Protesters stage a 'Guam Against Tyranny' rally in Adelup
Despite Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero's attempt to appease her critics, more than a hundred placard-bearing residents braved the rain on Tuesday afternoon to join what was billed as the "Guam Against Tyranny" rally staged in front of the Governor's Complex in Adelup protesting the forced mandate for the Covid-19 vaccine.
Despite the governor's move to amend her executive order, protesters opposed the directive banning the unvaccinated from entering private businesses and public facilities.
Allowing the governor to enforce an "illegal and unconstitutional" mandate would be "a slippery slope to totalitarianism," said Dr. Paul Burton, an opthalmologist at Island Eye Institute.
“This is a matter of freedom and human dignity. Even if the vaccine is safe and completely necessary, that does not give her the right to deprive individuals of their personal freedom," Burton said.
“I feel that everyone needs to stand up against tyranny and not to allow any government leaders to become comfortable in issuing illegal and unconstitutional executive orders that deprive people of their freedom to make personal decisions.”
“My point as a physician is not to argue the efficacy of the vaccine, it is to argue that no government leader has the right or constitutional authority to mandate medical procedures to private citizens. To discriminate, segregate and shame those who choose not to get vaccinated and turn the rest of society against them and make them feel that they don’t belong in society unless they obey her demand is a Marxist tactic.”
Burton slammed the governor for reneging on her promise that the restrictions would be a short-term response to the public health crisis.
If the governor got away with her "illegal and unconstitutional executive order," Burton said it's only a matter of time before she further imposes new limits on the people's movement.
The governor's executive order announced Friday requires individuals to show proof of vaccination to dine in restaurants and use public facilities. She later amended the order to allow those who have has their first shot of the vaccine.
The governor also extended the public health emergency until Sept, 29.
Most residents who showed up at the rally said they were not "anti-vaccine" but they came to support the "fight for freedom to choose."
Bistra Rusanova Mendiola, an immigrant from Bulgaria, said the governor’s actions were reminiscent of a totalitarian society where she grew up.
“I see this as overstepping my rights as a citizen—the very rights that I have been taught when I was taking my immigration exam to become a citizen. I had to pass that and I passed that a hundred percent,” said Mendiola, who has been a resident of Guam for 21 years.
“Being born and raised in a totalitarian state, I recognize every trick in the book. I recognize the pressure imposed on the citizens. ‘Do not question my authority, or else. I never imagined this will happen on American soil,” Mendiola said.
A resident of Dededo, who asked to be identified only as "Krista," attended the rally with her entire family.
Krista said she chose not to get vaccinated because "there is no data showing its long-term side effects."
In her special video message Monday night, the governor once again sought to defend her executive order.
"My greatest fear is that we will not be able to provide hospital care for our people. In the last week, we have increased by 175 percent of Covid admissions to the hospital," she said.
As of Tuesday, Guam had a total of 314 new Covid-19 cases with 27 hospital admissions. The island's Covid death toll is now 145.
"The vaccine prevents serious illness and shortens its duration, and it has been proven that it prevents hospital admissions. Data tells us that 90 percent of our Covid hospital admissions in 2021 are unvaccinated individuals. As of this recording, there are 16 Covid admissions at GMH alone--15 of whom are not vaccinated and four of whom are in the ICU and three on ventilators. We only have 18 ICU beds."
Communications Director Krystal Paco San Agustin said the governor will not recall her executive order.
In the Guam legislature, Sens. Frank Blas Jr., James C. Moylan, Christopher M. Duenas, and V. Anthony Ada introduced Bill 181-36 (LS), the "Right to Informed Consent Act" that would prohibit employers from mandating the Covid-19 vaccinations.
"With the governor's recent executive order circumventing an individual's freedom to make the best medical decision for themselves and forcing employers to mandate the vaccine, the bill is intended to protect an individual's right to informed consent and their infringement on medical liberty. The individuals, not the government or their employer, should have sole responsibility for their medical decisions," the bill's authors said in a statement.
Duenas said getting vaccinated must be an individual's choice rather than forced by an executive mandate.
"This legislation is not to discourage getting the vaccine, but to put a measure in place that protects an individual's medical freedom," Duenas said.
“The measure would provide additional support for those island residents who may either lose their jobs, or are seeking jobs, due to a mandate of the governor, while simultaneously ensuring that safety in the workplace for employees and patrons alike is prioritized,” said Moylan said.
Ada said despite the challenges brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, the community must uphold a democratic balance between what the government mandates and the rights of individuals.
Blas, for his part, said business owners must have the option to set their own internal policy for their employers.
"We need to trust that businesses and their employees know what needs to be done to keep their workplaces safe without the government forcing their will upon them. Vaccinations may have their value, but the ability to choose and the right to make an informed decision is priceless,” Blas said.