Original landowners reiterate calls for return of lands taken or just compensation

Senator Therese Terlaje (PNC file photo)

Speaker Therese Terlaje held an oversight hearing Thursday with the Guam Ancestral Lands Commission (GALC) and several original landowners of land taken by the federal government with a focus on the status of the promised but still unfulfilled return of federal excess lands, listed since 2017, and other lots removed from or added to the list in 2020.

In 2011 prior to signing the Record of Decision, the Under Secretary of the Navy promised to pursue a “net negative strategy” for the USMC relocation from Okinawa to Guam, which promised to result in a smaller DoD footprint on Guam after the build-up than DoD held in 2011, and return underutilized land to the Government of Guam.

In June 2017, the Navy reported to Congress (pursuant to a mandate to report in NDAA 2017 section 2208) that it had returned 3 parcels totaling 608 acres since January 20, 2011. It planned to return 125.1 acres (78 acres Guam Land Use Plan of 1977; and 37 acres from the Island-Wide Power System Transfer program IWPS; 11 acres from Hoover Park Annex (USO Beach) and Parcel C Marbo Cave Annex) and also planned a Reversion of 80 acres Marbo Andy South from GDOE to USDOE and subsequent transfer to Navy. All 125.6 acres were listed in 2017 as pending environmental studies. It also listed the properties it intends to keep. It would retain over 36,000 acres.

Some of the findings and concerns discussed during the hearing:

A decade has passed since 2011 with only 608 acres transferred to the government of Guam. Specific properties promised to be returned since 2017 and again listed in the NDAA 2019 are not yet returned, and at least one was removed from the list (will not be returned). In 2019, the Governor requested the return of the 2,596 acres (including the 125 acres listed since 2017) and 17,031 acres of submerged lands listed in the GEDA June 2019 report. In 2020, the Secretary of the Navy responded to the request, rejecting most of the request except for 9 parcels totaling an estimated 93.66 acres and 6,225 acres of submerged lands from the Governor’s request.

The GALC is not immediately informed of potential land returns until the deeds have been acquired and was unaware of the listing of land provided during the hearing. The Commission agreed with Speaker Terlaje to identify the owners of the lots listed for potential return and assist landowners in keeping informed of the status of their properties on these lists.

It is unclear if the government of Guam will bypass the Ancestral Lands Commission and keep returned properties for local government projects such as Eagles Field in Mangilao for a new hospital. The Guam Ancestral Lands Law was enacted in 1999 and mandated that all property transferred to Guam by the federal government be returned by the Commission to original landowners. If it is kept by the government of Guam, then those landowners whose property was not returned would be compensated. Several Eagles Field landowners testified that the property should be returned to the original landowners.

Some GALC commissioners and landowners testified that any returned land should be immediately given back to the original landowners rather than be held by the local government. If the local government wants to use the land for other purposes, they should negotiate with the original landowners and compensate them justly.

There was a 2019 listing of properties ready for return where landowners of record could not be found despite advertisement. The Commission agreed to renew its efforts and welcomed all suggestions and assistance to contact these landowners.

Ancestral landowners provided heartfelt and moving testimony about their decades long quest for the return of their property or just compensation.

“Tan Maria never gave up and she experienced the heartache and sorrow of being threatened by government officials to be removed from her father’s land again and again. I remember my mother saying, “the only way to remove me from here is to take me to Pigo cemetery,” and she did stay. Her words will stay with me forever, no matter how hard, she spoke up and firmly stood her ground, even well into her nineties. Our mother Tan Maria died not seeing the full return of our ancestral lands…” ~ Julia Garrido Limtiaco

“I am here today with our whole Ulloa family members to honor our ancestors, our parents and grandparents, and I support the return of our ancestral lands to the rightful original landowners.” ~ Julia Ulloa Mesa Wusstig

“Today, we are seeing the possible atonement and redress of the unjust treatment and human rights violations that have been part of our subordination for over 350 years, come with some measure of hope and recognition of our rights as taotao tano. When one does not appreciate the positive contribution from the unjust land takings, many through war takings, then try to see all the streets, the roads, the highways, government buildings, military bases, and parks and beaches that one enjoys, even on a daily basis, as a measure of the magnitude of the taking of these lands… Simply explained, these lands do not belong to the government. Any government. They belong to the ancestral landowners. As their God-given rights to bequeath to their children and their children’s children.” ~ Jose Ulloa Garrido

“When you free the land, you free the people of the land.” ~ Jose Ulloa Garrido

“We are proof that we can get the land back, but there’s still additional land that still has to be returned. So, I ask that you continually work on getting the land back to the original land ancestors, because as the fellow mentioned before us, it’s not excess land, it’s excess land to the federal government, but that was my grandfather’s land.” ~ Vincent Cabrera

The oversight hearing also briefly covered the Commission ‘s duty to manage its land bank and trust to extinguish Claims through compensation of those landowners whose property was held by the government of Guam. , The Commission has not been able to compensate any landowners due to a conflict between its proposed rules and existing law. The Commission has proposed rules and amendments to the law to expand compensation to landowners whose properties continue to be held by the federal government such as Sumay, Tarague, and over 33,000 acres or approximately ⅓ of Guam, and to perpetually compensate landowners until their property is returned. According to Commissioner Ron Laguana “we are all in this together”. Chairman Ron Eclavea reiterated that the injustice that the government of Guam was trying to rectify happened to all landowners.

The oversight chair said a separate hearing will be held in the future to discuss the proposed changes to the law, the details of the proposed Rules and Regulations, and the finances of the trust.

“It is my priority and that of the Commission that beneficiaries, especially those waiting since the 2011 Net Negative Strategy was announced and the 2017 list was first published, are informed as soon as possible if they may be receiving land or will be added to the list of those who the government of Guam will owe monetary compensation in lieu of land,” stated Speaker Terlaje.

“I encourage landowners to contact the Guam Ancestral Lands Commission to receive updates. You can contact the Commission at 649-5263,” Terlaje further stated.

All documents discussed during the hearing are available from the Guam Ancestral Lands Commission and at http://senatorterlaje.com/notice-of-hybrid-public-hearing-thursday-april-8-2021-beginning-at-300-pm/

(Senator Therese Terlaje News Release)