Praise, Outrage On Guam Over Ruling That Plebiscite Law Is Unconstitutional
Attorney General reviewing ruling to decide on possible appeal
By John I Borja
HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, March 9, 2017) – A federal judge’s ruling that Guam’s plebiscite law is unconstitutional sparked praise and outrage from the community.
Chief Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood on Wednesday stated the self-determination plebiscite law, which only allowed native inhabitants to vote on Guam’s political status, imposes race-based discriminations.
Attorney General Elizabeth Barrett-Anderson issued a statement Thursday, saying she will review the case’s ruling to determine if an appeal can be filed.
According to the plebiscite law, native inhabitants are people who became U.S. citizens on Guam through the Organic Act. Their descendants also are considered native inhabitants.
Arnold “Dave” Davis, a non-Chamorro resident, sued the Guam Election Commission and others in the government in 2011 after finding out he wasn’t eligible to vote in the plebiscite.
A Chamorro issue
Annie Fay Camacho felt conflicted after learning about Tydingco-Gatewood’s ruling.
The Maite resident said she understands Davis’ challenge and, from a political perspective, it’s right for him to also have the ability to vote. However, she sees Guam’s political status as an issue that affects the indigenous people specifically.
“I understand that people come to the island and make this their home, but the whole idea of decolonization is because it was the Chamorro people that suffered and went through all of this during the war and colonization,” Camacho said.
Many Chamorros on the island feel the same way, according to Jamez Perez Viernes, University of Guam professor and historian. He was disappointed in the judge’s decision and said it ignores what the actual right of self-determination is supposed to be.
“This has become a free-for-all for anyone who claims that they are entitled. This hinders the historical wrongs of that right for the native people,” Viernes said.
Since day one of colonization, when the Spanish arrived in the 1500s, Chamorros have fought for their rights to determine their future, Viernes said. Up to now, the indigenous Chamorros have not been given that right, he said.
“The actual power to execute these things has really been out of our hands. No matter what kind of rights or liberties have been granted, they always remain under federal oversight," Viernes said. "Do we really have this freedom or are they token measures given by a higher power?”
He hopes the attorney general will find grounds for an appeal and said he will continue to fight for the native Chamorros’ voices to be heard.
It’s not just Chamorros who support a native inhabitant-only vote. Rebekah Garrison, a white, non-Chamorro resident of Guam, said settlers from the U.S. should not obstruct the path of Chamorro self-determination. The Davis ruling highlights the effects of U.S. colonial rule in the modern age, Garrison wrote in a letter to the editor.
“It is important to remember that no matter what political frameworks or legal structures have brought us all to this moment, settlers are foreign to CHamoru lands,” Garrison wrote.
Right for all
At the same time, not all Chamorros disagree with the decision. Santa Rita resident Florence Nelson said she sides with Davis’ challenge to the plebiscite law.
As a Chamorro descendant, she said it’s not right to only let Chamorros vote when Chamorros are not the only inhabitants of the island. Regardless of ethnicity, people who call the island their home should be given that right, she said.
If Tydingco-Gatewood’s ruling stands, any U.S. citizen living on Guam would be able to vote on the political status plebiscite.
“I’m sort of glad it’s that way,” said Gordon Ritter. He is a non-Chamorro U.S. citizen who’s lived on the island since 1971.
It wouldn’t be fair for someone who’s lived fewer years on this island than him, to be able to vote while he doesn’t have that right, Ritter said. Guam stakeholders who are not native inhabitants also need to be taken into consideration, as they have helped bring in money and businesses for Guam to thrive, he said.
Suwimon Waechter, originally from Thailand, is also a U.S. citizen who calls Guam her home. She said it was good news to hear that someone fought for her opportunity to vote.
“To me, as long as you’re a U.S. citizen on the island, you should be able to vote for that,” Waechter said. Anyone who lives and works on Guam should be included in deciding Guam’s future, she said.
While the community is still mulling over the ruling, Guam Del. Madeleine Bordallo on Thursday said it shouldn’t discourage the community to vote.
“While the District Court’s ruling has determined that a Chamorro-only vote is unconstitutional, it should not diminish our resolve to move forward with this very important process. The Commission on Decolonization through its respective committees for each of the political status options have invested tremendous time and resources in educating our community and now more than ever we must leverage that capacity in bringing us closer to an actual plebiscite,” she said.
Bordallo said that she will continue to work with Gov. Eddie Calvo, the Legislature, the Commission on Decolonization and the community as the island moves closer to a self-determination vote.
Pacific Daily News
Copyright © 2017 Guam Pacific Daily News. All Rights Reserved