AGANA, Guam - Tan Isabet, a Chamoru woman with a fourth grade education lost her land to the U.S. military, immediately after World War II. Tan Isabet was told that to disagree would be considered or frowned upon as being anti-American. Tan Isabet remembers full well how it was to be anti-Japanese. She was told that any further resistance from her will result in the imprisonment of her elderly non-Chamoru (Spanish) father who would be shipped off-island, and never to be seen again by any of her family.
Copyright 1999 The Daily Republican Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Tan Isabet was also told that to reject the money from the federal government would still result in her losing her land, and she would never get anything else for it.
Tan Isabet did not know that she could challenge her case, but even if she did, her appeal would only be to the Commander of Naval Forces Marianas who was the very same entity that was condemning her land. The only court or legal system that was established at the time was put together for the purpose of protecting the interest and advancing the needs of the U.S. Naval government in the name of ‘national security’.
During the 1940s on up to 1957, there was no legal system in place that would protect Tan Isabet’s rights, as well as the civil rights of all the other Chamoru landowners.
What the U.S. Naval government paid Tan Isabet for every acre of land, was not enough to buy twenty pounds (20 lbs.) of reef fish, nor could she afford to purchase twelve (12) dozen of eggs to feed her small children.
Forty (40) years later, under the Guam Land Claims Act, Tan Isabet received an additional $380 for every acre of land that was taken from her. Her lawyer stated in court that the ‘Option 3’ Land Claimants could not fight any further because they had run out of money to continue their case. The reason for this was the federal law that authorized the Guam Land Claims was very restrictive.
The federal government required the land claimants to prove wrongdoing 40 years earlier, and those who were able to support their claim could only be paid based on the value of the property at the time of the taking…at 1940s prices. Even at that, the federal government was supposed to pay a total price of at least $600 million and as much as $3 billion for all the lands that were taken from our people, however.
If you ask Attorney Ross Putnam and the other lawyers who were selected by the federal government to handle the ‘wholesale’ land claims, they would brag about how they went against and beat the Guam landowners. I understand that some of the attorneys received commendation awards for their excellent work during the land claims litigation that resulted in several hundred million dollars in savings for the U.S. government.
The attorneys representing the federal government masterminded a strategy that split the land claimants into different groups. The scheme to ‘divide and conquer’ the landowners involved the payment of $62.00 + a square meter for the small landowners, and as little as $.09 cents + per square meter was disbursed to the landowners who owned large tracts of land that was taken by the U.S. Naval government.
Back then, it was the Government attorneys who took advantage of the landowners by discriminating against them. Today, there are certain members in the local media who are perpetuating the problem by pitting landowner against landowner.
Carpetbaggers like Jon Anderson, Mike Powell, and others like Indian Scout Arlene Steffy are constantly bombarding the airwaves with information that is censored in order to cloud the issue and confuse the public. These folks would have us believe that we should just forfeit our land rights by forgetting about the past. There is an abuse of power in using the media to imply that we’re wasting our time fighting for the return of excess lands to the original landowners because some got paid twice.
Must we allow KUAM and K-57 radio talk show to promote their propaganda, and poison our minds with subliminal messages and subtle hints, by spinning their story with information that is based on half-truths or half-lies?
Is Tan Isabet’s one acre of land only worth the price of twenty (20) pounds of fish, or do you really feel that in 1990, an additional payment of $380 per acre is ‘just compensation’? Tan Isabet died on May 17, 1969, and her nightmare continues to haunt her
great-grandchildren today. Her ordeal is a true story that is but one
version of the many false promises and personal threats that were
subjected on our Chamoru elders (Manamko’s) during the wholesale
condemnation of our lands during the 1940s and 1950s.
Yes, Tan Isabet used the money in order for her family to survive. After all, their only way of life was farming the land, and the U.S. Naval government took that from them…how else can she feed her children?
Many of our Manamkos, however, were brave enough to say “NO!” and they never collected a penny of what was offered to them for their land. In the case of my family, the federal government offered to pay an additional $4081.61 on October 31, 1990, as payment ‘in full’ to compensate my grandfather for the 7.5 acres of property that was taken from him 44 years earlier.
The administrator of my grandfather’s estate notified his attorney, Mr.David Lujan that our family did not want to accept the money; therefore, the federal government will not be able to produce a copy of the cancelled check to support their claim that our family was compensated in 1990! Although, it would be totally impossible for the federal government to produce a copy of the cancelled check, yet Ms. Steffy continues to feed the public with false information by saying
that we accepted the money.
This is a classic example of how certain members in the media are using television and radio to cloud the issue and confuse the public. Is it because the truth hurts, or perhaps, they’re financially situated and that’s all that matters to them? Unlike these carpetbaggers who are financially secured; today, there are thousands of Chamorus who are landless and are struggling to survive, because the federal government refuses to return thousands of acres of ‘excess lands’ to our people - the original landowners.
Why would the federal government not want to return our ancestral lands to the original landowners when it currently controls 1/3 of our island with approximately 44,000 acres in its land inventory? This includes 12,000 acres that are situated within their military installations, while only 6,000 acres of that is actively being used. The remaining 32,000 acres of so called federal properties have been sitting idle in remote jungle areas throughout our island.
The federal government voluntarily registered Guam as a non self-governing territory with the United Nations. Consequently, the Chamoru people received legal recognition as a colonized people whose human rights must be protected under International Law. Based on the passage of a U.N. Resolution on February 24, 1999, the United Nations has mandated the immediate return of our ancestral lands from the
federal government without any strings attached or conditions imposed.
The confiscation of our lands by the U.S. Naval government during the 1940s and 1950s was an illegal act. However, because of our loyalty to the United States, we were too afraid to challenge the federal government, especially after we had just been liberated from the Japanese forces. Note: Our national debt to the federal government has been paid ‘in full’ when our men and women sacrificed their lives and spilled their blood fighting for freedom and democracy in Korea, Vietnam, and the Middle East.
In his 1993 court ruling, U.S. District Court Judge John S. Unpingco stated, “…If defendant (Angel L.G. Santos) wishes an opportunity to challenge the title of the United States, then defendant must work with the legislative branch of government for the passage of a statute that would allow him to do so…” The 1993 court ruling resulted in my eviction from my grandfather’s property in Mogfog, Dededo.
After losing my 1993 court case on charges of trespassing on Air Force property, I thought about Judge Unpingco’s decision. Initially, I considered his recommendation in seeking legislative remedy to be a monumental task that seemed almost impossible to accomplish; however, I accepted Unpingco’s challenge by running for public office and working within the legal system as an elected official.
Let it be known for the U.S. District Court records that the 22nd and 23rd Guam Legislature conducted numerous oversight/public hearings on the issue of returning ‘excess lands’ to the original landowners during its respective legislative sessions in 1994 and 1995. The Guam Legislature also engaged in dialogue with federal officials during a land conference that was held on Guam during that same year.
Based on the legislative findings of the 22nd and 23rd Guam Legislature, government of Guam concluded that the U.S. Naval government acted illegally in the wholesale condemnation of our lands ‘without due process’ and ‘without just compensation’. As a senator in the 23rd and 24th Guam Legislature, and the author of Guam Public Law 23-141, I would like to state for the record that the local and federal governments are mandated to return 6,538 acres of ‘excess lands’ to the original landowners.
I complied with Federal Judge Unpingo’s court ruling by working within the legislative branch of government on the passage of Guam Public Law 23-141 that is also consistent with earlier legislation that was enacted during the 22nd Guam Legislature. The 22nd Guam Legislature had already established a legal precedent on the return of 3,213 acres of ‘excess lands’ to the original landowners and/or their heirs pursuant to Guam Public Law 22-145.
Today, there is a problem with the implementation of Guam Public Laws 22-145 and 23-141 in that Guam Delegate Robert Underwood has chosen to ignore our local laws by introducing H.R. 2462, titled ‘Guam Omnibus Opportunities Act’ in the U.S. Congress on July 1, 1999. Mr. Underwood’s proposed legislation contain conditions, restrictions, and penalties of reversion that will prohibit Government of Guam from returning ‘excess lands’ to the original landowners!
This is not the first time that Mr. Underwood has introduced legislation that contradicts our local laws. On October 6, 1994, the U.S. Congress authorized the return of 3,213 acres of excess properties to the local government based on the passage of U.S. Public Law (USPL) 103-339. Mr. Underwood failed to include the original landowners as the intended recipient of ‘excess properties’ in USPL 103-339. Mr. Underwood’s failure has created a conflict between USPL 103-339 and Guam Public Law 22-145.
On July 16, 1996, the U.S. District Attorney for Guam, Mr. Frederick A. Black issued a legal opinion on his interpretation of USPL 103-339. He stated that the definition of ‘public benefit’ in USPL 103-339 did not include the original landowners. Therein lies the problem…
Since 1990, Chamoru Rights/land rights activists have made great strides and progress in pushing for the return of ‘excess lands’ to the original landowners. However, Mr. Underwood’s proposed legislation will definitely set us back to where we started, if the U.S. Congress enacts H.R. 2462 into law. U.S. Congressional approval of H.R. 2462 will conflict or contradict Guam P.L. 22-145 & 23-141 that may result in the ‘mass eviction’ of families in the Harmon Cliffline, Nimitz Hill, and Marbo Annex areas.
The Cruz, Taijeron, and Salas families staged a protest in 1997 by occupying their ancestral lands at Nimitz Hill, and building a ranch style structure. In 1995, the Garrido, Lujan, Eclavea, and Torres families occupied the properties in the Harmon Cliffline area in order to fight for the return of their lands that have been declared excess since 1977. Mr. San Nicolas is another protester who occupied his family property in the Marbo Annex area since 1993, and is raising ducks and chickens there today.
These families are fighting the same war on different battlefields…i.e., Harmon Cliffline, Nimitz Hill, and the Marbo Annex Area. They will not be defeated despite the federal government’s intentional delay on the return of ‘excess lands’ and Mr. Underwood’s deliberate attempt to deny the original landowners their basic, fundamental rights.
The purpose for doing another protest on my grandfather’s property in Dededo is to protest Mr. Underwood and the federal government for not wanting to return approximately 10,000 acres of ‘excess lands’ to the original landowners. Mr. Underwood’s proposed H.R. 2462 and U.S. Public Law 103-339, both contain similar language that would prohibit Government of Guam from returning ‘excess lands’ to the original
As law abiding citizens living in a democratic society, we are legally bound to obey just laws; but more importantly, we are morally obligated to disobey unjust laws.
History has shown us that great leaders around the world went to prison because of their belief in fighting for the rights of their people. Ghandi was put in jail by the same government that prohibited his people from making salt. He defied the laws of the British ‘Colonial’ Government by collecting salt from the seas of India, and was punished for his actions.
George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and many others also committed crimes against their government…the King of England.
I am totally convinced that the federal government has no intention of returning ‘excess lands’ to the original landowners; therefore, I am left with no other alternative but to occupy my grandfather’s property a second time as a ‘last resort’ in protesting for the return of our ancestral lands. I hope and pray that my actions will send a strong message to the U.S. Congress that our people are tired of waiting, and that I am not afraid to go to prison for my belief.
I know that no person, in his or her right frame of mind, wants to be thrown in jail. If Federal Judge Unpingco decides to put me in jail, then I am willing to make the ultimate, supreme sacrifice.
I am prepared to pay the price that the federal government will impose, even if it means one day, one week, one month, or one year in prison. If this is what it takes to resolve the ‘excess lands’ issue that is long overdue, then I must do whatever is necessary to bring this chapter of our colonial history to a closure. Even if I am thrown in jail, I will continue to encourage other landowners to do the same.
In April 1995, the Department of Defense officially declared 8,200 acres of federally controlled properties as ‘excess lands’ that are no longer needed by the U.S. military. After realizing that Mr. Underwood has no intention of lobbying for the return of ‘excess lands’ to the original landowners, I decided to conduct another act of civil disobedience on my grandfather’s property. This so called Air Force property has been sitting idle for the past 50 years in a remote jungle area in Dededo.
If the U.S. military is not using our lands, then give it back to the people…it’s that simple. And the original landowners should be allowed to use these properties pending the approval of the U.S. Congress and the subsequent transfer of titles to legally effectuate the land transaction.
This is how it was done in 1977 when government of Guam was ‘administratively permitted’ to use the ‘excess properties’ in the Harmon Cliffline area, until its transfer was finally approved by the U.S. Congress almost 20 years later on October 6, 1994.
This is my response to the contempt charges that the U.S. District Attorney’s office has filed with the U.S. District Court in an order to show cause why I should not be held in civil contempt for violation of a 1993 court order. In 1993, I started a peaceful protest to advocate for the return of ‘excess lands’ to the original landowners by building a concrete structure on Air Force property. Today, I am back on the same property in Dededo to do another protest by clearing it with a bulldozer.
Generations will come and generations will pass, but if no generation has the conscience, courage and moral conviction to right the wrong doings of the past; then, the next generation will have to live with the same injustices in the future. I respectfully request that U.S. District Judge John S. Unpingco honor the legislative intent of Guam Public Laws 22-145 and 23-141, and grant the return of ‘excess lands’ to the original landowners in order for the next generation to survive in the future.
[Edior's Note: Tony Artero, the Daily Republican Newspaper's Bureau Chief on Guam was instrumental in researching & developing this breaking story. Angel Leon Guerrero Santos, Senator, 23rd & 24th Guam Legislature is also a Human Rights Activist. Copies of the above letter were filed with - The United Nations General Assembly, Original landowners/heirs, the U.S. District Court, Judge John S. Unpingco, and U.S. District Attorney Frederick A. Black.]