By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Standing pat on her soon-to-be signed lease agreement with the Navy for a hospital project in Mangilao, Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero lashed back at Speaker Therese Terlaje, describing the legislative head as a “paranoid politician” espousing “anti-military sentiments.”
“Speaker Terlaje has chosen to be an obstacle instead of a leader. She has gone far beyond healthy skepticism—surrendering common sense and good judgment to her paranoia and animosity toward the U.S. military,” Leon Guerrero said in a statement, responding to Terlaje’s allegations that the deal with the Navy was done surreptitiously.
“Her statements are either purposefully misleading or simply false on their face,” the governor added. “The new hospital will be run by and for the people of Guam. All patients will pay but commonsense dictates that the military will be our partner in emergency circumstances regarding helicopter transport or mass casualties.”
The 99-year lease involves a piece of Navy-owned property known as Eagle’s Field, where the governor proposes to build an $800-million medical complex that will integrate Guam’s hospital and public health facilities.
The 112-acre property was acquired by the Navy after World War 11. Original landowners sought to reclaim their properties in the area.
“Instead of asking to meet with Admiral (Ben) Nicholson, the Speaker chooses to engage in political rhetoric that stokes the flames of anti-American and anti-miliary sentiment,” the governor said.
“Speaker Terlaje has used this process to pander and give false hope to original landowners, and manipulated their personal circumstances for her political agenda and ambition—continuously misleading them to believe in the possibility that these lands will be returned," Leon Guerrero added.
Adjacent to Eagle's Field is a site being considered by the Missile Defense Agency as the location for a radar system that will form part of Guam’s missile defense architecture.
“At a time when serious threats lurk throughout the Pacific, it is critical for the future of our island that we pursue a partnership with the military that will give all people on Guam access to increased security and better healthcare,” Leon Guerrero said.
“We should not allow a few paranoid politicians to stand in the way of progress for all of Guam’s people because they distrust our military on everything from the disposal of old explosives to a partnership that moves our island’s healthcare forward. That’s an insult to those who keep us safe, and it’s an example of the ‘divide and conquer politics’ that has held us back for too long,” the governor added.
In response, Terlaje said "asking questions is not anti-military. Demanding transparency and a seat at the table for the people of Guam is not anti-military."
Instead of disclosing the terms of the lease, Terlaje said the governor "deflects to politics."
"Holding our federal partners and our own government to their promises of transparency, accountability and partnership is not about personal attacks but about democracy and progress for all," she added.
Some senators eventually opted to back the lease after meeting with Nicholson on Tuesday, rethinking their vote on Bill 12-37, which would require legislative approval for land agreements involving the government of Guam.
“With the new hospital and having a missile-defense adjacent to it, I am always up for the discussion and matters to help the people of Guam, always,” Sen. Dwayne T.D. San Nicolas said.
“I have no political gain toward any matters put into legislation, nor any hopes for personal access or gain towards any type of government decision. I am transparent myself and any office or community member is welcome to visit me, to sit down and discuss any matters they would like addressed or to be heard,” he added.
Sen. Joe San Agustin said the meeting with Nicholson was “an eye-opener with some details of how the people of Guam may benefit from the use of the property at Eagles Field.”
“My attendance at this meeting does not make me a puppet of the governor. It makes me a more informed lawmaker,” he said. “Ultimately, we learned that the property may be leased only for the purpose of the hospital campus, otherwise will be utilized to support a missile defense program.”
San Agustin said he voted in favor of Bill 12-37 based on an assumption that the properties in the proposed project site were to be returned to the original landowners per a January 2021 letter from the Secretary of the Navy.
“I am more informed after this meeting that the land issue remains the jurisdiction of the federal government and is not an option for return,” San Agustin said.
“While the letter from the Secretary of the Navy placed this site on the net negative inventory making it eligible for return to the Government of Guam, there have been changes to the plans over the last two years for Guam and the nation’s security that would have resulted in this.”
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Sen. William Parkinson said his vote on Bill 12-37 hinged on the hope that the original landowners could get their land back.
"But when I asked the Rear Admiral directly, he said that there was no way that original landowners could get their land back," the senator said.
"This changes the calculus of my vote considerably. Without the hope of original landowners getting their land back, Bill 12-37 is just a pretext for stopping the new hospital from being built," he added.
Noting China’s growing threats in the region, Parkinson said upgrading Guam's healthcare system and welcoming a 360-degree missile defense system are imperative.
“Now is not the time to obstruct for obstructionist's sake. Now is not the time for political gamesmanship and now is certainly not the time for the speaker to stake her claim to the future governorship.” Parkinson said.
“We can no longer live in a reality that does not take these clear and present dangers into account,” he added.
Sen. Roy Quinata said he supports the effort to return ancestral lands to their original landowners.
However, he added, “We should not impede on the effort to build a medical campus that meets the needs of our people and enhances the quality of care for all.”
“My priority has been and will continue to be looking out for our people and ensuring their wellbeing is taken into consideration when making decisions about development projects in our island home."