The Guam Legislature's committee on lands, chaired by Sen. Tom Ada, held a public hearing Thursday, Oct. 6, to allow for testimony to be heard regarding legislation that would reserve land for the use of an entombment facility for the reburial of ancestral Chamorro remains that were disinterred as a result of development projects from various sites around the island. Another bill regarding the use of a Tamuning property as a cultural center was also discussed.

Bills 374-33 and 375-33 were introduced Sept. 22 by Ada, Speaker Judith Won Pat, Sen. Rory Respicio and Vice Speaker Benjamin Cruz. Bill 374 would designate an 8-acre plot in Tamuning, located at Ypao Point near the Archbishop Flores traffic circle, for the construction of "Nåftan Mañaina-ta," a structure described as a Chamorro shrine to be used exclusively as an entombment facility for ancestral remains disturbed prior to 1989. In accordance with Guam Law, the reburial of remains disturbed thereafter are the responsibility of the developer or government agency involved.

Ada's committee heard oral testimony from citizens and government agency representatives for and against the bill as well as potential amendments that could be made.

Joe Garrido, who works for the Department of Parks and Recreation's Guam Historic Preservation Office and is the chairman of the decolonization commission's Task Force on Free Association (TFFA), focused much of his testimony on the importance of such a monument to Guam and to the Chamorro people.

"I'm here to testify as the chairperson of (TFFA) because this has a lot to do with our right to express our right of (political) self-determination," he said.

Garrido spoke about the right of the Chamorro people to express their respect for their ancestors by constructing the Nåftan Mañaina-ta for the roughly 2,000 remains that have been in storage for more than 15 years. He added that, in his capacity with the Guam Historic Preservation Office, he was aware of an additional 1,000 remains awaiting reburial, some of which came from sites on military-controlled land.

"Nåftan Mañaina-ta can also be considered to be a national monument of the Chamorro people that deserves the utmost respect and dignity that we can give for the people who lived before us," Garrido said. "There is no higher use for this property."

Chamorro Land Trust Commission

Mike Borja, director of the Department of Land Management and the administrative director of the Chamorro Land Trust Commission, also testified but raised concerns about the use of the specific plot of land in question.

"Bill 374 proposes the removal of the most valuable 8 acres of land from the Chamorro Land Trust Commission's inventory for the reburial of ancestral remains," he said.

Borja reported that evaluation done by the Department of Land Management found the lot proposed in Bill 374 to comprise approximately 10.6 acres of land, rather than the stated 8 acres, and estimated the value of the land at $5.4 million.

He said the pace at which the legislation was introduced made it difficult for the CLTC board of commissioners to meet and officially discuss the ramifications of the bill because it was introduced after the board's regular monthly meeting and the public hearing on it was scheduled before the next scheduled meeting.

Garrido noted an August 2002 report from Parks and Rec which identified alternative locations for the reburial facility in compliance with the law that called for the establishment of Nåftan Mañaina-ta. He added that CLTC had had plans for the Ypao Point property for a number of years.

"When the CLTC board next met on the matter (of the Ypao Point property) in November of 2004 to discuss Public Law 25-179, it 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 improvements on CLTC lands," he said. "Since the enactment of this law, CLTC has been moving forward in a direction to engage a commercial lease for this property commonly known as both Oka and Ypao Point. However, hurdles have had to be overcome and we now face yet another hurdle with this bill."

Highest and best use

Borja had previously told the Post that the agency is tasked with providing native Chamorro people with land held in their inventory for residential and agricultural purposes. However, much of the land in their inventory lacks any kind of infrastructure development such as power, water and sewage connections. To that end, Borja said that commercial leases are necessary for revenue generation because CLTC does not have a budget allocated from the general fund.

The use of the Ypao Point land that Borja described as the "crown jewel" of CLTC's inventory in a commercial lease agreement could potentially generate money to develop basic infrastructure for other lands in the CLTC inventory for the agricultural and residential use of Chamorro people, he said.

"The taking of the suggested area for a cemetery does not appear to be the highest and best use of the land," he said. "While CLTC is very respectful to the need to reinter the remains of our uncovered ancestors, an act so woefully unaccomplished already, we respectfully recommend that this body look at alternatives."

Borja then suggested alternative sites in Mangilao and a different lot on the western edge of Yapo Point as options for the Chamorro shrine.

After initial testimony was given, Garrido gave an impassioned response to the statements in opposition.

"The best use for that property is to bury our ancestors," he said. "I don't care if it costs $10 million. I don't care about that. You know how much dignity and respect costs? You can't even put (a) figure on it. The respect of our people is paramount."

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