'It’s up to us to craft the future of Guam,' he says
By Bea Cabrera
Congressman Michael San Nicolas on Thursday tackled two bills, which he said would pave the pathway to crafting the future of Guam.
San Nicolas said he would introduce H.R. 6504 or the “Native Pacific Islanders Equity Act,” which aims to establish a “CHamoru Registry Program.”
H.R. 6504 would require the governor of Guam to establish a database that would help verify ancestry and make indigenous business owners eligible to take part in Small Business Administration's programs afforded to other indigenous people in the United States.
The proposed measure would also help indigenous business owners eligible for set-aside contracting opportunities.
“When this bill is codified federally, it will be a means for us to identify native CHamorus and this means of identification will open the door for us to tag every potential native opportunity because then, we will have a codified and recognized group that we can refer to be eligible for those opportunities,” San Nicolas said.
He cited as an example the American Rescue Plan, which provides $750 million housing assistance and supportive financial services programs allocated for native Americans, native Hawaiians and native Alaskans.
“If we are successful with H.R. 6504, when those kinds of additional funding opportunities come up in a ‘native’ basis, it will not be difficult for us to point back to this enabling statute that identifies native CHamoru people and include them in the group that will have a share in the set-asides specific for native people,” San Nicolas added.
San Nicolas is also proposing a Guam Constitution, which requires the Guam Legislature to update local law 13-202.
“We became a U.S. territory in 1898 and 50 years later, we had our Organic Act. Our forefathers did something extraordinary and got us the Organic Act, a start at self-governance but that was absolutely by no means to an end. We haven’t made any major progress since 1950,” he said.
“We had a commonwealth attempt in the 80s and then a constitutional attempt in the 70s. The latter did not move forward. I believe that the constitution was largely rejected because there was a desire to pursue a path toward self-determination that it felt that adopting a constitution would somehow compromise that and a referendum that rejected the adoption of a constitution was successful,” he added
Vice Speaker Tina Rose Muna Barnes raised concerns about how this move might affect the self-determination process and its impact on the current discussions with the United Nations.
San Nicolas said there shouldn’t be any interruption. “Puerto Rico adopted a constitution decades ago and they are actually far more along the process of having a self-determination resolution for their particular district versus ours. A constitutional adoption provided that there is no language in there that would create any kind of self-determination restriction would not in any way create any kind of restrictive environments as we continue to address the self-determination question.”
He noted that Puerto Rico’s adoption of its own constitution did not pose as “progressive roadblock” to its self-determination process.
According to San Nicolas, a constitution would not cause the abandonment of self-determination.
“It would give us an opportunity to reevaluate the governing document that we want for this island,” he said, noting the people of Guam had limited input when the Organic Act was enacted in 1950.
“If we do not want to take it, we can just continue on with the Organic Act that we have on self-governance of the past, and this self-governance will continue in the present and the future absent that change,” San Nicolas said.
“Based on research and findings, the process is not voluminous. This means there is nothing much that needs to happen federally in order for us to avail of this locally,” he added.
Legislative assistant Matthew Steil said the process will require a constitutional convention that will draft the constitution, which will be transmitted to the White House.
"The White House will have 60 days for comments to be given and then transmitted to Congress which will also have 60 days for comments or to outright reject it,” he said
“The last time this was done was in the 1970s. The office of president Carter sent it to the House Committee on Energy and Natural Resources to help with the hearing. The hearing proceeded and went through the Constitution where a percentage of the people rejected it in a referendum."
“For us to do this again, we need to be updated, with the new dates as laid out in the memorandum, establish a new date for a constitutional convention, set out the qualifications of those who become delegates, voter registration requirements and then from there, you may draft your constitutional convention and transmit it. We don’t expect too many issues so far,” he added.
San Nicolas said having a Constitution “presents opportunities for us to make sure that there is a certain level of legislative involvement in the management of federal funds or there is a certain amount of legislative involvement in the use of excess cash at the end of the term.”
San Nicolas said it’s time for Guam to revisit the adoption of a Constitution.
“I think it is a timely conversation,” he said. “I think the environment that we are in right now has a lot of things that we can all reflect on and make sure that we are crafting our future in a way that’s not going to have us experience the same things again-those repetitive headlines, disappointments and challenges because I think these are the things that drive our people to make things happen.”
This process does not require federal action at this time, according to the congressman's office.
"It is not subject to approval, because it is, by default, going to be approved unless Congress takes action. As mentioned... in 1977, the Constitution was drafted, the President had comments and the Congress had a hearing but nothing textual was changed from what was drafted, these 60-day timelines will help to move this along very fluidly absent any major red flags in the text"
Correction: The earlier version of this story stated that two bills are being introduced in Congress. According to the office of the delegate, only one bill being introduced, as the next step for a Guam Constitution requires the Guam Legislature to update local law 13-202. Our apologies.