Twice before, the government of Guam took our island through costly, lengthy litigation over not paying residents what they were rightfully owed.
A lot of the circumstances surrounding landmark court cases for nonpayment of tax refunds and the earned income tax credit, and cost-of-living adjustments for retirees were different, but there were a few, important common threads.
None of these obligations were a surprise to Guam’s elected leaders. All of the financial entitlements were authorized by law. And inaction made the problem grow worse, the people’s trust in the government sink and the solution more expensive.
That’s the worst-case scenario our current roster of senators, Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero and her administration should be completely mindful of when they collectively move forward from an avoidable, costly and unresolved legal mistake – one that’s skyrocketed the potential cost of a new round of World War II reparations from around $10 million to upward of $150 million.
First, the government needs to determine, credibly and publicly, whether an expanded eligibility pool that includes all survivors of Guam’s Japanese occupation “regardless” of when they died is law.
This attempted amendment was ruled out of order, primarily because it would have grown the program from an estimated 700 recipients to anyone who survived the war but didn’t receive federal reparations before they died.
Several lawmakers already have said they believe the provision became statute despite its mistaken inclusion. Although it wasn’t supposed to be included, the amendment was a part of the war claims bill passed by the Legislature and enacted by the governor.
Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero has said she will continue to plan for a program, despite any deficiencies in the law.
Our island, particularly the manåmko' this program is meant to help, deserve more clarity than this.
We hope the governor and lawmakers allow whatever legal advice they may have received from their respective lawyers so far to be shared – even if that counsel boils down to, “I don’t know,” or “It depends.”
And because of the scope of the legal issue, and the precedent this matter sets, there’s also cause for our elected attorney general to weigh in as well.
Attorney General Leevin Camacho and his office certainly are aware of what’s been going on with this statutory mix-up. An official legal opinion about what actually is law and what senators need to do to remedy the situation – requested or not – can only help at this point.
While the legal work is being done, the Legislature and administration need to come to a consensus about who, exactly, will be paid war claims. That determination should be informed by public testimony, alongside clear financial information on the obligation to which the government is committing itself.
In a perfect world, there would be endless money available to help repair Guam’s darkest chapter in history. It’s always unfortunate when less-than-perfect realities place limits on what can be afforded for these noble causes. But that’s the job our leaders asked to be given.
The governor has 30 days to put out a plan that pays every survivor “regardless” of when they died, or propose a smaller pool. Senators have 30 days after that to agree with her or propose a plan of their own.
We hope, considering the pain already experienced for decades, it won’t have to take two months for a clear way forward to emerge.
Leaders need to proceed carefully. With all of the blame to share on this blunder, we mean “carefully” in the most basic and literal of terms.
Any further confusion, any needless revisiting of trauma, any further careless mistakes will only show this push for paying out another round of war claims was about politics, not justice – elections, not reparations.