Decolonization: Statehood

October 5, 2016 Edward R. Duenas


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. It 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, which 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.

  • 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.

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 the island. Presently, we have a non-voting delegate who can participate and vote in committees, but not on the floor of Congress where it could make a difference.

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 us, for better or for worse.

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

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 virtually defenseless and was eventually occupied by the enemy.

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. The island is already assuming many of these responsibilities.

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

Let me also make this perfectly clear: If you vote for statehood and statehood is not attained until sometime in the future, Guam will remain where we are now (status quo), and 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 what 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 opportunity to pursue that preference. If you decide not to 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 the island 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, unwavering determination, and dedicated efforts to convince Congress to admit Guam as a state. No doubt, it will be difficult, but certainly very possible to achieve what Hawaii and Alaska did.

For sure, I am an optimist. I say that statehood for Guam is possible, maybe not in my lifetime, but sometime in the next two 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 our voters 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 future generations of Guamanians.

Jesus S. Leon Guerrero was one of our foremost leaders, businessman, and founder of the first Chamorro-owned Bank of Guam. He was a man with a vision, and in his published autobiography, JESUS IN AMERICA, he wrote: “Our forefathers were right in hanging on to our U.S. connection. And at times we had to fight tenaciously and even die to protect that connection. U.S. citizenship, coveted by most people throughout the world, has kept us going, a stroke of genius, indeed, by our forefathers. We are on the threshold of a permanent relationship with the U.S., and statehood, in my judgment, is the last punch. We will become a full-fledged member of the American family, the strongest, biggest, and the most powerful democratic form of government in the world. People will ask, what is that 51st star on the flag? That’s Guam. Where is Guam? Guam is in Asia. What is Guam? Guam is the Chamorros. Who is Jesus? Jesus is a Chamorro-American in little America.”

Edward R. Duenas is Chairman of Statehood Task Force, Commission on Decolonization

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