By Johnnie Rosario
Chamorro Land Trust Commission chairwoman Pika Fejeran dropped the gauntlet today on unnamed political and corporate forces who have been trying to exploit the Chamorro Land Trust.
Ms. Fejeran is the leader, who led the commission through its most trying period, repairing years of corruption and exposing the abuse of land trust lands. She was appointed to the CLTC four years ago, and her term expires this month. She implied today that Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero did not reappoint her to the commission because the current administration has an agenda that cannot withstand a forceful commission that plays by the rules.
In a farewell speech she made at her last meeting today, Ms. Fejeran alluded to people and companies that have been trying to exploit lands, corrupt politicians that have tried to cut deals, and the need to institute principles commissioners should abide by in order to meet the CLTC's goal of getting land to applicants.
The following is the text of Ms. Fejeran's farewell speech:
"This is my last meeting here, and ever since I received the letter from the Governor that I was going to be replaced, I have been distraught. Because we have so much more work to do. And I know that my being off the Commission is what some in our community want- heck even
some people in this room- and they are looking forward to me being gone. My absence means that they will not have to hear my voice, or the questions I raise, the principles that I've held, or the accountability I have enforced.
In the 4 years I have been here, the Trust has been exposed. Mishandling of the trust by past directors and staff were brought out in 2018 with the controversy at Barrigada Heights. Mistrust was rife amongst our beneficiaries, and came to a fever pitch that summer.
But today, I am proud to say that for the most part, that is not the case. Under my leadership as Chairperson, this Commission has exposed and corrected the wrongs of the past and laid the process and foundation for those issues to be rectified and avoided in the future. This Commission has made it clear to the Administration, that we do not work for them- we work for our beneficiaries, and every decision we’ve made is to safeguard their interests.
And at every turn, I have felt like my job here on the Commission was that of a Defender.
- We have defended the Trust lands from being taken out of the CLT inventory- because we know when the land is taken out of our inventory, our beneficiaries will never be able to one day build a home or farm there.
- We defended the 2,877 beneficiaries whose leases were found “voidable” in 2018 by saving them, and their leases.
- We defended the over 8,000 beneficiaries still on our waiting lists from being skipped by forcing this Administration to provide clear procedures for how they will comply with our rules and regulations.
- We defended the Trust against the US Department of Justice when they alleged that we were a racially discriminatory program. The lawsuit was so close to being settled in a way that would have destroyed the Trust, but my work, and that of our attorneys, saved the Trust in a way that not only protects the Trust from future claims like that that, but ensures that all families whose lands were taken are eligible for the program.
My defense of the program is not rooted in any short term personal gain, I take no joy in being thought of as an obstacle or thorn in anyone's side. My defense is rooted in the knowledge and understanding that the Chamoru Land Trust was created to right the wrongs of the past. The Trust was created because this island’s colonizer, through the US Navy and US federal government, unjustly took land from our island’s families.
This is an undeniable fact of our island’s history. And if we can get our Trust operating the way it was envisioned by late Senators Paul Bordallo and Angel Santos, then those same families will have justice- the use of land- restored to them. And when someone has land to live on
or ranch, they have security, and when they have security, they can focus on bettering themselves and their children- whether its through education towards a career or using their hands to work the land to make food or a living for themselves. That is why I have worked and
defended the Trust- because when our nearly 11,000+ beneficiaries do well for themselves and their families, they do well for our entire island.
Despite all the work accomplished, we have so much more work to do:
- Issuing out leases to those 8,000+ beneficiaries
- Finally adjudicated the 80 or so leases issued that are “null and void”
- Amending our residential and agricultural rules and regulations to be clear and unambiguous and up to date with current technology
- Working with the legislature and adjusting our qualification criteria and processes to comply with the DOJ settlement
- Ensuring that the property we lease out makes sense for the lease- holder- do they have access, do they have utilities?
- Providing support to our current and future leaseholders to make sure they can live with dignity, health and safety with access to water, wastewater and power.
- Surveying and registering our properties, on the government’s dime, not on our beneficiaries’ backs.
- Managing the 11,669 acres in our inventory to ensure we are doing our part to protect our resources, including the aquifer, our reefs and our flora and fauna
- Properly managing our leases
- Using our Trust to create a sustainable economy, away from tourism and the military, by encouraging cottage industries, and becoming the leader in agriculture and other industries.
- Fully funding the Trust so that we can accomplish all of this, while also finally having a functioning Home Loan Fund, Home Development Fund, Education Fund, Commercial Loan Fund, Home Repair Loan Fund.
As I prepare to leave this Commission, despite all the work we have done together, I know that the principles we have held, the lessons we have learned, and our vision of work for the future are in jeopardy. All it takes is for our work to fade into the past as each one of us is replaced. Those sighing relief who saw me and this Commission as the obstacle, they are counting on that. Those who refuse to acknowledge and commit that that fully funding the Land Trust would have the greatest impact towards the betterment of our entire island, because they see our land and see their own personal gains- they are sighing relief that I am being replaced.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
When I joined the Commission 4 years ago, there was nothing aside from the Act and other public laws that were provided to me in order to learn the program. I underwent real on the job training- it took 4 years of meetings, hearing from hundreds of beneficiaries that came during public comment, it took my personal research into our island’s history and the history of the Trust, it took me sitting down with the staff and past directors and my fellow commissioners to provide me with a clear understanding of the mission and true purpose of this program, and how it works and how, quite frankly, it hasn't worked for the majority of our
beneficiaries these last 45 years.
But we can change that steep learning curve for new commission members. We can establish the principles of today's Commission and our vision for the future and ensure that what we have done and what we have learned has not been in vain, and will be carried into the future, to guide new Commission members. And by doing this, we show our beneficiaries that the Chamoru Land Trust Commission is truly dedicated to transparency and that this Commission, no matter who sits here, will work exclusively for their benefit."