Buenas yan Håfa Adai, my dear people of Guam.
This is Rory Respicio, this week I have the privilege of being the Acting Speaker of the 31st Guam Legislature. Speaker Won Pat is currently off island, she is in Pohnpei attending an educators conference and I thank her for the opportunity and privilege of delivering the Speaker's Weekly Radio Address.
This week we celebrate Liberation Day, a day in history that has great meaning for our island and people. This special day allows us to reflect on what took place nearly 70 years ago, during the Second World War and it also leads us to wonder about what our political future will bring and what we can do to make our future brighter for generations to come.
Every year, and especially on Liberation Day, we are reminded why we are Americans, why we love America, and why we seek a new relationship with the United States. We celebrate our liberation and our liberators we honor our country and the people who fought for our freedom. We enjoy the parade and activities but after the festivities are over we realize again that we are still not completely liberated.
One of the most challenging issues we face is achieving a final resolution to our political status. Some ask why this needs to take place, while others have already made up their minds chosen their options and are ready to vote. And yet others perhaps even a majority of eligible voters still feel that they don't have enough information to make an informed decision.
It's important for us to recognize that the root of our island's major problems lies with our current federal/ territorial relationship. The list of our federal problems and constraints is long and complex. These problems will not be fully solved until our status question is properly answered.
I challenge Governor Calvo who has made some progress in dealing with the federal government to convene the Commission on Decolonization and convene the Guam First Commission. We need to put our island on the right track and properly tackle our federal/territorial relationship.
Those who doubt that our status must be addressed should reflect on the public hearings and discussions relating to Guam that have taken place in Washington D.C., over the past several weeks. For each issue just ask yourself ‚Would this issue exist or would it be handled differently if we had already chosen our final political status?
If our vote for self-determination had taken place it's likely that we would already be involved in serious negotiations with our federal government and we would know with some kind of assurance just how to deal with Congress and the White House relative to the complex issues facing our island and the unfunded mandates that tax our limited resources.
Let's start with war reparations. This issue is one that we can never seem to put to rest. Despite years of trying we have never been able to get over the final hurdle which is to properly educate the members of Congress and the American general public about why we deserve, and continue to ask, for war reparations.
Just last week at hearings in Washington a member of Congress said we should get reparations from Japan. He obviously didn't know that the United States had already forgiven Japan in the ‘Treaty of Peace' which was signed by the Allied powers and Japan in San Francisco in 1951. All reparations claims were waived for any actions taken by Japan in World War II including what they did in Guam. As a result, as a territory of the United States, Guam cannot seek reparations from Japan. Under our present political status, we have to go to Congress each term and re-tell Guam's story to a new crop of Congressmen and Senators. We put our faith in God and hope we can convince them. We have to hope they will make room in their hearts and their budge for the deserving survivors of our greatest generation.
It's embarrassing and humiliating for those who believe and support our great country and who have been patiently waiting for so long and also for those who must be re-educated time and time again.
It's equally embarrassing and humiliating that nearly 70 years have passed and there is still no resolution. If and when Guam's status is changed, it is my hope that a similar change will also take place in the way our government treats us.
A second challenging issue is the proposed visa waiver for mainland Chinese visitors and for visitors from Russia. This is an enormous opportunity for our visitor industry and will be a huge benefit for our struggling economy. Visitors from both countries have low rejection rates and they are less problematic than visitors from many other nations.
A simple change in the rules is all that is necessary and we are pleased that a breakthrough has been achieved regarding this issue that will greatly benefit our people. We can only estimate what the increase in visitors and revenues might be but everyone who has looked at this issue is certain that it will be a tremendous boon to our economy.
If the political status of Guam is resolved, it may mean a quicker resolution of this and other problems but we shouldn't be holding our collective breath. While we are hopeful that progress can be made, there are many issues that need to be addressed including:
• exemption from the Jones Act
• insufficient Compact Impact funding and reimbursements
• inequitable Medicaid caps
• EITC reimbursements
• inclusion in the SSI program for the disabled
• unreturned ancestral lands, including the return of FENA lake, surrounding lands, and its water systems to the people of Guam
• clean-up of Defense Department environmental hazards
• and treatment of health problems related to those hazards.
Defining our political status does not mean that we are un-American, as some people have claimed. Despite some angry rhetoric and despite the unreasonableness of some Federal agencies, we all know we are a part of the greatest nation on earth.
By its very definition, deciding on our status is one of the most American actions that we can take. We have an opportunity to choose our own political destiny, and what can be more American and liberating than that?