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By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

SAIPAN, CNMI (Mariana Variety, Jan 3) - Guam may have missed its chance to achieve commonwealth status, but local leaders thought it fitting to pay tribute and remember the late President Gerald Ford for supporting self-rule for Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

Governor Felix P. Camacho and Lieutenant Governor Mike Cruz this morning will host a memorial service at Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Upper Tumon in honor of the 38th United States president, who died last week at the age of 93.

His remains were laid to rest Wednesday at the Gerald Ford Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The 28th Legislature last week capped its session by adopting Resolution 208 commending Ford "for his historic, but long-secret decision to negotiate commonwealth status with Guam leaders."

Ford served in Congress for 25 years before being appointed vice president by then President Richard Nixon in 1973. Nixon resigned in 1974, under the cloud of the Watergate scandal, leaving Ford to assume the presidency from mid-1974 to early 1977.

On February 1, 1975, Ford approved a recommendation to grant Guam commonwealth status and authorized negotiation with Guam representatives to accomplish the goal.

But for some reason, it never happened. Guam historians later discovered that the Department of Interior had kept classified documents pertaining to Guam’s political status in a safe. The safe had long been forgotten and when it was opened, 93 classified documents about a secret Guam study were found.

Historians Howard P. Willens and Dr. Dirk A. Ballendorf of the University of Guam last year published a book titled "The Secret Guam Study: How President Ford’s 1975 Approval of Commonwealth was Blocked by Federal Officials."

The book is based on a 196-page study of Guam’s political status conducted by the federal government between 1973 and 1974. Ford had approved the study’s recommendation that Guam be offered a political status similar to that, which had been negotiated -- and eventually achieved -- with the Northern Mariana Islands.

"President Ford’s approval of a course of action towards Commonwealth status provides a baseline from which Guam’s leaders can confidently promote Guam’s future political status, from a shared understanding of the intrinsic value of Guam to the United States," reads Resolution 208.

"Faithful implementation of President Ford’s directive would have brought the political development of Guam along a parallel course of political union with the United States with the people of the Northern Marianas Islands, who celebrated the 20th year of Commonwealth status and constitutional government earlier this year," the resolution says.

Sen. Jesse Lujan, R-Taumuning, author of Resolution 208, said Ford agreed with his most senior advisors that American interests would be best protected by relying on the political maturity of the people of Guam to determine their own form of government within the US system.

"He felt that this was only fair. If his presidential directive had been faithfully implemented, loyal American citizens on Guam would not have suffered over twenty years of federal excuses and ultimate rejection of our Commonwealth quest," Lujan said added.

Lujan said copies of the resolution will be sent to Mrs. Betty Ford, President George W. Bush, and Ruben Barrales of the White House staff.

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