U.S., JAPAN NONCOMMITTAL ON GUAM MILITARY SPENDING

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By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

HAGATNA, Guam (Marianas Variety, Feb. 22) – Unable to get a commitment of financial aid from the U.S. federal government, Guam senators yesterday tried to take a shortcut by asking a visiting member of the Japanese Diet to broker on Guam’s behalf for a portion of the $6 billion that Japan pledged to contribute for the Marines’ relocation.

Sen. Judith Guthertz, D-Mangilao, asked Okinawa Representative Mikio Shimoji to convince Japan’s national lawmaking body to make a direct allocation of $1 billion to Guam to cover the expenses that the island will incur for infrastructure developments outside the military fence.

Shimoji, however, quickly declined the request for aid, saying that the funding issue is a matter between Guam and the U.S. government.

"Japan supports the relocation plan in two possible ways: one, through possible loans that may be extended to the U.S. government; and two, through the use of the Japanese government budget," Shimoji told the senators.

"Guam’s request for funding assistance should be directed at the U.S. government. You need to speak up. That’s what the Okinawan people did. We spoke to the central government and told them about our needs," Shimoji said.

Sen. Jesse A. Lujan, R-Tamuning, recalled that the Guam Legislature passed a resolution asking the U.S. government to appropriate $2.4 billion for Guam’s infrastructure needs. The resolution was sent to the U.S. Congress, but Guam got no response, he said.

Sen. Tony Unpingco, R-Santa Rita, asked Shimoji to "be the voice of Guam in the Japanese Diet" and relay the needs of the civilian community on island.

"The needs of the civilian population of Guam are the same as the needs of the Okinawans. You understand our needs and we ask you to be our voice in the Diet," Unpingco told Shimoji.

Shimoji said it’s proper for Guam to demand from the U.S. government equal treatment between the military and civilian communities. "The lifestyle inside the base should not be better than the lifestyle outside the base," he said.

Shimoji advised the senators to "speak up."

One thing that the Okinawa government regrets, Shimoji said, was allowing the central government of Japan to make plans and programs for Okinawa without the local population’s participation. Guam should learn from such mistake, he said.

Shimoji said Guam, like Okinawa, should be able to recognize its own advantages and use them as leverage when negotiating with the U.S. government.

"The bases in Guam and Okinawa have importance in the security of East Asia. Okinawa and Guam provide great contributions to Japan and the U.S. We have sacrificed our ancestral family lands for military use," Shimoji said. "If you remember those things, then you should be able to speak out."

Taking a cue from Shimoji’s advice, Guthertz said "our leaders need to get aggressive and energized and get in the face of the U.S. Congress, the White House and the Department of Defense, and start insisting upon resources for the community."

"Now, we have time for this. We have to make a convincing case before the U.S. government. We need breathing space to prepare for it, to build additional schools and a new hospital. We cannot wait until 2012 for the U.S. to respond to us," Guthertz told Variety after the meeting.

In an interview with reporters before meeting with the senators, Shimoji said the Okinawan government has established an efficient line of communication with the military.

"Whenever there was a problem related to the military, we communicated with military officials. I don’t think there’s enough communication here. I don’t think the local government of Guam has enough information about the Marines’ relocation," Shimoji said.

Shimoji said his visit to Guam is intended to share Okinawa residents’ experiences with Guam, and relay messages to the Japanese government.

"I’m not in a position to discuss the budget or the cost of the relocation," he said.

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