During a sobering ceremony at the Guam Veterans Cemetery in Piti yesterday, Silent No More founder Joe Santos retired the sign he had been displaying on the back of his pickup truck since June. Together with Sens. Frank Blas Jr. and Frank Aguon Jr., Santos removed the iconic sign from the bed of his pickup at the foot of the grave of the late Joseph "Sonny" Quinata.
The sign has become something of an itinerant landmark – the stark black on white "Silent No More Stop Child Sex Abuse" is easily seen and announces the likely presence of a protest nearby.
Santos said he had originally erected the sign as a silent promise made to Doris Concepcion during the internment of her son Joseph "Sonny" Quinata's remains.
"I watched his mother slide his ashes into his final resting place," Santos said to the gathered crowd. "I saw the pain of a mother – the pain of a parent who wished, I think, that she had done some things differently."
On that day, June 14, Santos vowed he was going to display the sign until the bill was passed.
Doris Concepcion, with Walter Denton, Roy Quintanilla and Roland Sondia, went public with accusations about the abuse her son suffered when he was an altar boy at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish in Agat in the 1970s. The four claimed that Archbishop Anthony Apuron sexually abused them as children.
Silent No More is a child sex abuse survivors advocacy group whose sole mission was to push for the legislation that would provide victims of child sex abuse the legal recourse they needed to begin healing, Santos said.
The group managed to obtain upwards of 3,000 signatures calling for legislation that would allow victims of child sex abuse to file civil claims against their abusers.
That legislation was eventually authored by Blas in the form of Bill 326-33, which was subsequently taken into committee by Aguon, who fine-tuned the bill during public hearings. Bill 326 passed the legislature with a unanimous vote on Sept. 12. The bill was signed into law by Gov. Eddie Calvo and became Public Law 33-187 on Friday, Sept. 23.
"When the governor signed the bill into law, it was certainly a moment of elation and relief to know that we had accomplished our mission and that Sonny did not die in vain," Santos said.
Santos told the crowd he had been approached by numerous victims throughout the time the sign was on display. Victims who, according to Santos, suffered sex abuse in their childhood and who had chosen to remain silent because of fear, embarrassment or anxiety over not being believed.
Santos expressed dismay about those in the church who opposed the bill.
"It's unfortunate that some people are more worried about the things they might lose and not what they might gain," he said.
A collaborative effort
Santos attributed the success of the bill not only to the work and involvement of the community who supported his campaign, but to the work of the two senators.
Blas said his motive in authoring the bill was inspired by what the community wanted for healing.
"So that our victims can find closure, so that our victims can see justice and so that there will be no more victims," Blas said.
John "Champ" Quinata, the brother of the late Sonny Quinata, said he was grateful that he, his mother and the rest of his family would finally be able to feel closure, and that he was glad others would be able to seek retribution for wrongs now that the statute of limitations has been lifted.
The retiring of the sign is timely as Santos prepares to relocate to Tinian. Even with the legislation now law and his sign retired, Santos told the Post that Silent No More was not yet finished.
"I think Silent No More is going to become something else – I just don't know what that will be," he said.