Landowners renew their demand for return of their lands under Navy control
By Pacific Island Times News Staff
Original landowners of the property in Mangilao known as Eagles Field and the surrounding area, are demanding the return of the land that remains under the Navy's control.
The government of Guam is seeking to lease the property from the Navy for 99 years to build a new hospital, which is estimated to cost $800 million.
The U.S. Navy turned over "excess lands" to the local government following the implementation of the Base Realignment and Closure program that entailed the shutdown of more than 350 military installations across the nation and overseas between 1988 and 2005. On Guam, the Navy retains control over about 49,000 acres of land, roughly a third of the island.
During an oversight hearing held Tuesday by Speaker Therese Terlaje's land committee, Frank Tenorio Lujan, a local resident with ties to land on Eagles Field, urged senators to advocate on behalf of the original landowners.
“I agree that we need a new hospital and have supported the efforts that have come before the legislature. However, if there is an intent and willingness to lease Eagles Field for 99 years, then that sounds like excess to me, as was already indicated in writing by the Secretary of the Navy in his Jan. 15, 2021, letter," Terlaje said.
"If we were not bold, not unified, nobody would have gotten their land back. Unless the local law is changed, we should honor it. This is justice for Guam and the landowners, and I thank them for reminding us of the real effects of the massive land takings and of generations that were displaced," the speaker added.
The hearing, attended by landowners and officials of pertinent agencies, discussed their concerns on the siting of the proposed medical campus as well as the procurement of contracts pertaining to it.
Terlaje stressed that she was not opposed to the construction of a new hospital, evidenced by the laws the body has passed to establish a health task force and to authorize the government of Guam to enter into a contract for the design, build finance and lease of a medical campus.
Terlaje said since the passage of the Guam Ancestral Lands' enabling act, P.L. 24-45 in 1999, the legislature has maintained its position that the government of Guam “memorialize the true history of land takings on Guam."
Terlaje said the landowners' accounts of land confiscations must be institutionalized as "a foundation for establishing a process for the recognition of indigenous Guamanians' claims to their ancestral lands, also known as 'ancestral titles' so that the property rights of all citizens residing on Guam may be fully and equally protected in the future.”
Meanwhile, Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero on Tuesday transmitted to the legislature a bill that would amend Public Law 25-45, which created the Ancestral Land Bank Trust.
"Since its creation, the Ancestral Land Bank has not paid a single claim to families who had their land taken by the federal government. While the concept of the Land Bank was noble, its enactment was flawed," the governor said in a transmittal letter to Terlaje.
Leon Guerrero said the courts and the Office of the Attorney General have identified flaws in the current law, which prevent these families from receiving compensation for their loss.
"For far too long, our people have been denied the right to be justly compensated for the loss of their land," the governor said. "I am asking the members of the 36th Guam Legislature to work with me to correct this long-standing injustice by swiftly acting on the Land Bank Reform Act of 2022."