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  • Writer's pictureBy Mar-Vic Cagurangan

Six-word error in war claims law may cost GovGuam millions

War survivors file their claims applications at the Guam War Claims Processing Center in Tamuning Jan. 30, 2020. File pjoto

A newly signed law that reopens the local war claims program contains an amendment that was actually rejected during the bill's deliberation — an error that can be costly for the government of Guam.

“Specifically, language was included in the engrossed bill that should not have been included,” Speaker Therese Terlaje said.

The mistake stemmed from an amendment proposed by Terlaje to expand those eligible for the local war claims program beyond the federal limitations by adding the words "regardless of the time of death.”

Sen. Jose San Agustin, chair of the appropriations committee, nixed Terlaje’s amendment, ruling it “materially different” and “thus out of order.”

However, the rejected amendment somehow found its way into the substitute bill, which passed on a 13-2 vote and was signed into law by Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero as P.L. 36-59.

“Unfortunately, no senator or staff caught the error in the engrossed bill prior to voting,” Terlaje said.

What may seem like a minor error, however, can cost the government of Guam millions of dollars.

The sole intent of the original bill, introduced by Vice Speaker Tina Muna Barnes, was to reopen the war claims application process for the remaining 600 survivors who missed the filing deadline in 2018.

By adding "regardless of time of death,” the law expands the eligibility to include those who died before the cut-off date set by the Guam World War II Loyalty Recognition Act.

The federal law only covers those who died after Dec. 23, 2016, and allows their descendants or estate to claim the compensation under the program funded through Section 30 funds.

“I am working with the committee on rules and the central staff to further ensure our process catches these errors before voting,” Terlaje said. “Despite the error in the Legislature's handling of the bill, I will continue to support war claims for those who suffered but died prior to the Dec. 23, 2016, federal cutoff date.”

In February 2020, the Guam Department of Administration paid out 285 war claims checks at the Guam War Claims Processing Center, nearly 76 years after Guam was liberated from Japanese occupation during World War II.

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