Taking Guam's 65-year fight to the House - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

Taking Guam's 65-year fight to the House

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by Mindy Aguon

Guam - Testimony was provided to the House Armed Services Committee this morning in Washington, DC in the hopes of bringing an end to a long wait for thousands of residents, many who have passed on, never getting to see the day they would be compensated.

While there's been overwhelming support in the house of representatives for the passage of war reparations for the island, the testimony provided today was placed on the record to clear up any concerns in the U.S. Senate to ensure that this longstanding issue is resolved and hopefully by this time next year, if not sooner.

World War II occupation survivor Tom Barcinas hasn't given up hope. After testifying this morning before the Committee, chaired by Congressman Ike Skelton, Barcinas says he's optimistic.  "I have great hope for the other survivors back on Guam that there is good hope that things may turn very positive in the future," he said via phone.  "I really admire the good congresslady for having taken the position of not accepting the compromise."

Senator Ben Pangelinan delivered a passionate speech, telling committee members that he was testifying on behalf of those voices silenced by fear, incapacitation or death.

The Democrat said, "We are here to seek justice, and not merely in pursuit of recognition as the title of H.R. 44 implies. Despite all the rejections of the past sixty years, he said, as we did in war, we will do in peace, we will not beg, we stand tall and tell you we have earned the justice we seek."

Pangelinan also stressed that there is no room for compromise and survivor heirs and their families must be included in any compensation effort.  He continued, "So this is something that to me is very crucial in terms of clearing that for the record. That this is not out of the ordinary, and if we didn't do this we really would be shortchanging the people of Guam, because everybody else under the other war compensation programs were allowed to do this."

The former legislative speaker also noted, "These people have the information and they have no more excuses.  Their excuse was hey we have these questions and they haven't been answered. Now, we've asked those same questions and answered those same questions."

Barcinas also spoke about how many survivors like himself and other residents on the island aren't comfortable with the planned military buildup when the United States has still failed to recognize what Japan did to Chamorros during the war.  "Yes indeed, the military buildup is certainly going to impact us in many ways and we brought up the point that if the federal government honors our war claims we think it might be easier for us to continue to be supportive," he stated.

Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Insular Affairs Tony Babauta and former War Claims chairperson Mauricio Tamargo also testified.  The former stressed the Obama Administration's commitment to ensuring war reparations is a priority.  

Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo says Tamargo also provided invaluable testimony, recalling, "He answered a lot of questions that were brought up in the conference with the Senate; things like if we do this, we have to open it up for all veterans and POWs and all that.  He made it very clear those are military people, these are civilians that were occupied it's a different set of rules and regulations that go with civilians."

The visiting group from Guam also had a chance to speak to staff members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, chaired by Senator Carl Levin and Ranking Member Senator John McCain, who both opposed the inclusion of war reparations in the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act.

Senator Frank Blas, Jr. said, "One of our main points was to continue to encourage the senate to have the hearings as promised to include the war claims into the next year's defense authorization act.  I think they came away with more information than they initially had and we came away with also some of the things the way forward."

Officials are hopeful today's testimony will be the catalyst for future hearings before the U.S. Senate to clear up any concerns before efforts are made to once again to include war reparations in the Fiscal Year 2011 National Defense Authorization Act and finally recognize the sacrifice of the Chamorro people.

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