QUO VADIS...WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

 

(The following is a speech delivered by Eddie Duenas, chairman of the Guam Statehood Task Force, in a public seminar sponsored by the University of Guam students on May 3, 2000. The seminar included presentations by the chairmen of the Independence and Free Association Task Forces, followed by questions and answers from the attendees.)

Statehood embodies the results of the two previous political status plebiscites on Guam -- one in 1976 when the voters chose closer union with the United States, and the other in 1982 when they overwhelmingly chose commonwealth and statehood over free association, independence and status quo.

Statehood has clearly identifiable political parameters; free association is independence in association with another sovereign nation; and independence is standing alone as a sovereign nation.

Voting for independence or free association is essentially divorcing Guam from U.S. sovereignty. Statehood, on the other hand, will fully "integrate" Guam into the American family and system of government. It is an ultimate status with clearly delineated powers and relationships between the state and the federal government. The state has total control on all state matters, exclusive of the powers granted to the federal government by the U.S. Constitution.

Statehood embodies certain fundamental characteristics shared by every state on equal footing. These include:

.... State sovereignty or full autonomy on state matters. The state has authority to write its own state constitution, set up a state government, establish a state court system, and enact state laws that could not be altered by Congress.

.... Full application of the U.S. Constitution and citizenship conferred with full guarantee and protection under the U.S. Constitution. The citizenship conferred on the people of Guam by Congress was part of the 1950 Organic Act that also established our civil government. In a sense, we are a creature of Congress. And Congress maintains plenary powers over Guam under the Territorial Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

... The U.S. Constitution guarantees our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. More specifically, it guarantees freedom of religion, free speech, free assembly; ... right to own and bear arms; ... protection of life and property; ... protection from unreasonable search and seizure, and from cruel and unusual punishment; ... right to fair and speedy trial; equitable treatment; ... right to due process under the law, and protection from double jeopardy and self-incrimination. It prohibits any person or group of persons from abusing or misusing the law or governmental powers to the detriment of another individual citizen or the good of the community.

As a state, Guam will have an active voice in Congress -- through two voting senators and at least one member in the House of Representatives. This will give us leverage in Congress and enhance Guam's prestige and status in this part of the world.

As far as I can remember, we have been clamoring to be treated fairly and equitably and to have a voice in the federal government. For too long, we have been occasionally subjected to unfair and arbitrary treatment resulting from federal laws, policies and regulations imposed on us without having a say on them.

Well, having two senators and a representative in Congress would enable Guam to have a say in the enactment of laws and in the shaping of federal policies affecting Guam. Presently, we have a non-voting delegate who can participate and vote in committees, but not on the floor of Congress where he could make a difference.

As a state, Guam residents who are U.S. citizens will be able to vote for the U.S. president and vice president, whose actions do have a profound impact on Guam -- for better or for worse.

As a state, Guam will be able to participate equitably in federal revenue sharing, and have greater access to federal programs, grants, aids and entitlements like all the other states do. Our people would be entitled to receive Social Security Supplemental Income and the Earned Income Credit. This could mean a windfall for Guam. At present, Guam gets whatever Congress decides to give -- and most of the time, less than what we would receive if we were state.

As a state, Guam will have authority to set up its state government -- comprising of executive, legislative and judicial branches -- and create state courts and state agencies to provide adequate and efficient services to the people. We will be able to set the qualifications and terms of office for the governor and members of the legislature, and determine the makeup of the court system. Currently, the qualifications and terms of our governor and our senators are mandated by the Organic Act. To deviate would require Congressional approval.

As a state, Guam will be adequately defended by the U.S. armed forces from external threat or hostile invasion. The Constitution provides for the common defense of all states. Being located in the Pacific with close proximity to potential Asian threats, it is critical that Guam does not experience what it did during World War II when it was left defenseless and eventually was occupied by the enemy.

As a state, Guam will accept responsibilities to the country as all other states do -- these include services in our armed forces, contributing support to the federal government and complying with federal mandates as sanctioned by the U.S. Constitution. I might add that we are already assuming many of these responsibilities.

There are many other features of statehood that would benefit the people of Guam. But because of time constraint, I would not be able to discuss them all at this point.

Let me now ask this question: What would happen if the voters of Guam chose Independence or Free Association? Indeed, there would be major deviation of the lifestyle as we know and enjoy today.

Consider the following:

.... The status quo would be terminated because Guam would no longer be under U.S. sovereignty.

.... The Organic Act of Guam would be abolished by.... Federal assistance and support  Congress and the protection of the U.S. Constitution and federal laws would not longer apply.

we are enjoying today would be terminated. There goes all the financial help and federally funded domestic programs such as welfare assistance, food stamps, public housing subsidy, Medicare and Medicaid, Social Security, senior citizens programs;... grants for law and order, public safety, historical and cultural preservation;... public education scholarships/ aids/ grants; ... highway construction and infrastructure development funding, and disaster recovery assistance under FEMA.

.... The University of Guam's land-grant status, the ROTC program, and all the other federal support and assistance the institution is receiving today would be gone, too.

.... The military reserves -- such as the Guam National Guard, Army, Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard units -- would be dismantled.

Those of us who were made U.S. citizens by virtue of the 1950 Guam Organic Act are asking pointed questions today. We want to be assured beyond a reasonable doubt that, whichever way we voted in the plebiscite, our U.S. citizenship and the benefits and protection it provides are not jeopardized or compromised because of the new political order chosen. This is a crucial point that should be made real clear by facts based on existing laws or judicial scrutiny, and not on assumptions.

Some legal beagles say that U.S. citizenship, once conferred upon a person, cannot be summarily taken away by the federal government, unless for a cause. Proponents for Free Association and Independence believe that you could still retain your U.S. citizenship under their form of sovereign government.

Yes, it may be possible to live in a freely associated Guam and remain a U.S. citizen. But if you were to be required to take an oath of allegiance as a condition to live there, then that could be a real concern.

The U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act, which has been amended many times through the years, states that a person who is a native-born or naturalized U.S. citizen could jeopardize his or her citizenship "by taking an oath or making an affirmation or other formal declaration of allegiance to a foreign state or a political subdivision thereof after having attained the age of eighteen years..."

The Immigration and Nationality Act also lists other reasons that could result in the revocation or forfeiture of U.S. citizenship, such as treason, serving in another sovereign country's armed forces or holding public office.

Proponents for the other two status options might suggest that dual citizenship could be possible. Pragmatically speaking, can you imagine where your loyalty would be if there were a clash of ideology and laws between the two nations that you swore to uphold, support and defend? Certainly the U.S. does encourage any U.S. citizen to assume or maintain citizenship of foreign state at the same time.

In fact, the U.S. State Department has this to say:.... " The U.S. government recognizes that dual nationality exists but does not encourage it as a matter of policy because of the problems it may cause. Claims of other countries on dual national U.S. citizens may conflict with U.S. law, and dual nationality may limit U.S. efforts to assist citizens abroad. The country where a dual national is located generally has stronger claim to that person's allegiance."

The U.S. State Department also pointed out that "dual nationals owe allegiance to both the United States and the foreign country. They are required to obey the laws of both countries. Either country has the right to enforce its laws, particularly if the person later travels there. Most U.S. citizens, including dual nationals, must use a U.S. passport to enter and leave the United States. Dual nationals may also be required by the foreign country to use its passport to enter and leave that country. Use of a foreign passport does not necessarily endanger U.S. citizenship. Most countries permit a person to renounce or otherwise lose citizenship."

Perhaps, the more pointed question should be focused on the future generations -- children born on a foreign soil of U.S. citizen parents. Would they be U.S. citizens automatically because their parents are U.S. citizens?

That depends on time and circumstances, because there are certain conditions that must be met by the parents. Section 301 of the Immigration and Nationality Act states in part:

"Anyone born outside the U.S., This is a complex question that can be better explained by a legal expert, and it will require more time to do so. if at least one parent is a U.S. citizen and certain residency or physical presence requirements were fulfilled by the citizen parent or parents prior to the child's birth..."

Any way, I do not wish to belabor this point. But I feel that the question of U.S. citizenship will be a central consideration in the coming plebiscite. The best way to guarantee your U.S. citizenship and those of the future generations is to remain in the American system of government.

Let me also make this perfectly clear: If you vote for statehood and statehood is not attained until many years into the future, Guam will remain where we are now (status quo) and it will still be in a position to seek further improvements in our relationship with the federal government. Our final or ultimate goal is to be a state like our Pacific neighbor -- Hawaii -- attained four decades ago.

And if you feel that we are not yet ready to take this giant step and prefer the status quo or other improved status with the U.S., a vote for statehood will ensure that there's an opportunity to pursue that preference. If you decide not to come out and vote or if you cast a blank ballot, you are giving independence or free association the opportunity to dictate the political future of Guam.

Attaining statehood for Guam will require the full support and commitment of our leaders and the people, and it's not going to be easy nor will it occur immediately. It will take time and dedicated efforts to convince Congress to admit Guam as a state. No doubt, it will be difficult but certainly very possible to achieve.

I like to think that I am an optimist. I say that statehood for Guam is possible, maybe not in my lifetime but sometime in the decades to come. And voting for statehood in the upcoming plebiscite and uniting our efforts toward Guam's ultimate status is an important first step.

As chairman of the Guam Statehood Task Force, I ask all of you to help us in the coming plebiscite to keep Guam in the American system of government ... protect our U.S. citizenship and continue to live in a free and stable society ... preserve our inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness ... be able to speak freely and worship as we please, and to have the opportunity to be all we can be under the protection of the U.S. Constitution and the laws of the land.

And as the founding fathers of our nations did, let us also pledge and dedicate our lives, our honor and our fortunes toward achieving a bright and promising future for Guam not only for the present but, most of all, for our children and the future generations of Guamanians-Americans.

Dangkulo na si Yuus maase, thank you, and maraming salamat po.