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 Free and open what?


Governor of Guam Lourdes Leon Guerrero and Joint Region Marianas (JRM) Commander Rear Adm. Gregory Huffman exchange ideas during the Civil-Military Coordination Council (CMCC) at JRM Headquarters on June 29. 2023. Photo courtesy of JRM

From the Publisher's Desk By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

"Free and open Indo-Pacific." With no full understanding of it, we often hear this catchphrase from every Pacific island leader and every official in Washington. We read it in every Pacific-related policy like a dystopian slogan now planted into our consciousness. It’s a nebulous concept, which officials sum up to mean: “We follow the rules of law and keep the regional order.”


While tackling its abstractness, we settle for a simpler view. “Free and open Indo-Pacific” means, “We want China out of this region”— even though it is oft-repeated by FSM leaders who simultaneously reaffirm their “great friendship with China.”


Which makes us think the phrase is free and open for interpretation.


At the community level, we want to make it simple. We want a free and open government, which entails freedom of information and openness to the public.


Since battle preparations on Guam are a component of the regional goal to maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific, island residents deserve to know what’s in store for them behind the combat planning and amid the impending influx of the Marines. Openness requires more than perfunctory press releases and smiling photo ops.


The Civil-Military Coordination Council, which used to hold quarterly meetings, now meets every month. After each meeting, we receive a press release in which they report that they just had a meeting.   


“Gov. (Lou) Leon Guerrero thanked the attendees for their participation in the council and expressed her hope for more frequent meetings.”


"I do not think we can overstate the value of these meetings,” Rear Adm. Gregory Huffman, commander of the Joint Task Force Micronesia, said.


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The latest press release enumerated the following topics on the agenda: defense construction updates, labor shortage and housing markets.


"Communication and collaboration are two pillars of our joint efforts, and this council is an important venue to pursue fearless and important dialogue for the betterment of the island as a whole," Huffman said in the press release.


We get it. You meet and enjoy one another’s company. But details of the planning and solutions leave much to be desired. Not even a sketch.


Openness doesn’t mean making yourselves visible behind the glass wall inside a sound-proof conference room.


The working groups, according to the press release, include local government agency leaders and Department of Defense personnel. Note the absence of community representation that renders "communication and collaboration” exclusive to those with reserved seats.

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The coming years are hazy for Guam residents. The Marines are scheduled to begin arriving early next year. More federal dollars are coming in, but how will they be leveraged to manage the quality of life outside the fence?


What are the plans to address the expected road traffic explosion? What are the plans for residents who are on the verge of becoming homeless due to the shortage of affordable housing? What are the contingency plans to ensure people’s survival in the event of a war? Where do people run for refuge?


Sure. There are plans. Maybe. There should be, given all the meetings. We just don’t hear about them.


But even if there are no plans, we still deserve to know.  Like Orwell said, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”




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