By Johnnie Rosario
(Tumon, Guam) Senators Therese Terlaje, Jim Moylan, Telo Taitague, Louise Muna, Mary Torres, and Sabina Perez chastised their colleagues for ramrodding Speaker Tina Muna Barnes's war claims bill through the Legislature without any debate on its substantive revisions.
The legislative heist began Wednesday last week, when a cabal of senators orchestrated and carried out a maneuvering of the body's rules in order to place Bill No. 181 on the senators's voting file without any debate or discussion on it. The maneuvers, some of which broke the Legislature's own rules, were carried out by the speaker herself, who has the final say on questions of rules and order while she is the presiding officer.
The bill was passed in session Friday. Before session ended, senators one-by-one gave remarks about what happened. Ms. Perez, who ended up voting for the bill because she said she has faith that the governor will handle things accordingly, took exception with the way the Legislature handled its own process. She said a measure of debate could have yielded a better bill, though no such opportunity was extended by Ms. Muna Barnes and her clique.
Ms. Terlaje and Ms. Taitague, the most vocal proponents of having the Legislature debate the bill, also ended up voting in favor of the measure. They, too, expressed their dismay at the process and the great hope that what the Legislature had just done does not end up as a mistake that costs those waiting for war claims to wait even longer.
Ms. Torres gave her hope that the political shenanigans do not harken back to a darker period in the government of Guam, when maneuverings such as what happened last week served special interest and furthered corruption behind closed doors.
In the end, only she, Mr. Moylan, and Ms. Muna voted against the measure, disgusted at the actions of their colleagues and dismayed that senators had voted to write a blank check to the governor and an empty promise to those waiting for war claims.
While Ms. Terlaje, Ms. Taitague and Ms. Perez's motives for voting for Bill No. 181 in the end are debatable, they and Mr. Moylan, Ms. Muna, and Ms. Torres did stand together in their opposition to the principle of the matter: the passage of a bill without debate and discussion.
Eight of their colleagues led the way in pushing the scheme through:
Tina Muna Barnes
Regine Biscoe Lee
Joe San Agustin
Kelly Marsh Taitano
Meanwhile, neither the administration nor the Speaker's Office have provided the memorandum of understanding between GovGuam and the federal government that is needed in order to start writing checks to the survivors. The MOU has been elusive for months, despite several requests from the media.
Justice advocate and local businessman Ken Leon Guerrero also sent a freedom of information act demand for the MOU to the Governor's Office.
Congressman Michael San Nicolas, whose U.S. House Resolution 1365 is making its way through the U.S. Senate, has cautioned senators and Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero to not be hasty with Bill No. 181 because it could jeopardize the chances of HR 1365 making it through the Senate. Ms. Muna decided to orchestrate the passage of 181 on the day Mr. San Nicolas announced that his measure made it through a significant hurdle in the Senate, where it awaits a vote.
Read Mr. Moylan's statement regarding Bill No. 181 below:
I support the expeditious payment of war claims to our manamko who survived the atrocities of World War 2. However, I could not find it in my conscience to support legislation that is a combination of many unanswered questions and a semblance of empty promise. The mere ramrod of the measure during session this week, without allowing Senators to ask the right questions, understand the process, and/or make needed changes towards the legislation, further questions whether the bill was merely being passed for political gains and purposes.
The legislation does not provide a clear understanding if funds are even available to pay these claims, and if general funds are going to be used, then what entities or programs will be impacted? There is also the question on the timelines before the survivors receive their compensation, and what mechanisms are in play for adjudication purposes when and if the federal legislation (HR 1365) passes in the Senate and is enacted into law by President Trump. Also, we have to wonder if the Memorandum of Understanding can be achieved, and what discussions have been made between Adelup and the U.S. Treasury.
There are so many unanswered questions with Bill 181 that I felt that the responsible decision was to vote no, instead of giving our manamko a false sense of hope that claims checks will be issued by Christmas. If War Claims advocate, Auntie Irene Sgambelluri was to ask me when she can expect her check now that Bill 181 has passed, what would my response be? The reality is that not I, or any of my colleagues, would have that answer, and it would be unfortunate that she would be clinging on to this optimism because several politicians said “trust me.” We need to be responsible with tax payer dollars, and more importantly, we need to be transparent to the community with our actions, and unfortunately neither is present in passing Bill 181-35.