Angry citizen rebukes land board as Maga Haga splinters arch agency

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Public citizen Jermaine Guerrero upbraids the Chamorro Land Trust Commission at board meeting on Thursday.

Decisive action cuts through red tape

Sometimes you need to whip out your cleaver and chop the kitchen into three parts before too many chefs spoil the broth. Gov. Leon Guerrero brought down her blade Thursday to help set her cooks on track for a three course meal without ever having to worry about mixing up the ingredients. Ever. Again.

Just as PNC was preparing to telecast the the latest round of customer complaints delivered blow by blow to a beleaguered Chamorro Land Trust Commission board still under the umbrella of the Dept. of Land Management, the Office of the Governor was dishing up a hot plate of rejuvenation straight out of the oven. Gov. Leon Guerrero had just signed her first Executive Order, one that trisects a master mess hall that’s been stewing a bitter brew for the last seven years. Here’s more…

One small stroke for lands, one giant leap for lease sites.

Guam – With the flit of a pen, Gov. Leon Guerrero signed the first executive order of her first term in office with what is tantamount to a sweeping flourish that could disentangle the codependent divisions of a fractured department whose subentities have reportedly grown too close for comfort.

Executive Order 2019-01 separates the Chamorro Land Trust Commission and the Guam Ancestral Lands Commission from the Dept. of Land Management within the executive branch. The dissolution gives direct support and governing authority to execute the newly independent commissions’ legal mandates.

On the reddening end of the spectrum of frustration, apparently the governor thought it was time for a change.

Almost presciently, the kettle boiled over during an afternoon gathering of the Chamorro Land Trust Commission Board that very afternoon–just a few hours before the governor’s rumored announcement.

For those wary lease applicants dishearteningly gathered, it had seemed little more than another day done and another dollar diverted from indigenous Chamorros left with no land to call home. As they say, the waiting is the hardest part. But to those attending Thursday’s CLTC Board meeting, resentment soon bled through masks of patience after sod-shorn local families waited forever in vain for approval of their property leases, some nearly a quarter century after they first applied as far back as 1995.

But whether a reorganization was forthcoming or not, if the early public comments heard by the board Thursday were any indication, it was clear that newly appointed Chamorro Land Trust Acting Director Jack Hattig has his work cut out for him.

Would-be lessees wondered aloud whether another generation would pass and grandma would die before she had a viable lease in hand to pass on to her kids and grands. With unsettled property claims, suddenly the director’s cup runneth over.

“So how did that person who put up a building on that original lot—how did he do that when I have the lot?” one ostensibly dispossessed elderly woman asked the commission while waving what looked like a lease on leaves of legal. She indicated that she’d only recently recovered from illness and was hoping to secure title to a parcel previously assigned to her–before anyone else overtook the designated plot permanently and she’d had a chance to vouchsafe the landholding for her daughter and family.

Give me clarity or give me land! 

Shortly thereafter, disgruntled stakeholder Jermaine Guerrero complained bitterly about a commercial lease that had just been renewed for the continuous operation of Calvo Memorial Raceway Park off Rte. 15 in Yigo.

“For the race track lease info–you guys got any information regarding that?”

“No…” Board Chairwoman Pika Fejeran began before being interrupted.

“Because that’s Chamorro Land Trust property,” Guerrero said. “And so they’re focusing on doing a racetrack right now. They’re consuming the resources from the racetrack to keep the racetrack running. On top of that, our government is paying $3 million to the racetrack to keep it going, and that was a priority last year toward the end of the year. So we’re making that a priority. What about the people’s priority? Shouldn’t this be the priority now? Chamorro Land Trust was supposed to be designed to build homes.”

“Agreed,” Fejeran said before responding further.

“People are out on the streets–walking out on the streets! They need places to go. And so they need homes right now!” Guerrero demanded.

“What will prevent any Chamorro right now to say, ‘look, I have no place to go. I could go steal, I could go beat, I could rob, or, if I had a tent right now, I could go to that racetrack and put a tent there and start living’?”

“The racetrack was not a doing of this commission,” Fejeran said. “They’re lease was up and they went to the legislature and the legislature made it a priority. So, the bill passed.”

“But it’s Chamorro Land Trust property,” Guerrero said. “They had no right to go to the legislature. You guys had the power. Not them!” Fejeran interjected.

“You know what…” Fejeran said. The chairwoman shrugged in a peaceful surrender of empathic defeat, as if to admit Guerrero was right.

“That’s you guys! It’s still on you guys! Because YOU. HAD. THAT. LEASE. You are the ones that can say no! Not the Legislature!” he retorted.

Meanwhile, homesteaders idling on lands without leases asked about the lingering status of infrastructure plans for their neck of the woods.

“So we’re here today because we’re trying to find out if there were any changes whatsoever with our roads, power, water, lease, something?” asked a youngish local woman who identified herself as a member of the Aguon family.

Fejeran asked commission counsel for an update on the Aguons’ case.

“Yeah, so there was a request for default judgment made in the Superior Court,” the commission attorney said. “And it was heard before Judge Iriarte. She did not make an immediate decision on that. She’s going to issue a written decision within 90 days of that hearing.”

“So what do we do for the next three months?” the family’s representative asked. “Like, there’s no water, no power, no roads, no lease. Do we have to wait another whole year, or…?”

When Board Member Shawntel Techaira began to advise Fejeran on a response, the chairwoman indicated it was OK for Techaira to respond directly to the family.

“Unfortunately, the law has to run its course, and we know it’s a major inconvenience for you, given the complexity of your case,” Techaira said. “We’ll have to await the judgment from the judge.”

The waiting. For these families it’s the hardest part. And limited answers are often less than reassuring.

Since  these latest complaints come at the juncture where the Chamorro Land Trust splits from its Dept. of Land Management parent agency, CLTC Acting Director Jack Hattig told K57 afternoon drive time host Phill Leon Guerrero on Wednesday that the time is ripe for the kind of concentrated efficiency that can only come from a more definitive demarcation.

“I wonder if your appointment to this specific post is indicative of what we’re going to sort of ‘piece out’ this department and not necessarily have it under one Land Management umbrella anymore?” Leon Guerrero asked during his 4-Hour Phill program.

“That’s correct,” Hattig said. “I believe that each of the land agencies are very distinct functions, and they have rules and regulations that require that separation.”

And to help the commission succeed in its unprecedented attempt to legalize thousands of leases deemed voidable and more than a hundred leases already declared null and void last year by then-Attorney General Elizabeth Barrett Anderson, Hattig must promise to do his best to satisfy the successive generations of families waiting decades to receive the acreage so longingly due.

Fittingly, in the Chamorro language the CLTC’s new director vowed to do just that during a recitation of Inifresi, Guam’s pledge of allegiance at the outset of Thursday’s CLTC board meeting.

Hu ufresen maisa yu’ para bai prutehi yan hu difende i inengge, i kottura, i lengguahi, i aire, i hanom, yan i tano’ CHamoru…”

“I offer myself to protect and to defend the beliefs, the culture, the language, the air, the water, and the land of the Chamorro…”

Then the antiphony answered each of Chairwoman Fejeran’s three cries of “Biba CHamoru!” with hardy shouts of “Biba!”

POSTSCRIPT:

As PNC reported in Sept. of 2011, Gov. Eddie Calvo announced the reorganization of GovGuam’s various land service agencies in a move that he said would result in the elimination of six positions.

Effective Oct. 1 of that year, the CLTC and GALC were to be merged into Land Management.

Monte Mafnas, who had been CLTC Director, would become the new Director of  Land Management.

The newly reorganized Dept. of Land Management would be tasked with “identifying redundancies and eliminating them” in effort to provide better and faster service.

The move had been designed to consolidate resources and eliminate duplication costs such as rent, utilities, travel and training.

The balance of the official announcement from the Office of the Governor explains the whys and wherefores behind Leon Guerrero’s executive order splitting the agencies back up:

“The CLTC is tasked with managing CHamoru homelands, and the GALC is supposed to be maintaining ancestral land registries and processing ancestral land claims. Neither of these goals has been attainable with these agencies ensconced within the Department of Land Management,” said Governor Leon Guerrero. “Therefore, I am officially separating each as its own entity, per my authority as Maga’håga and in keeping with the enabling legislation of each commission.”

Governor Leon Guerrero signed Executive Order 2019-01 on January 17, re-establishing “The Chamorro Land Trust Commission and the Guam Ancestral Lands Commission as separate agencies from the Department of Land Management as provided for in Chapter 75 and 80, respectively, of Title 21 of Guam Code Annotated.”

The executive order also re-establishes the position of administrative director for each entity.

“Establishing the CLTC as its own entity once again will allow the agency to clean up the negative issues surrounding the management of CLTC lands and provide for more accountability with the people of Guam,” said Lieutenant Governor Tenorio. “Also, separating the GALC from Land Management will allow it to better manage its registry and claims,” he said.