A tale of two thieves

It’s ironic GovGuam has an historic bone to pick with the federal government over federal land condemnation (and otherwise land taking), all the while GovGuam does the same thing to Guamanians.

From 2020 to 2023 the government utilized American Medical Center to administer COVID-19 exams, tests, treatment, and vaccination. According to a lawsuit by AMC, the government’s forced use of its clinic cost AMC $2 million, for which the government paid only $20,000. This is despite the hundreds of millions of dollars GovGuam received from the Feds thanks to Michael San Nicolas’ advocacy when he was in Congress.

GovGuam doesn’t want to pay. In fact, in a motion to dismiss the AMC lawsuit and to shed any responsibility for the damage it caused to AMC’s owners, staff, and patients, the government is claiming that its use of privately-owned AMC for three years wasn’t a taking – or a condemnation – but an employment of the governor’s police powers.

“Government mandated closures during the Covid-19 pandemic are exercise of police powers, not taking,” the governor said in her motion to dismiss the AMC lawsuit. “A police power is the inherent power of a sovereign to enact laws to promote the safety, health, welfare and good order of the public. The Governor’s declaration of a state of emergency and use of her powers to direct response to the Covid-19 pandemic are exercise of police powers.”

Oh good. Now we have a government that is proud it can take things by using its police powers. How not scary is that? It’s not like there wasn’t an entire Revolutionary War, Declaration of Independence, and Bill of Rights to distinguish an American government of freedom from tyrants from a European tradition of police powers to trample the inalienable rights of people. Oh, wait.

And I get the importance of the government utilizing AMC – Guam’s largest private medical provider – during the pandemic. What is baffling to me is that for a government that loves to complain about the big bad Feds and how they don’t like to pay for what they take and use, this government sure does treat its own people the same way.

Because it isn’t just AMC. A few years ago, longtime Guamanian businessman Ho Eun spent $175 million to buy land at Ukudu (the Harmon Annex). Among the lots he purchased included the land where Guam Waterworks Authority has been operating the Northern Wastewater Treatment Plant. A Superior Court judge already has ruled that Core Tech – the company Mr. Eun owns and through which the purchase was made – owns the land.

Here’s the irony: Mr. Eun wasn’t the one who started the lawsuit for clear title of that land. In fact, he never even charged GWA rent to use the land. All he did was develop the land around it, leaving the treatment plant and all its easements connecting to all the underground water lines leading to the civilian and military communities untouched and without restriction. It was the previous director of land management, Michael Borja, who at the end of the previous administration filed a lawsuit to change a certificate of title in favor of the government.

Some time after the government filed the lawsuit, the government felt it hadn’t violated private landowner rights enough. So, GWA destroyed a fence Core Tech owned and which marked the perimeter of the treatment plant with the Core Tech lot adjacent to it, and encroached several meters into another Core Tech property.

The entire government is actually defending all of this land taking while at the same time using our tax dollars to fly to wherever the United Nations holds its resort destination talks on decolonization to complain about federal land taking.

“Government action giving public bodies the authority to enforce police powers when necessary for public health or safety are constitutional,” the governor wrote in defense of her taking of AMC during the pandemic, “and ‘[t]he possession and enjoyment of all rights are subject to such reasonable conditions as may be deemed by the governing authority of the country essential to the safety, health, peace, good order and morals of the community.’”

The governor might have just argued us out of any claim against the United States government for land taking that happened, I don’t know, something like during the reconstruction of Guam from the devastation of World War II.

The funny thing about land takings since that time is that this government of Guam is holding onto a very big secret and praying against a potentially billion-dollar liability.

I think it was 2016, when then-Senator Dennis Rodriguez introduced a bill that went nowhere in the legislature because then-Governor Eddie Calvo nearly shit kittens when he found out about it. Mr. Rodriguez had found out that almost every segment of Marine Corps Drive – from the lip of Naval Base Guam all the way to where Yigo ends at the foot of Andersen Air Force Base – was the result of land takings and encroachments that happened when the road was built, and every time it was expanded.

The Rodriguez legislation would have allowed original and ancestral land owners to file claims for compensation. Mr. Calvo agreed that those landowners deserved to be compensated, but he couldn’t let the bill see the light of day because GovGuam will never be able to pay for everything it took unlawfully.

A couple of years ago Governor Lou Leon Guerrero made a very forceful pitch to use Naval-owned land at Fadian, Mangilao previously owned by a few families who claim they were not justly compensated, and use that land for a hospital. Her idea blew up in her face after the attorney general determined she had unlawfully gone about her plans with the Navy. During that fiasco, the governor told the public and the previous landowners that the property would have never reverted to the original landowners.

Bullshit. There was a letter the Secretary of the Navy wrote to the governor where he identified those specific lots she wanted to use as land the Navy had determined was excess federal property. According to Guam’s laws, excess property returned by the U.S. government goes straight into the Guam Ancestral Lands Commission, where a process begins for return to the previous landowners.

We will never know what behind-the-scenes, back room deals were cut between the governor and the former admiral (who coincidentally was reassigned shortly after the AG determined the deal was illegal) that led to a reversal by the Navy from the in-writing position of its secretary.

Guamanians over the decades have had many battles with the government of Guam over land takings and encroachments. Much of these were caused by the public utilities’ taking of lands for easements and the placements of poles and underground infrastructure. But unless you’ve got a lot of money or an important seat at the governing table, there’s really no hope in fighting for your rights.

What can be done about it? That’s just how powerful the government is.

Except that once, every two years, all their power falls to the mercy of the voters on Election Day. The powerful pray for the merciful so they can prey on our stupidity.

Guess who has won every two years since the dawn of democratic Guam.

#democracy #landtaking #condemnation #justcompensation #propertyrights #land #property #guam

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *