Closure? Not quite.
Guam digs into its own pocket to pay for war claims
The World War II Loyalty Recognition Act rolled into effect in January and filing of claims is expected to begin this month. About 3,000 remaining survivors stand to receive compensation. Many have passed away without seeing the “closure” to their sufferings from war atrocities. But whether it really provides the closure long sought by war survivors is a point of contention. It turns out, Guam is footing the bill through Section 30 funds. For Guam’s Delegate to Congress Madeleine Bordallo, it’s a compromise; for critics, it’s nothing but a sham.
“With the (signing) of the World War II Loyalty Recognition Act this year, it appears that finally the matter has been settled. But again, there are still some challenges with the use of Section 30 funds to make settlements,” said war survivor Manny Cruz, 78. “It’s still not a done deal.”
The World War II Loyalty Recognition Act — authored by Bordallo and tacked onto the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act — provides that compensation for war claims would come the island’s federal Section 30 funding, the income tax money collected from federal workers on Guam and remitted to the local government each year. The amount above that 2014 level of remittances to Guam would be earmarked to pay war claims. But the threshold amount is extremely problematic ranging from $68 million to $120 million, depending on who is talking.
“I believe the war reparations are important to recognize the ill treatment of Chamorros by the Japanese Imperial forces during the two and a half years of Japanese occupation,” Cruz said. “In my opinion, any war reparations should have come from the Japanese government, but the U.S. government decided, without any consultation with the Chamorros, to sign the Treaty of Peace with Japan in 1951, waiving any reparation claims, thus making the United States responsible for paying the war claims.”
But even with the enactment of the World War II Loyalty Recognition Act, the federal government will not pitch in. President Trump’s proposed 2018 budget doesn’t include any direct appropriation for war claims. “I had written to the administration at the start of the Trump presidency to request a direct appropriation so that administering this program would hold Guam’s treasury harmless,” Bordallo said. “His proposal does request $79 million in mandatory spending for Section 30, so there will be funding available to ensure that our survivors receive their claim.”
Since 1977, the biggest challenge faced by every Guam representative is trying to convince the U.S. Congress to award reparations to war victims. But Congress believed that reparations were already settled in 1945 via Public Law 79-224, “The Guam Meritorious Claims Act.” The period for filing a claim ended on Dec. 1, 1946. Most of those who succeeded in their getting paid for their claims had connections in government who made them aware of the war claims law, while the rest were left in the dark. At that time, many Chamorros more concerned with starting over and getting their lives back.
In 2009, the U.S. Senate leadership offered Bordallo a compromise to settle the war claims with $229 million. She declined because the compromise did not include payments to spouses and children of war survivors who have died. “When questioned why she did not take the compromise, the congresswoman's explanation was that she wasn't given enough time to make a decision,” Cruz said.
Descendants of war survivors are displeased with the war reparation delay. “I am disappointed that my parents and many of their siblings will never know that receiving the reparations came to fruition,” said Brenda Perez Sana, the Guam War Survivors Foundation planning committee chair. “Theirs is a generation fading quickly, so I look to our island and the U.S. to make good on a promise to honor their survival.”
But it seems that using Section 30 funds is the only way to settle the war reparations. “Guam paying for its own reparations is a slap in the face,” University of Guam Professor Victoria-Lola Leon Guerrero said. “The federal government’s cheating us. Section 30 funds are money Gov’t Guam already receives every year for the budget.”
This doesn’t sit well with Guam leaders as well. “I fear that this hasty attempt to pay war reparations with the people of Guam’s money, has added yet another unfunded mandate on the backs of our people, by the very person who is their voice in Congress,” Gov. Eddie Calvo said. “The threshold for Section 30 for war claims is $68 million; in other words, any amount above $68 million will be taken by the feds and placed in a war claims fund. The federal government may begin taking that money away this year, thus placing local government operations in jeopardy.”
Under the law, the surviving spouse or children of a Guam resident who died during the Japanese occupation, or as Guam was being liberated by the U.S. military, can claim $25,000. Rape or severe personal injury could result in a $15,000 payment, while those subjected to forced labor could get $12,000 and those who endured internment could qualify for $10,000.
But what’s the threshold, really? The numbers are all muddled up. “We need (Delegate Bordallo) to reach out to Speaker Benjamin Cruz, the Legislature, and the Interior and Treasury departments to untangle tax refunds and government operations from this mess,” Calvo said. “She needs to secure assurances that the Fiscal Year 2014 Section 30 war claims threshold is the $120 million figure described in a federal report, and not the $68 million assumption that now is threatening tax refunds and thousands of GovGuam jobs.”
The threshold amount is inconsistent. Different numbers are floating. “It really depends on how much (federal) activity there was to be able to determine the Section 30 funding for Guam,” said Frank, Blas Jr., former senator and president of the Guam War Survivors Foundation. “Quite honestly, the number is arbitrary. How and who is going to determine the number? And how are they going to prioritize payments of claims? All of those are up in the air. It brings a lot of uncertainty.”
But besides the irreconcilable amount, it is the manner of paying war reparation that disturbs Blas. “Taking from Section 30 is like taking out from our pocket to put into our pocket,” he said. “I’m hoping that there is wisdom and sincerity on the part of the United States to finally give closure to the survivors and provide them reparation that truly comes from them. I hope there will be an effort to find other funding sources to pay the war claims.” Blas believes the Foreign Settlement Commission has access to federal funding to cover the war reparation. “It has its own appropriation,” he said.
At any rate, Blas said, war survivors should be spared from the bickering over the compensation method. “They just want closure,” he said. “I don’t expect too much from them with regard to understanding the intricacies and details of compensation. That shouldn’t be their worry.”
Against the backdrop of quibbling over the funding source for war reparation, the Guam War Survivors Foundation is preparing for the observance of Guam War Survivors Remembrance Day, an official holiday designated for June 28. “Hat’s Off” is this year’s theme. “The Foundation has focused on documenting as many stories possible to provide a side of WWII history that the rest of the US and world do not know,” said Brenda Perez Sana, the Guam War Survivors Foundation planning committee chair. “These accounts are important to the generations that follow. It was through the Foundation that I was able to hear my own father's story. The Foundation's work has now made the same possible for children, grandchildren, and beyond to know their family history.”
Joey Franquez, musician and war survivor descendant, will be singing a tribute song titled, I Mañaina-hu, and a 60s medley. “I was a teenager during those years and the music represents a very special time in my life,” he said. “It will always be a constant reminder of when music told the stories of those times in my life as a musician.”
Remembrance Day was officially celebrated last year, so many are unaware of the tribute or the importance. “GWSF may have some good ideas to promote the survivors' legacies, but, I don't believe that the survivors will have anything to gain at this time,” Manny Cruz said. “Remember, we still have to deal with the rules and regulations that the Foreign Claims Commission have established to make a claim.”