NEW INSULAR AFFAIRS OFFICIAL VISITS GUAM

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Tony Babauta meets with legislators

By Therese Hart HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Marianas Variety, Sept. 29, 2009) - Members of the 30th Guam Legislature had the opportunity yesterday to meet with Tony Babauta, Department of Interior’s assistant secretary for Insular Affairs, to share with him the issues affecting Guam and its relationship to the federal government.

Babauta will return to Washington D.C. with a laundry list of specific challenges Guam faces as it grapples with a diminished economy and the uncertainty to what extent it will benefit from the military buildup-outside the fence.

That laundry list hasn’t changed much, given the consistent issues Guam leaders share with visiting federal officials, said Speaker Judi Won Pat.

Senator Judi Guthertz, chair of the committee on the Guam military buildup and homeland security, impressed upon Babauta that to date, Guam has had no commitment from the White House, Congress or the Department of Defense to assist the civilian community for the planned buildup.

Senator Adolpho Palacios sought Babauta’s commitment to help Medicare recipients access coverage in the Philippines.

"Many Guamanians seek health care in Manila because it’s close to us and the costs are low," Palacios said. "The U.S. government should recognize the benefits of opening Medicare coverage in Philippine health centers to Guam residents struggling with the rising cost of health."

Agreeing with Palacios, Sen. Eddie Calvo urged Babauta to use his influence to change the rules and mandates to allow Guam residents to access Medicare coverage in the Philippines.

Calvo is also pushing changes to the 21-day stay regulations on travel in the Philippines.

"People shouldn’t have to worry about these restrictions and paying extra travel costs when they or their families are suffering and recovering," Calvo said. "I’m asking the U.S. government to engage the Philippine government in making things easier for residents seeking health care in the Philippines."

Another issue lawmakers brought up was Guam’s quest for the Chamorro right to self-determination. Congresswoman Madeleine Z. Bordallo has introduced legislation which would appropriate US$400,000 for Guam to conduct a plebiscite. However, Guam lawmakers told Babauta that the real cost is closer to US$2 million, said Won Pat.

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