In the latest of a number of off-island trips, Lt. Gov Joshua Tenorio spent two weeks in Washington, D.C., and New York City until he came back to his office this week.
In those two weeks, he was given 10 minutes to address the fourth meeting of the Special Political and Decolonization Committee in the United Nations.
A number of government of Guam officials and other "delegates" who assume they represent the collective stance of the entire 160,000-plus residents of Guam have spent government funds for airfare, hotel and per diem – usually spending many more days than necessary in New York City – to make a speech of roughly 10 minutes to a U.N. committee or some activity affiliated with the U.N.
Since we taxpayers pay for the tab when these trips are made, it's helpful to know exactly what these officials and other "delegates" say on behalf of the rest of the Guam community.
Let's take Tenorio's speech as an example. On Oct. 10, the lieutenant governor was given 10 minutes to address the U.N. committee.
Guam's status as a territory of the United States, Tenorio said, "is unacceptable and it has been the policy of our government to seek change."
Territories like Guam "are owned by – but not a part of – the United States," Tenorio continued.
He then portrayed Guamanians as a victim of the federal court system, which on Guam is presided by no other than one of the most highly regarded Guam women – Frances Tydingco-Gatewood.
"The judicial system of our administering power has not played the leading role for civil rights and human rights on this issue despite providing justice for other groups," Tenorio said.
Tenorio later continued: "And most recently, the administering power’s court system has used their federal judicial system to interfere with our process and impede our progress toward decolonization by preventing the public expenditure of funds to advance a plebiscite pursuant to Guam law."
Tenorio was referring to the federal courts' decision – first in the District Court and later in the 9th Circuit Appeals Court – that struck down Guam's law for a plebiscite on political status because it discriminates against those who are not native inhabitants of Guam. Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero and her lieutenant governor have shied from saying publicly – when previously asked by local media – if GovGuam would appeal the federal courts' ruling in a final pitch to the U.S. Supreme Court. If it's Guam's strategy to appeal to a U.N. committee to somehow influence the outcome in the federal courts, such a move could be futile – unless the trip itself was the agenda rather than the delivery of a roughly 10-minute message and the expectation of a realistic outcome.
Ironically, it's this very same "administering power's court system" that Guam residents count on when it comes to putting corrupt government officials and major drug dealers on trial. This "administering power's court system" is the very one that Guam residents run to when we feel deprived of our rights and protections under the U.S. Constitution. When we feel we are deprived of our right to free speech, to carry guns to protect ourselves, to protection from unreasonable law enforcement searches, and when we seek protection against an array of discriminations based on the color of our skin and our gender, among many others, the "administering power's court system" is the venue in which we seek redress.
Without explicitly telling his international audience that the federal court decisions have struck down Guam's natives-only vote as racially biased, the lieutenant governor went on to tell the world that the "historical injustices imposed upon Guam’s native inhabitants, including the indigenous CHamoru people, have not been acknowledged or resolved. … Discrimination against the indigenous people of Guam is contrary to the aspirations of the General Assembly in its declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples."
Tenorio further said: "Guam’s native inhabitants have suffered from historic injustices as a result of their colonization and dispossession of their lands, territories, and resources, thus preventing them from exercising, in particular, their right to development, in accordance with their own needs and interests."
The lieutenant governor portrayed Guam's political status under the U.S. flag as a hindrance to development but neglected to acknowledge that it is because of the political stability under the U.S. flag that many investors deem it fit to invest on this tiny remote island in the Western Pacific. In 2018 alone, one-fifth of Guam's economy was the result of $1 billion in private-sector investments. In the recently released gauge of Guam's economy, via the real gross domestic product or GDP estimate, Guam's economy was worth $5.2 billion in 2018, of which $1.68 billion came in the form of federal government spending. If foreign investors, including from China, want in on some of the action on Guam, nothing stops them from doing so now – unless their business runs counter to the security of our country.
Voters elected Tenorio to represent the collective voice of our community rather than a segment of it.
There are voters who will agree with his representation to the international community and there are those who don't. For some who disagree, they do so quietly because they run the risk of getting bullied on social media.
Lieutenant governor, please present the full picture next time you speak of Guam and of Guamanians. Don't leave out the parts that don't fit your preferred message.