Documents provided by the Guam Historic Preservation Office (GHPO) reveal that the highly contentious Ypao Point location for the proposed Chamorro shrine, or "Nåftan Mañaina-ta," has been on the books since at least 2002.
Bill 374-33, introduced Sept. 22 by Sens. Tom Ada, Rory Respicio, Speaker Judith Won Pat and Vice Speaker Benjamin Cruz, proposes the reservation of approximately 8 acres of land located on Ypao Point – the site of the old hospital overlooking Tumon Bay above the Hilton Hotel in Tumon – for the construction of the shrine.
Since the introduction of the bill, a number of groups and government agencies have weighed in on the pros and cons of the proposed Ypao Point location including the Tamuning-Tumon-Harmon Municipal Planning Council and Mike Borja, in his capacity as director of the Department of Land Management and the administrative director of the Chamorro Land Trust Commission, which have both expressed their inability to support the legislation on the grounds that it does not take into consideration, among other things, the "highest and best use" of the property, which is valued at $5.4 million and considered to be the most valuable tract of land in CLTC's land inventory.
Additionally, Borja's Oct. 6 testimony referenced a November 2004 meeting of CLTC in which the board of commissioners declared "the highest and best use of CLTC's most valuable property was for commercial development for the purpose of generating revenues to conduct infrastructure improvement on CLTC lands." Borja reported that, since then, CLTC had been moving toward a direction to engage in a commercial lease for the Ypao Point property.
Efforts to establish the "Nåftan Mañaina-ta," an entombment facility for Chamorro ancestral remains disinterred before 1989, have been underway since the signing of Bill 760-21 into Public Law 21-104 by Gov. Joseph F. Ada on May 29, 1992.
The law stipulated that a shrine called "Nåftan Mañaina-ta" be erected for the purpose of reburying ancestral remains disturbed as a result of development projects around the island, but did not specifically designate a plot of land for the shrine's location.
"There presently does not exist a proper burial ground for these human remains which should be laid to rest as soon after they are discovered as possible," stated the 1992 law. "Therefore, this Act will locate a parcel of land to be designated for the establishment of the Chamorro Shrine where the ancestral human remains collected and presently being stored by the Guam Public Library and the Guam Museum will be properly entombed."
Early versions of the bill submitted as substitutions by the Committee on Education suggested that the shrine be "located in an area accessible to the general community, preferably within or near the villages of Agana or Tumon" and further recommended that witness testimony suggesting that the property be located along the seashore be taken into consideration.
In the end, P.L. 21-104 instructed the Department of Parks and Recreation to submit an appropriation request for the design and construction of the Chamorro shrine to the governor of Guam and the legislature "no later than ninety days following the enactment of this Act (being May 29, 1992)."
While the Post was unable to locate any documentation stipulating that an appropriation request was submitted within the 90-day period, email communication between Guam Historic Preservation Officer Lynda Aguon and Gov. Carl Gutierrez dated Aug. 22, 2002, provided the earliest available explanation behind the selection of the Ypao Point property.
According to the 2002 email, the Ypao Point location had actually been advocated as early as April 2001 by a group of individuals comprising members of "the Ancestral Remains Task Force, Department of Chamorro Affairs, Guam Preservation Trust, Guam Historic preservation Office, and most especially by staff of the Guam Ancestral Lands Commission – who were instrumental in providing the impetus to move forward on this issue."
Aguon explained in the email that the above group had initially met to discuss sites for the reburial of the "Hornbostel" collection. After research into historical records for events of significance that occurred in the area, the group settled on Ypao Point as "the most practical and logical for the shrine."
Points presented in favor of the Ypao Point location were summarized as: its stature as an important natural landmark befitting of the national monument that the Nåftan Mañaina-ta could very well be, that it provides "a cultural and physical counter-balance to Puntan Dos Amantes – the most prominent point in Tumon Bay," the fact that it is visible from all air flights into Guam, that it is the closest point to Ypao Beach which is "the actual site where most of the ancestral remains were collected by Hans Hornbostel in the late 1920s," and that it is the site of a major historical battle between Spanish soldiers and Chamorro warriors.
Aguon's email concluded that the group of subject-matter experts had settled on Ypao Point as the best option and suggested to the governor that he officially request CLTC to designate five acres of Ypao Point land for the purpose of constructing the Chamorro shrine.
Since the 2002 email, several other communications were documented between officials with the Guam Historic Resources Division and the Department of Parks and Recreation and sitting governors, CLTC and the Ypao Development Task Force in the years between 2002 to 2004 prior to the November 2004 meeting of CLTC referenced by Borja in the initial public hearing held on Oct. 6, 2016.
The documents provided by the GHPO to the Post, and to the authors of Bill 374-33, reveal a long and drawn-out exchange between officials and agencies tasked with reburying the more than 2,000 remains that have awaited reburial for decades.
'Best use' of Ypao Point
Jose Ulloa Garrido, with GHPO and who has been a part of reburial talks since at least 2002, expressed to the Post that he felt that reburial efforts for Chamorro ancestral remains have been treated as secondary to the completion of developmental projects, and that that is why they are still looking for a suitable final resting place.
"Since most of the burials are from the vicinity of Tumon Bay, the shrine must be as close as possible to where they were excavated from," Garrido explained in an email. "In our traditional history, we bury our dead as close as possible to our houses, to our land, to our coastal areas, so that we will always have access to express our respect to our ancestors. These are pre-contact Chamorros and it will be our obligation to make sure that they are buried as close as possible to where they excavated from."
In response to the line of argumentation posited by opponents of Bill 374 that questions the best use of the property and suggests that a commercial lease on the Ypao Point property could offer financial gains to CLTC that would potentially benefit all Chamorros, Garrido was adamant in his position of what constitutes the “best use” of Ypao Point.
“I understand the development concept of ‘best use of property,’ which [seems] to be an idea out of capitalism, but we are not building a hotel – we are building a National Monument on land the Chamorro Land Trust is holding in trust for the Chamorro people,” he explained. “Our Chamorro ancestral remains were Chamorros that held Guam in trust for us for over 4,000 years. To me, building the Chamorro Shrine, our National Monument, fits the 'best use' of Ypao Point.”