The Tipping Point

November 18, 2016 Nestor Licanto

It was shortly after 1:00 a.m. on June 22 that a call came in of a disturbance at the Hemlani apartments in Harmon, an all-too familiar location to police of the Northern Guam precincts. Two officers sped to the scene to respond, and pulled up to a crowd of people that included many young men. More than a few of them had apparently been drinking, which was also not unusual, according to police. But then as the officers attempted to calm the situation down, one of them was hit with a heavy metal object with enough force to send him collapsing to the ground.



Police Chief Joseph I. Cruz said if not for the professionalism of the responding officers the situation could have gone from bad to worse. “That officer was assaulted pretty bad, and the potential for them to use lethal force was very much there. But they go back to the training that they got, they saw that wasn’t the answer to the situation that particular night,” he explained.

Cruz said it was “because of the mindset” of the officers when they got there “that nobody got killed, that nobody’s life was taken.” He also credited two women who stepped up to help the policemen. “Even though one of them is a close relative of the individuals that assaulted the police officer, she managed to step in and say, ‘This is not right.’ And she did her part to protect the officer,” Cruz narrated.

The complete and specific details of the attack have not yet been made public as of this writing. The case is still under investigation, and suspects have been arrested and are expected to face prosecution. But as news of the attack filtered out later in the day, the outrage in the community began to swell.

For Governor Eddie Calvo enough was enough. “One of the basic responsibilities of a governor is the health and safety of the public. I’m there to protect citizen and non-citizen,” Calvo stressed. The Governor added that the brutal assault was a tipping point, and the Hemlani apartments happened to be ground zero. “When that attack occurred I heard about certain no-go zones, where there was lawlessness and an absolute lack of respect for law-enforcement,” he said.



Calvo decided that he wanted to force the violent criminals among the immigrant population to leave, but realized that only the federal government had the authority to deport non-citizens. So he came up with an alternative plan: offer immigrant convicts commutations and a one-way ticket home, but they had to agree never to return.

”I can categorically state that I am not a racist. The numbers don’t lie in that prison,” Calvo said. “One-third of those who are in there are non-citizens, and with that one-third, if I can find a way to get them out of Guam and back to their home country, then I will.”

The Governor offered his first commutation within a week of the June incident, and since then almost a dozen other convicted immigrants have been sent home. “Every one of those gentlemen that I removed has committed harm against the people of Guam; most of them more than once. With that in mind I had to do what I had to as a governor.”


A letter from Governor Calvo to President Peter M. Chrisitan of the FSM detailing the commuting of Ninton Hauk's sentence


Both the Governor and the Police Chief are trying to head off a situation where the animosity between officers and a certain sub-section of the community reach a critical level. “We need to do what we need to do to defend ourselves,” said Chief Cruz. “Now does that mean we can apply deadly force? Absolutely, that’s why everybody’s issued a gun. But it’s not the end all, be all. You’ve got to go back to your training, and use the least amount of force necessary to deal with the situation at hand. The first thing that should be coming out should not be your firearm. The first thing that should be coming out is your presence, your authority, your ability to talk to these people and get them to calm down.”

Cruz added: “If that is the first step (pulling out or discharging your firearm), when it really should be your last step, then you have a tendency to run into issues that you see happening in places like Ferguson, Missouri or Baltimore, Maryland. I’m not saying those shootings weren’t justified, but again, should that be the first thing we do in the Guam Police Department? Absolutely not.”

The Governor said he has reached out repeatedly to leaders in the Freely Associated States. “In earlier Micronesian leadership forums I’ve talked to leaders about the potential of those incarcerated in Guam’s prisons, allowing them to leave Guam to have a second chance. In my discussions I don’t remember there being a negative side, in fact there was generally a positive side.” But the Governor maintains that there has been no progress. “There’s actually been a deterioration of the different areas in the quality of life in Guam, mostly hitting those immigrants, by the way,” Calvo said.


Governor Calvo has seen both support for, and backlash against, his decision to commute the sentences of criminal immigrants.

He also admitted that he “takes umbrage” at a letter between FSM leaders suggesting that the deportation of convicted immigrants as required by the compacts of free association is an issue between the FSM national government and the U.S. federal government. “I believe we do have skin in the game because every one of the individuals I sent back, they did not commit a crime in Pohnpei, they did not commit a crime in Washington DC. Every single one of them, and I can list all of the offenses—homicide, rape, child molestation, aggravated assault, robbery and burglary, and the list goes on—every one of those acts was committed within the shores of our beautiful paradise island of Guam,” the Governor emphasized.



Calvo was also highly critical of the federal government, “who should’ve been doing this in the first place.” According to him, under the compacts “the feds have the responsibility to deport criminal immigrants. At the very least they should be paying for their stay in our prisons.”

The Governor was also put off by the FSM consulate office in Guam when it decided not to verify the citizenship of the criminal immigrants who agreed to commutations. He called it a “bureaucratic arrangement to delay or prevent the removal of these criminal predators.”  He further threatened to declare Consul General Robert Ruecho “persona non grata.” So far Ruecho has declined public comment and interview requests on the matter.

However, many in the FAS migrant community are urging their leaders to speak up. Julio Suda is a church leader originally from Chuuk, who has lived on Guam since the compacts were signed in 1986. “The Consul General’s office needs to reach out. They should really be reaching out and teaching and reminding all the Chuukese people what is the real purpose of coming out here. We have to be grateful to Guam, our host country.


Members of the Micronesian Church engaged in community outreach at the Hemlani Apartments

“They’re (Chuukese migrants) walking in fear. They hear all these things happening and nothing is being done. When the (Calvo) administration is asking for information, nothing is being provided to him. I just don’t understand why,” Suda revealed. “My personal opinion: I agree with the Governor because it’s his authority and his job to make sure the community on this island is safe.”

Suda and his fellow Micronesian Church leaders decided to take matters into their own hands and conducted their own outreach to the Hemlani apartments. On a recent weekend they set up a small tent and began speaking to a crowd of residents, mostly women and children. “We are here because for the last 30 years many of our FSM people moved to Guam and established residence, work, and enroll in educational programs,” Suda said in prepared remarks. “Over the course of these years we have seen some progress…unfortunately our community is also responsible for some of the major social problems such as homelessness, crowding in the Guam prison and DYA, suicide, and more disturbing is the high rate of FSM student dropouts.  I believe it is time for us to rise and say, enough is enough!”


Julio Suda believes Governor Calvo is within his authority to commute and remove criminal immigrants

There is growing consensus between Guam and FSM leaders on who and what are at the root of the problem. The violent offenders are almost all young immigrant men who indulge in too much alcohol. “There’s a dynamic that’s going on there,” said Police Chief Cruz. “One of the reasons is that there are disconnects between cultural norms that exist in the freely associated states, in particular the state of Chuuk, and in Guam. There are laws that exist here that don’t exist there, and vice versa.” He specified binge drinking as “the root of the problem. I’ll be very frank with you. The majority of the calls that we get are tied to the issue of drunkenness.”

Suda confirmed that while growing up in Chuuk, “that’s part of the cultural life down there.  Everybody drinks and you cannot stop until you passed out.” He believed many young men come to Guam unprepared, and need to learn that they cannot bring their bad habits from Chuuk to Guam. “All the good people that came out here looking for employment, education, and the hospital for medical needs, we are just really disturbed by this stupid behavior—drinking, destroying places, stabbing each other,” Suda proclaimed.

Cruz said it is a problem that “has to be dealt with by the entire community, not just the Guam Police department, not just the government of Guam. “We all need to come together and ask what are we dealing with? And what can we do to educate the migrants so that they understand what the cultural norm differences are,” he said.


There is growing consensus between Guam and FSM leaders on who and what are at the root of the problem

There are also concerns about the impact to the broader community relations, and compact migration in general. Suda believed the actions of the young men are hurting the rest of his people. “Absolutely, that is really no question. They are really the major factor of bad influence for us.” He said many from the Chuukese community are hearing “a lot of bad things. They hear, ‘You guys are Chuukese, you’re bad people.’ It’s totally bothering me. Why is this happening?”

The situation is also drawing comments from beyond the island. Author and educator Vidalino Raatior is a Chuukese native who graduated from the University of Guam in 1986 and now works for the University of Hawaii at Hilo. Raatior said the FSM community shares the frustrations of the people of Guam about the criminal elements. “Every time we read the news or [check out] social media about Micronesians committing a crime the majority of us curse silently at these thugs.”

But he believed Governor Calvo’s commutation actions would do more harm than good. “The Governor has every right to make decisions on behalf of the people of Guam…but the way he is handling this to make a point to the U.S. government and the government of the FSM is simply not the most constructive way to heal, unite, help, and inspire the best of us as a common Micronesian community,” Raatior said.

“Do you blame us for not feeling welcomed when your governor decides to focus on the criminals among us to make a point (to the U.S. federal government)?” Raatior asked. “Most of our COFA citizens on Guam are law-abiding and would not dare speak up against the governor because that’s not in our cultural DNA to speak up against our leaders. We understand the governor’s desire to deport convicts back to our home islands. Good riddance. But I fear the long term unintended consequences of the negative narrative being played out in the media by the governor and our leaders; it’s simply pitting us against each other. It legitimizes those who feel that all Micronesian immigrants should go home,” Raatior said.

Calvo countered that he is “welcoming of every single immigrant that comes to this island.”  He said Guam has a long history of being very welcoming, which has been shown time and again in public policy. “For example, our MIP (medically indigent program) takes all residents whether you’re a citizen or non-citizen. For other communities, Hawaii being one of them, there was actually an exclusion of immigrants in their local health programs.  That’s never been a question in Guam,” Calvo said.

He cites storm relief and assistance as another example. “Ninety percent of those who suffered home damage were FSM migrants. The federal government could not help out with financial assistance, but GovGuam stepped up to provide food, shelter, clothing, and other assistance,” Calvo said.

Suda said he and his colleagues from the FSM Church groups plan to continue their outreach to the migrant community. “We go to the family and talk to them. It’s really like re-educating our own Chuukese people in Guam.”


"We understand the governor’s desire to deport convicts back to our home islands. Good riddance. But I fear the long term unintended consequences of the negative narrative being played out in the media by the governor and our leaders...It legitimizes those who feel that all Micronesian immigrants should go home"--Vidalino Raatior


Suda would like to see FSM government leaders break their public silence, and take similar positive action. “We have plenty of good leaders in Guam. They should come out during this time that bad things are happening. We should really come together and discuss all these things. I want them to come out and fix it the way it should be done on Guam. The way it will make everybody safe and happy.”

Educator and businessman Raatior would also like to see Governor Calvo and FSM government leaders sit down and work out their differences. “They need to build on the values that connect us together in the region of Micronesia, as neighbors with common indigenous struggles against oppressive colonizers. We are all better together. And we are definitely better than this,” he declared.

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