Hundreds of people watched Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero's press conference this afternoon, which was streamed live on Facebook, on her administration's COVID-19 recovery plan.
Many wanted to hear about economic relief, such as an update on when the COVID-19 direct assistance to households from the federal government will arrive and when the federally funded jobless benefits will be issued locally.
The Guam Daily Post also wanted to learn what role the governor's Chief of Staff Tony Babauta has played in the COVID-19 recovery efforts and how his job is related to his reported one-night stay in the Pacific Star Resort & Spa in Tumon, which is a government quarantine facility.
Another reporter asked at the press briefing for comment on why the Pacific Star, whose owner is a campaign contributor to the Leon Guerrero-Tenorio campaign, was selected as a COVID-19 quarantine facility and could be paid $1.6 million under the public health emergency. These questions were muted.
Ricky Hernandez, the governor's point person for economic assistance for COVID-19 relief from the federal government; Lt. Gov. Joshua Tenorio; and surgeon Dr. Mike Cruz, an adviser to the governor; joined Gov. Leon Guerrero at the press briefing.
The governor's Director of Communications Janela Carrera cut reporters' questions because she said they were not "relevant to the COVID Recovery Plan."
The recovery plan was presented during the briefing, which was only the governor's second public conference with the media that she attended over the past week.
"If you have any questions outside of today's COVID recovery plan/presentation, we will be more than happy to answer your questions afterward," said Carrera.
'Your questions need to stay relevant'
A KUAM reporter then asked about documents obtained regarding the expenses for the government's quarantine facilities.
"Pacific Star Hotel charged Public Health $544,600 for the use of 389 hotel rooms for two weeks from March 23 to April 5, meaning at that rate Public Health would have paid over $1.6 million for the use of the hotel for the last six weeks. We also know by researching yours and the lieutenant governor's campaign finance documents that through the Guam Election Commission, the family who owns the Pacific Star donated thousands of dollars to your campaign. ... The appearance of political favoritism," the reporter said, as a portion of her audio was cut during her question. "Sorry, I wasn't finished."
"Go ahead. Keep going," said Carrera.
"So, how would you answer critics who say politics is playing a part in procurement during this public health emergency?" the reporter asked.
The governor attempted to respond when she held the microphone up toward her mouth, however, Carrera interrupted.
"As I said, we've made it very clear that your questions need to stay relevant to the topic at hand," she said. The reporter's microphone was then muted.
'We have to stay on the topic'
Finally, the Post asked about the role of the governor's recovery advisers, including the governor's chief of staff. The question included a request for more details into the administration confirming Babauta had spent an evening at the quarantine hotel last week, and whether he had been tested for the virus.
"Again, Nick, we have to stay on the topic," said Carrera to this Post reporter.
"I understand. The topic was in regards to the role of one of the members, the chief of staff, and then on that note the update regarding his stay at the Pacific Star, because a lot of people find that very questionable. Although he might have had good intentions, there is still the question out there of –," the Post asked.
"Nick, as I understand, (Press Secretary Krystal Paco-San Agustin) did respond to you earlier that we will be providing you with a written response to that question. Thank you!" said Carrera.
"So, the role?" the Post asked.
The microphone was muted and Carrera moved on with questions from another media outlet.
Paco-San Agustin later stated to the Post, "The recovery plan was authored by the Recovery Panel of Advisors and cited in the presentation we made today. As the governor mentioned previously, the role of each member was to provide sound medical, scientific or business expertise to reopen Guam in a way that not only protects lives but also livelihoods. The chief of staff was not a member of the recovery panel. As to your second question, I refer you to our public statement issued to your paper yesterday."
The governor's office on Wednesday stated, "Tony stayed at the Pacific Star once. This past Friday night, Tony felt ill. He stayed overnight and was cleared by Public Health officials the next morning prior to returning home."
The Post also attempted to contact Babauta multiple times. He answered one call on Wednesday afternoon, saying, "I have to call you back."