(Editor's note: The author sent this as an open letter to the senators of the 35th Legislature.)
If it quacks like a duck ... it's a duck.
On Saturday, Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero set up a series of "roadblocks" by executive order to control the movement of people around our island.
In her press conference, she made sure that everyone understands that she thinks she is complying with the letter of the law in calling them roadblocks: "It's a road closure. It's very important that we don't say 'checkpoint' because my legal authority is only roadblocks."
There is a difference between following the "letter of the law" and the "intent of the law."
The reality is that the governor is using a very small "fig leaf" of legal semantics to create a series of illegal checkpoints limiting the ability of a free people to exercise their freedom to travel. When you set up barriers to force people to drive through a conga line of uniformed personnel to be questioned on the purposes of their travel, and requested to present travel justification and/or documentation/placards, it's a checkpoint – and it's illegal.
By not holding public hearings on these bills that have the potential to dramatically affect the lives of residents, Speaker Tina Muña Barnes has confirmed the assumption feared by many people that this is a government of politicians, by politicians, for politicians. There's an old political axiom: "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." When the proposed laws were announced, many people saw politicians following another old political axiom: "Never let a good crisis go to waste."
These proposed laws, absent public hearings and logical sunset clauses limiting power, fit both old political axioms to a T.
Without the proposed laws, the governor has already under her existing authority closed down nonessential businesses, dictated what products open businesses are allowed to sell, and directed the people to shelter at home and practice social distancing. Businesses and the people have complied, so there is no reason to give a government that has yet to earn back the trust broken by politicians, more power and more control over our lives.
Even without the proposed laws, most people on Guam are obeying the shelter-at-home recommendations. A lot of people on the roads are: (1) shopping for food or supplies, (larger numbers lately, as a result of the (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) card benefits schedule based on the last digit of SSN); (2) critical essential personnel on their way to or from work; or: (3) people going to some open place to exercise or get outside of the four walls for a little while for their peace of mind. All of those are things the people are permitted to do within the current guidelines contained in the governor's own current executive orders.
Where the government has crossed the line is that, without passage of the laws granting temporary authority based on the current public health emergency, it has set up checkpoints manned by National Guard personnel, restricting travel and issuing travel documents/placards. All are actions that border on the first steps of establishing martial law, in direct opposition of the "consent of the governed" as enshrined in the Declaration of Independence.
Whether that is the intention of this body or not, without public hearings or the inclusion of sunset provisions in the laws you will in effect be granting extraordinary powers to the governor that will not end with the conclusion of this public health emergency. And those are the types of laws that absolutely needed a public hearing, considering the long-term potential adverse effects on disrupting the checks and balances between the governor and the governed.
We the people will be very carefully watching the votes on these measures.
Ken Leon-Guerrero is a member of Guam Citizens for Public Accountability.