- By Mar-Vc Cagurangan
Republicans, Democrats trade barbs over governor's new directive
Claiming the administration is heading toward "dictatorship," the Republican Party of Guam slammed Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero's new executive policy suspending some rule-making procedures to faciliate enforcement of the Guam Department of Public Health and Social Services' Covid-19 emergency-related regulations.
The Democratic Party of Guam lashed back at the Republicans, saying they are stirring community panic instead of offering to help.
The bickering between the two political parties rises to a crescendo as Guam voters prepare for the Nov. 3 general elections that are marred by widespread Covid-19 transmission.
The governor's new executive order, which extends the public health emergency for another 30 days, seeks to eliminate any barrier that would "hinder or delay necessary action by the DPHSS to respond to the Covid-19 public health emergency."
The Republican Party noted that the administrative adjudication law governs how rules and regulations are established for government policy and it includes the process of transparency and public input. The opposition party warned that the new executive order would elminate checks and balances in government.
The governor executive order noted that DPHSS and the Guam Police Department "have expressed their intent to coordinate efforts toward enforcing public health guidance and directives, and, to this end, DPHSS has prepared the Covid-19 Public Health Enforcement Regulations, for the imposition of fines for violations of its directives."
"In summary, she basically told the people of Guam that she is now imposing a dictatorship, and that she, only she, is the law," the Republicans said in a statement.
Sen. James Moylan this morning introduced a bill that would require legislative approval for any policy or decision the governor would issue under the Emergency Powers Act.
Moylan said the governor's self-given authority to bypass the Administrative Adjudication Act "in order to create policies associated with establishing penalties, curfew statutes and other mandates" may have open the door to potential abuse.
“While the public information officer for Public Health has stated in a media interview that whatever rules are being created by their department will possibly include a public hearing, the reality is that the way the law is written, it is not mandated. This opens up a huge Pandora Box of potential abuse from this subsection of the Emergency Powers Act,” Moylan said.
“The governor can literally create new fees, increase existing ones inclusive of taxes, or establish questionable policies, all without public input or legislative action. The legislation that I am introducing today assures that checks and balances exist, because it allows the legislature to have a say in these decisions,” Moylan added.
Moylan said he will request Speaker Tina-Muna Barnes for an emergency session to tackle his bill.
Sen. Louise Muna earlier introduced a related bill, titled "Pandemic Bill of Rights," that would limit the scope of the governor's public health emergency directives so as not to infringe on the citizens' civil rights.
Bill 382-35, titled "The Pandemic Bill of Rights," seeks to "protect Guam residents’ constitutional and organic rights of freedom of religion, Second Amendment rights, and due process and seizure of property," Muna said.
The bill also proposes the decriminalization of quarantine violation. Under the current law, failure to obey the quarantine policy is listed as a misdemeanor. Bill 383-35 would reduce the offense to "civil violation" and eliminate all criminal penalties during a state of public health emergency.
The governor signed the new executive order on Wednesday as the public health emergency declaration expires Friday.
"Notwithstanding our efforts to enable our residents to stay safe, the metrics tracking Guam's progress indicate that, as a community, we must do more in containing the Covid-19 virus," the executive order reads.
Guam's latest death is 77 and the number of hospitalization has gone up to 86. To date, there have been a total of 4,466 officially reported cases of Covid-19 on Guam since March. There is no letup in coronavirus transmission despite the repeatedly extended stay-at-home policy.
The Republican Party accused the legislature's Democratic majority of turning a blind eye.
"She will give your neighbor a reward if they report your actions, hence dividing our island community. She wants to play the role of Hitler, Stalin, or Napoleon, when it comes to controlling your lives and increasing your dependency on her government," reads the Republican Party's statement.
"Her puppets in the Guam Legislature, not only have the ability to hold the governor accountable, but also they have a super majority to end this dictatorship, but have instead chosen to continue campaigning for their reelection bids, hence turning a blind eye."
In response, the Democratic Party of Guam ran to the governor's defense. "The governor isn’t a dictator; she’s a leader doing everything she possibly can to keep our island safe. Maybe the Republican Party can use these 4 words in their next release: How can we help?" Chirag Bhojhwani, the party's executive director.
"People are literrally dying in our community – someone around here has to be the adult and show some tough love. One thing is clear: some are more capable at adulting than others in our community. It is ironic that Democrats are the ones that are standing up for businesses who are closed or suffering right now," Bhojhwani said in a statement.
He lashed back at the Republican Party, saying the opposition party "cares more about creating public panic to gain attention rather than protecting public health."
He said the public health regulations represented the government's response to the community's repeated calls for stronger enforcement regulations.
"These rules will be subject to an administrative public hearing where concerns may be addressed—but the GOP doesn’t seem to care about the facts. When Democrats proactively introduced a similar measure in the past – had the GOP come to the table, our community would have been better equipped to fight back against this deadly virus," Bhojhwani said.
"People who follow the rules, are being penalized because of those who choose not to. While some would rather spend time pontificating on their fantasies, others have realized that for our economy to one day thrive again – we need a healthy community. It makes more sense to penalize violators – not stand up for those who think they are above the law. That is the fundamental definition of a civilized society," he added.
The Republicans, however, maintained that the administration's management of the Covid-19 pandemic has proven to be inconsistent, ineffective and has failed to pass any muster of transparency.
They noted that the governor's advisors have been providing contradictory information not backed by reliable data.
"In April of this year, the people of Guam through social media and other means expressed their disappointment and opposition in Bill 335-35, which was introduced by Speaker Tina Muna-Barnes and Sen. Amanda Shelton to give the governor the authority to impose fines and curfews. The measure failed because the people of Guam spoke up," the statement said.
The government said since the stay-at-home order was implemented, GPD has received 607 calls reporting violations of the executive orders; and had responded 907 calls for violating mandates against social gatherings at establishments or private residences.
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