type and focus of such a center. Dr Katherine Aguon called together a Council of Elders composed of island manåmko (seniors) to guide the museum task force. Some have proposed that senators draft legislation to create a similar council to safeguard Chamorro culture from the misappropriation and misrepresentation that other indigenous peoples have faced (PDN, 18 Nov 2004).

Four people qualified to represent Guam in the 2004 Olympics held in Athens, Greece. Local athletes participated in track and field, swimming, and wrestling. A dispute between local organizations had to be sorted out by the international Court of Arbitration. It determined that the Guam National Olympic Committee had no authority to override the Guam Track and Field Association's selection of an athlete, Neil Weare, who was reinstated and participated as planned (PDN, 14 Aug 2004). Several other local athletes represented Guam in international events such as jet skiing and motorcycle racing. In another type of competition, one of Guam's own Sinajaña boys, Manny Crisostomo, earned the Robert F Kennedy Journalism Award for international photography this year, as he captured the lives of 16,000 Hmong refugees who emigrated to the United States beginning in 2003 (PDN, 28 May 2005).

Marine preserves are thriving in their fourth year of existence on Guam. The numbers of fish in them have doubled. However, outside the preserves is a different story. Fishermen and women are reporting smaller and fewer fish and are calling for additional regulations to help stabilize the overall health of the reefs and the areas where they can fish (PDN, 2 May 2005). Work to finalize a new landfill continued, although this has been steeped in environmental controversy. Two potential sites were ruled out, leaving a site in Dandan. The controversy [End Page 106] lies in potential for toxic leakage to infiltrate water systems such as the nearby Ugum River. A more immediate threat to the island's ecosystem is a white insect that is rapidly killing off fadang, a native cycad valued as a source of flour (PDN, 5 June 2005).

Guam has seen some progress in island education: the legislature approved the full 2005 fiscal year Department of Education budget request; a math teacher was named one of the best in the United States; a bill dubbed Every Child is Entitled to an Adequate Education was enacted (Law 28-45 is to be in full force by 2007). However, there are still various funding shortfalls to contend with, including an estimated additional $21 million per annum for the educational programs mandated by Law 28-45.

Even after the governor declared a state of emergency in education this year, many more volunteers were needed. Government employees were appropriated from elsewhere. Individuals and organizations mobilized support. Citizens pledged more than $50,000 during a Project abc (Adopting Because we Care) telethon. But still schools opened without addressing all of the 3,065 identified repairs and needs (PDN, 3 Aug, 10 Aug 2004). In fall 2004, there were over one hundred students waiting for access to the public school system (PDN, 16 Sept 2004).

Although the importance and value of promoting Chamorro culture has recently gained community recognition and acceptance, the island's indigenous political movement had quieted. While many waited for someone to replace the late Angel Santos as a leader, others acted. This year Chamorro activists revitalized themselves, setting up forums against the presence of nuclear weapons on Guam, and protesting the US Navy's treatment of free-ranging carabao on Guam's military magazine (PDN, 16 Sept 2004). They held protest signs along the side of the road, encouraging Guam's people and leaders to fix problems at the public hospital. Chamorros marched in the Native Nations Procession held prior to the opening of the US National Museum of the American Indian in Washington DC. Numerous Chamorro artists and others resituated their view of themselves as Pacific Islanders after participating in the 2004 Festival of Pacific Arts held in Belau, although their participation garnered little media coverage in Guam.

Perceptions of racial discrimination have long divided the island regarding issues including self-determination for Chamorros; such perceptions have sprouted again this year in connection with a proposal by the Chamorro Land Trust to lease land. Some argue that this benefits a group based on their "race" and is therefore unconstitutional (PDN, 14 May 2005). Others argue that not all of the US Constitution's rights and privileges are extended to Guam anyway. One Chamorro advocate noted irony in the governor declaring the "Year ofChamorro Language and Culture," since many feel that he has been affronting Chamorro through the pursuit of militarization and privatization agendas (Julian Aguon, pers comm, 6 Aug 2005).

Much of what has occurred thus [End Page 107] far on the privatization front has been lauded as positive. The Guam Telephone Authority was approved for sale by January 2005, after more than six years of work in this direction. Although TeleGuam was already operating the service, as of June 2005 GovGuam had yet to transfer the facility's title. This did not stop legislators from earmarking the eventual proceeds (anticipated to be around $30 million after paying off accumulated debts) toward funding ailing public service systems. Management of the baseball field at Paseo, formerly under the purview of the Guam Department of Parks and Recreation, was handed over to the island's baseball federation. Legislators felt that the federation could attract more private-sector funding, and that special-interest management would provide better upkeep for the facility. The Guam Department of Education also expanded the privatization of its cafeteria services during the year. The maintenance and operation of gantry cranes at the commercial port have also been privatized and further port operations may follow. However, the fight against privatization of the island's freshwater provider gained momentum. Some activists feel their heritage should not be "sold off" before Chamorros exercise their right to self-determination—an effort fastidiously ignored by politicians this year (Julian Aguon, pers comm, 6 Aug 2005).

As has occurred in the past, GovGuam's budget for 2005 was passed at the eleventh hour. The Pacific Daily News added to the tension by running sensational coverage of the issues, including a front-page headline, "Agency shutdowns loom" (PDN, 30 Sept 2004). The budget was used as a political football in the struggle between the legislature and the governor, and was split into two parts by senators. The governor signed one part while the legislature overrode the portion he vetoed.

The governor is still trying to get support from senators and others for his plans to reduce a seemingly bloated and inefficient government to twelve umbrella departments. Among other things, critics are concerned about a potential loss of federal funds, the lumping together of incompatible agencies, and the fact that the number of government employees has apparently not declined so far. Governor Felix Camacho, a Republican, returned from a trip to Washington dc in November 2004 optimistic that some $200 million in debt would be forgiven by US President George Bush as a form of compact impact relief. However, debt forgiveness has not occurred under Camacho's watch and the time limit to get it approved has expired.

A bill was presented this year to require both elected and appointed officials to attend an ethics program administered by the University of Guam. This was partly to combat a fairly pervasive view that "the politicians are all corrupt. They hire only their relatives and all their cronies are either their pari [friend who is godfather to one's child] or their political hacks" (Underwood 2005a). The bill is meant to take effect by January 2007, just in time for a new round ofelected officials—and, subsequently, a new round of appointed officials (PDN, 30 March 2005; see [End Page 108] also bobsoffice.org>). However, some believe that "it's going to take more than a class to realign our thinking" (PDN, 30 March 2005).

Attorney General Douglas Moylan also entered the fray, perhaps to combat some negative public perceptions (and a petition to recall him) before he comes up for reelection in 2006 (PDN, 6 July 2004). Moylan has indicted many but convicted few and appears obstructive rather than constructive in many ways. Although Moylan pushed for passage of legislation granting him broader grand jury authority for investigating corruption, senators and the Guam Bar Association remained skeptical (PDN, 5 May 2005). Moylan has also insisted that his office alone should represent government agencies and officials, even though he has also claimed the right to sue the same agencies and officials that he says are his clients. Moylan has unsuccessfully sued the Guam International Airport Authority to block the hiring of an independent legal counsel without his approval.

Major indictments and trials during the year included cases against Gutierrez, alleging the use of government materials to build a home in Urunao, improper use of streetlight funds, and inflating his retirement fund membership status. Gutierrez was acquitted in the first two trials, while all the charges were dismissed in the last case. In August 2004, Gilbert E Robles, former airport deputy general manager, entered into a plea agreement regarding misuse of a government credit card (PDN, 21 Aug 2004). Former Parks and Recreation Director Sonny Shelton was resentenced after a federal appeals court determined that mistakes were made during his original sentencing. Antonio "Tony" Diaz, former Guam Mass Transit Authority deputy general manager, was sentenced to five years in prison. Former Public Works Director Gil Shinohara was found guilty on two conspiracy charges but had not been sentenced as of June 2005.

July 2004 marked the sixtieth anniversary of the US return to Japanese-occupied Guam. Island leaders have been working to sponsor a congressional war reparations bill and testify for its passage. Sticking points in the current proposal include concerns that those who passed away before 1990, and their descendants, are ineligible. Ahead are the tasks of finding funding for the reparations, educating current office holders, and garnering support from a noncommittal Bush administration (PDN, 22 April 2005).

Many events commemorated nearly three years of enemy occupation, the United States' return to Guam, and the subsequent sixty years of relative peace. Actors performed in a play about the 1944 Fena Cave Massacre. Unveiling the first stage of a memorial peace park, survivors and descendants sponsored a "Hasso Manenggon" (remember the concentration camp at Manenggon) tribute, in which the Japan consul general participated. University of Guam students researched and presented details of other, lesser-known concentration camp and massacre sites. Islanders welcomed World War II veterans. The War in the Pacific National Historic Park unveiled an online virtual museum of the war. The island's main [End Page 109] highway was officially dedicated to the US Marine Corps, who led the effort to resecure US ownership of the island. And of course, there was the annual Liberation Parade, for which many families camp out along the parade route days in advance.

By mid-summer 2005, there was much speculation about which candidates were pairing up for the 2006 gubernatorial campaign. It was clear, however, that Governor Camacho and Lieutenant Governor Kaleo Moylan would not be running mates the next time around. As Robert Underwood asked in a recent article, "does anyone [even] say the Camacho-Moylan administration anymore?" (2005b). Rumored possible candidate pairs thus far include returning Senator Eddie Calvo with current Guam Legislature Speaker Mark Forbes; Carl Gutierrez, just cleared of his latest in a series of trials (although possibilities of future cases loom), with former Chief Justice of the Guam Supreme Court Benjamin "B J" Cruz; and former US Congressional Representative Robert Underwood with Senator Frank Aguon Jr. At the time of writing, it appears that Governor Camacho is working through a list of potential running mates, as is current Lt Governor Moylan.

Kelly G Marsh is an instructor of Guam and other history at both the university and high school levels. She has degrees in anthropology, history, and Micronesian studies from i UnibetsedÃ¥t Guahan (the University of Guam), all of which she earned with distinction. Her thesis and subsequent work have focused on the development of Guam history text and textbooks—examining the past, present, and future direction of forming and imparting Guam's rich and multifaceted narrative. 

SPECIAL THANKS to those who informed, advised and helped edit along the way: Julian Aguon, Rhea Aguon, Catherine Becker, si Miget (Michael) Lujan Bevacqua, G Marsh, Linda Taitano Reyes, and Tyrone J Taitano.

PDN, Pacific Daily News. HagÃ¥tña, Guam. 


Underwood, R. 2005a. Generalize Based on Evidence, for Greater Good. PDN, 8 May, 18. 


———. 2005b. Transparent Process of Revenue Projections Needed. PDN, 22 May, 16.

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