U.S. Senate to decide
Residents: War claims bill passage overdue
By Steve Limtiaco
Pacific Daily News
Two-thirds of the U.S. House of Representatives agree Guam residents should be compensated for their suffering under the Japanese military, which occupied the island during World War II.
Now Guam must convince the U.S. Senate and President Bush, said Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo, whose war claims bill, the “Guam World War II Loyalty Recognition Act,” was approved by a slim margin above the two-thirds vote needed for veto override in the House yesterday.
Bordallo’s bill needed 280 votes, and it got 288, with support mostly by fellow Democrats. There were 133 votes against the measure, with 11 representatives not voting.
More than 60 Republicans voted in favor of the bill and only two Democrats voted against it, according to the roll call.
If the bill becomes law, as much as $126 million could be spent to compensate residents for forced labor, torture, death, forced march, injury and internment during the Japanese occupation. An additional $5 million could be spent on a grant program to memorialize the occupation. Guam is seeking compensation from the U.S. government and not Japan because the United States forgave Japan’s war debts decades ago.
“I’m entitled. I suffered,” said Santa Rita resident Amelia Babauta, 81, who as a teenager was forced by the Japanese to build airfields on Guam using a pick and shovel.
“We’ve been waiting for a long time,” Babauta said, in response to the news that the House had approved the war claims bill.
Babauta said her father and brother both were beaten by the Japanese, who were trying to locate Navy radioman George Tweed, who hid on Guam during the occupation.
Babauta said the Japanese hit her on her back with a branch as she was being marched to an internment camp while carrying her infant nephew. They hit her because she stepped out of the line, she said, and the injury caused her pain for more than a year.
‘So many people dying, suffering’Juan Quintanilla, 76, of Agat, was nearly in tears yesterday, when asked to recall his family’s experience on Guam during the war. He declined to talk about what happened to his parents.
War claims are very important, he said.
“So many people dying, suffering,” he said.
Quintanilla said he was 10 years old when the Japanese invaded Guam, and they made him work, clearing yards. His family was marched to the internment camp in Manenggon, where they lived for about a month with little food. They survived by eating coconuts, he said.
At its peak, the concentration camp held more than 8,000 residents.
Past efforts to secure war claims for Guam have never made it this far, and Bordallo yesterday credited her predecessors in Congress for making the issue known, and for laying the groundwork for yesterday’s success.
Former Delegate Robert Underwood, whose bill created the federal Guam War Claims Commission, which examined and reported on the Guam war claims issue, yesterday said the commission concluded that the people of Guam were not treated the same as other Americans with respect to war claims.
Republican Sen. Tony Unpingco and former Democratic Sen. Benjamin J. Cruz, who also is a retired Supreme Court of Guam chief justice, both were members of the Guam War Claims Review Commission.
Bordallo during her first term in Congress helped secure federal funding to pay for the commission’s work.
“Previous to the commission, we used to go at it based on our unique story,” Underwood said. “You cannot take anything away from what Madeleine has done; … It’s great news. Now we can be a little more positive. I think we have our foot in the door.”
Worked all day
Bordallo said she worked all day, trying to secure the support of her Republican friends in the House.
Former Delegate Ben Blaz, Gov. Felix Camacho and Unpingco wrote letters supporting the bill, which were distributed to House members before the vote, Bordallo said.
“I want to give credit to congressman Nick Rahall, (D-West Va.) who is the chairman of Resources, and his ranking member, Don Young (R-Alaska). They were the ones that pushed the bill through committee and onto the floor,” she said.
Camacho yesterday praised Bordallo “for her hard work in getting this measure passed so our nation can honor our great generation.”
Camacho is in Washington, D.C., attending the 8th Pacific Islands Conference of Leaders Meeting, which is being hosted by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the Hawaii-based East-West Center.
“(Lt. Gov. Mike Cruz) and I will continue to lobby with Congresswoman Bordallo so we can get this measure passed by the Senate and approved by President Bush,” the governor said, adding that he will lobby Republicans in the U.S. Senate to pass the measure.
“This issue is a bipartisan issue which transcends political lines and one that is to the benefit of the people of Guam that will bring closure to this chapter in our history,” Camacho said. “I am honored to have stood together with Congresswoman Bordallo to convince both our parties to pass this measure.”
According to Bordallo’s office, the bill now heads to the Senate for its consideration, and possibly additional committee hearings.
“We have been doing some preliminary work with (Sen. Daniel Inouye, D- Hawaii) and (Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii),” Bordallo said. “And we have other friends there. We’re gonna have to work hard again to get it through the Senate.”
Bordallo declined to speculate on the bill’s chances.
According to Bordallo’s office, the bill’s $126 million cap on war claims was an attempt to appease congressional “budget hawks” who were concerned about the projected high cost of the measure. Bordallo said she believes $126 million would be enough to cover potential war claims.
The Congressional Budget Office last year concluded that an earlier version of the war claims bill, which had no spending cap, would have cost the federal government about $200 million to implement. The measure was passed by two committees but never made it to the floor for a vote, so it was changed and reintroduced this year.
If $126 million in the current bill is not enough, based on claims that are filed, it would be easier to ask Congress to make up the difference, as opposed to starting with nothing, according to Bordallo’s office.