After decades of frustrating efforts to provide Guam’s World War II survivors the honor and recognition they deserve, a group of advocates have decided to take the matter to court. In a press conference to announce the endeavor, Sen. Frank F. Blas, Jr. stated, “We’re losing members of our island’s greatest generation on an almost daily basis. So instead of continuing to hope that the United States government will one day recognize the pain and suffering they endured during WWII, we have collectively decided to sue the federal government for the reparations that they truly deserve.”
Blas, along with several members of the group, held a press conference yesterday to detail their decision for the suit and further announce their formation of an advocacy organization that will represent the still-living survivors in the suit.
“Over a year ago, Senator Tony Ada, Senator Jim Espaldon, former U.S. Department of Justice Special Counsel Juan Carlos Benitez and I got together and began talking about our shared disappointment in how President Obama and the U.S. Congress have ignored Guam’s war claims. It was through these discussions that it was learned that the person who chaired the Guam War Claims Review Commission in 2003, Attorney Mauricio J. Tamargo, was just as disappointed and wanted justice for the survivors as well. We then reached out to key members of our community and asked them to join us in possibly filing a lawsuit on behalf of the survivors.”
Blas went on to state that in the months that ensued, their group expanded to include his father, former lieutenant governor Frank Blas, former governor Joseph Ada, former speaker Joe T. San Agustin, Lt. Gov. Ray Tenorio, Mr. James Castro (Researcher), Senate vice speaker BJ Cruz, Sen. Tina Rose Muna Barnes, Democratic Party chair Joaquin Perez, radio personality Ray Gibson, attorney Rossi Tolentino, and former Interior assistant secretary Anthony Babauta.
Blas states, “In 1945, the U.S. Congress passed the Guam Meritorious Claims Act to address the suffering, loss of life and loss of property experienced by the people of Guam during the enemy occupation of WWII. While minimal claims were addressed then, a 1947 study conducted by a group led by Ernest M. Hopkins revealed numerous deficiencies in the implementation of the Act. Decades later, the Guam War Claims Review Commission published their findings with the conclusion that Guam’s WWII survivors deserved much better than what they were offered and what very few received.”
Sen. Jim Espaldon added, “The biggest concern that members of Congress have stated they had with providing reparations to our survivors was the precedence it would set, and that others may follow. Well, very recently we have seen that the Congress and the President have provided funding for programs specifically for Holocaust survivors and reparations to the tune of $4 million each for Americans who were held hostage in Iran in 1979. Then what you can characterize as the straw that broke the camel’s back was President Obama’s urging and role with Japan and South Korea’s reconciliation with regard to their long-standing WWII comfort women issue. So if the concern is precedence setting, it’s already been done.”
The group is in the final stages of forming as a non-profit organization to be known as the Guam World War II Reparations Advocates, Inc. The initial directors of the organization are Blas, Espaldon, former governor Ada, former speaker San Agustin, vices speaker Cruz, Muna Barnes, and former assistant secretary Babauta.
The attorneys that will represent the group in the impending suit are Washington, D.C.-based Attorneys Mauricio J. Tamargo, Jason Poblete, and Jeremy G. Ibrahim. The suit will be filed in Washington, D.C. and all court costs, attorneys fees and all other related expenses will be privately funded.
According to Senator Tony Ada, the group will focus its funding efforts for the lawsuit through donations and fundraising events. Senator Ada stated, “one of the reasons for our formation of the non-profit organization is to raise the capital necessary to pursue the suit. We’ve begun the process of receiving financial commitments from various members of our community who believe, like we do, that time is quickly passing for our survivors and their recognition is long overdue.”
Muna Barnes added, “It pains me every time I hear or read about the passing of another war survivor. One has to wonder if members of Congress and the President are waiting until they’re all gone. I’m proud to say that our group won’t wait for that to happen.”
Tony Babauta summarized the press conference by stating, “Guam’s Man’amko endured the greatest suffering during our island’s occupation by Japanese forces in World War II. Their painful stories are remembered by their families and our people just as much as our island remembers that they were never made whole by the United States as others were after World War II.”
Babauta further stated, “this effort does not dismiss Congress from providing parity through legislation to our survivors and it should be seen as an important avenue to explore. We are hopeful that the courts will agree that an injustice has been committed against those who suffered through Guam’s occupation and will order that parity be restored to those who continue to be burdened by the memories of wartime atrocities.”
Tamargo, vice speaker Cruz, and the late speaker Antonio R. Unpingco were members of the 2003 Guam War Claims Review Commission. During that same time, Tamargo was also the chairman of the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission of the United States.