In front of the near-capacity crowd at the University of Guam’s Lecture Hall, three men sat on the panel, each representing a distinct generation that brought distinct experiences: one from the WWII era, another from the post-war period, and the third represents the present time— and moving forward.
Attorney Joaquin C. Arriola Sr., Magistrate judge Joaquin V.E. Manibusan Jr. of the District Court of Guam and Guam Attorney General Leevin Taitano Camacho shared their thoughts on Guam’s history and the territory’s relationship with the U.S. during the 2019 Law Week themed, “Evolving Liberty: Guam 75 Years Later.”
Arriola, 94, is still waiting for Japan’s apology. Japanese emperor Naruhito should apologize to the CHamoru people, he said. “I have not overcome my feelings toward the Japanese. They owe the people of Guam compensation.”
Before the war, he recalled, “about 99-percent of the inhabitants of Guam were Chamorros, a handful of non-(Chamorros), a couple of Chinese, an Italian―(Marcello) Sgambelluri―and a group of Palauan.”
That peace and quiet vanished into the winds of change when Japan waged war in the Pacific. “The Japanese troops just ran right through (Guam),” he said. “They’d do whatever they wanted. No rule of law!”
Arriola was emotional as he stopped now and then to peer down dark alleys of a difficult and horrific time on Guam, bringing the crowd to a hush, enthralled; some were in tears.
Before the war ended, Arriola was injured after an encounter with Japanese troops in the jungle as he tried to escape from a march to the concentration camp.
Back during the war, the young Arriola looked up and saw American war planes in the sky, all gray: “It was the most beautiful sight!”
But Arriola didn’t think it ended well. The U.S. government, he said, “sold our souls to the Japanese government.” They agreed that no one from Guam who was injured by Japanese troops may be compensated by the Japanese government.
“No! And I don’t forget,” he said.
Manibusan unfolded the discussion into the post-war era, telling about issues facing the people of Guam: the control and administration of the island, and the ongoing issue of citizenship for the people of Guam that were entangled in rules of law.
Such issues brought back “three laws into being as a result of the liberation of Guam.”
1) Executive Order 108A, which placed Guam under the control of the US Navy
2) Civil Code of 1933, which stated that the people of Guam born/naturalized on Guam were citizens of Guam (not US).
3) Finally, Public Law 76-853: The Citizenship Act of 1940 which stated that US citizenship is granted to those in the continental US, Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.
“It says further,” Manibusan added, “there are outlying possessions of the United States where the US exercises rightful sovereignty. It doesn’t mention Guam but that’s where it puts us--as an outlying possession of the United States.
“So as the people of Guam faced their freedom, what did they have? Guam citizenship? Nationals of the United States perhaps? But while they had Guam citizenship, they certainly had no sovereignty!”
Other very important items entangled in rules of law (the Guam Meritorious Claims Act, for instance) include war claims, which must be approved by the US Congress, and land purchases among others.
For Manibusan, the most important step in the right direction, is to take care of one crucial element— “writing our own constitution.”
Other territories have their constitutions, while Guam has none, Manibusan noted.
“What we should push for,” said Arriola, “is one vote in Congress!” He added that with everything, the US Congress has always been slow. So that voice is needed.
“What is our path forward?” Camacho asked. “In all honesty, I don’t know. But the first absolutely necessary step is to elevate our discussion around self-determination to raise the quality of our conversation.”
Getting to where Guam needs to go, Camacho added, must not be at the expense of neglecting the here and now. “Liberation is not a destination, at least not the only destination, but a way of life,” he said.