Chamorro Land Trust bill moves to voting file


Therese Terlaje

Bill 419-35, which seeks to clarify the intension of the Chamorro Land Trust program, has moved to voting file.

According to the bill, the changes to the Chamorro Land Trust Act proposed in the bill are intended to more clearly demonstrate that the Chamorro Land Trust program is a land restoration program meant to rectify the unjust taking of Chamorro homelands by the U.S. federal government between 1898 and 1968, and would expand the program's eligible beneficiaries to include individuals and their descendants who owned or who ranched, farmed or otherwise occupied the lands that were taken.

“I am honored to be part of ensuring the history of the Chamorro Land Trust Act and its original intent to provide justice to those whose land was taken," said Sen. Therese Terlaje, the bill's author. "As I said at the hearings on these bills, we have seen firsthand the impact of the massive land takings on Guam’s families. Too many of our families live in poverty and decades later, without a stable place to live, and their ability to use the land to provide for their families is severely disrupted."

Closing discussion on the session floor, Terlaje added, "It took years of vision, courage, advocacy, protests, and even lawsuits to get where we are today and in honor of those who preserved these rights, we must never stop fighting for, protecting, and expanding the potential of this land and its precious resources to nurture and sustain future generations."

She said it's the duty of lawmakers to "safeguard the land restoration mission of the Trust, to protect the Trust from being raided by special interests; to manage the Trust better and to make it more conducive to thriving residences, agriculture, and cottage industries; and to carry these homeland programs into perpetuity for future generations as intended, so that we may truly remedy the long-term injustice of these massive land takings.”

During a public hearing earlier this month, former CLTC director Pika Fejeran said Bill 419-35 "lifts the cloud that I believe has muddled the general public’s understanding of the Chamorro Land Trust Program. When I joined the Commission in 2016, even up to today, there are a lot of people in the general public that don’t understand that the CLTC program is not a discriminatory program. It really is a compensatory program that is meant to rectify the wrongs done in the past."

Also at the public hearing, CLTC Administrative Director Jack Hattig named three key aspects of the legislation, which he said would benefit Trust beneficiaries: "1) it preserves the program in its entirety after many years of hard fought legal challenges from its implementation to its fundamental eligibility requirements in such a way that no current leaseholder will be adversely affected, 2) it clearly restates the eligibility requirements that are not discriminatory, and 3) it further expands said eligibility to persons who farmed, ranched or otherwise occupied land and their descendants."

Attorney Michael Phillips, who was instrumental in enlightening the federal court and Department of Justice of the Guam story regarding land takings during settlement agreement negotiations, provided history and background on the Chamorro Land Trust Act. In his testimony of support of Bill 419-35 he said, “My intent is to ensure that if your kids or their kids ever have to tell the Guam story again, that we have it somewhere because that’s really what we were missing here.” Phillips ended his testimony by further stating, “This is historic and it’s a really good day for the people of Guam.”

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