By Jacob Nakamura
(Tumon, Guam) President Trump went through Congress to approve what amounts to be an $815 annual increase in pay for America's troops on the front lines. Gov. Ralph Torres didn't even bother changing the law that prohibits him from paying his cabinet and senior staff special pay; he doctored overtime the law forbids these exempt employees and paid them using typhoon disaster funds by issuing a memo.
And while America's troops, which include thousands of brave servicemen and women from the Marianas, get raises this coming year ranging from $815 to more than $1,500 annually to risk life and limb for the country, Mr. Torres's senior staff and cabinet members each received overtime pay ranging from $605 to $36,775 for post-typhoons recovery work.
Several members of Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero's senior staff and cabinet also received multi-thousand dollar pay raises in the first year of her administration. This is not to mention the already-high pay they received upon their initial appointments January this year. The highest paid Adelup staffer? Her son in law, Haig Huynh, who is her legal counsel paid $126,409 and doesn't even have a full license to practice law in Guam. (See more on Guam senior staff pay further below)
It pays more to be on the political front lines of the Marianas governments than it does to be on the front lines of war.
The Marianas Variety and the Saipan Tribune in April this year reported that members of Mr. Torres's senior staff and cabinet were paid at a rate of 250 percent their hourly rate for hours represented to the Federal Emergency Management Agency that these officials had worked on typhoons relief efforts.
As of the latest figures available to Kandit News Group, 40 high-ranking Torres administration officials were paid a total of $543,.674.24. Director of Finance and Accounting Bernadita Palacios was paid the least, $605.82. Every one else on the list of 40 was paid four- and five-figure checks. Former secretary of finance Larissa Larson was paid the most: $36,775.43.
Exempt officials, which the cabinet members and senior staffers are considered to be, are not allowed to accrue overtime payments according to the Commonwealth's laws. To sidestep the law, Mr. Torres issued a memo commanding the payments. The Secretary of Finance, who has the fiduciary responsibility to stop the certification of funds without authorization, did not stop the payments. Neither did Attorney General Edward Manibusan.
The top 10 cabinet and senior staff officials were paid more than half of the 40 officials's total pay, or $282,108.15 for just 10 people. They include former Commissioner of the Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services Clyde Norita, who was paid $26,890.14, and his girlfriend, Special Assistant for Management and Budget Vicky Villagomez, who was paid $26,855.90.
Mr. Norita is a big defender of Mr. Torres's administration, often ridiculing brave detractors on social media. His Tonto is Secretary of Community and Cultural Affairs Robert Hunter, who was paid $14,636.08.
See the full list below.
Meanwhile, hundreds of disaster relief front line workers still await payment of their overtime. Secretary of Labor Vicky Benavente, who was among the first to receive a check of $16,567.01, may have to contend with violations of labor laws as these workers wait for compensation overdue to these workers, who are being forced to submit letters justifying their overtime claims, a standard not imposed upon the cabinet and senior staff.
Workers due overtime from the Commonwealth Ports Authority were told their overtime claims will need to be converted to compensatory time.
Guam governor's staff
At the start of Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero's term, several high-ranking officials started their jobs at base rates higher than their predecessors. Janela Carrera, the governor's director of communications, even received a pay increase to $75,000. Her predecessor started in that position at $58,500. Her press secretary, Krystal Paco, whose predecessor made $45,000, started her job at $65,000.
Ms. Leon Guerrero's chief of staff, Anthony Babauta, is paid $120,000. His predecessor's annual salary was $115,000. Deputy chief of staff Jon Junior Calvo is paid $115,000, while his predecessor Rose Ramsey earned starting pay of $75,000, which increased by the end of the Calvo administration to $105,000.
The only high-ranking official earning less than her predecessor is governor's chief fiscal advisor, Bertha Duenas, who earns $90,000 compared to her predecessor's $125,000 salary.