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We Fought the Navy and WonGuam's Quest for Democracy$

Doloris Coulter Cogan

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780824830892

Published to Hawaii Scholarship Online: November 2016

DOI: 10.21313/hawaii/9780824830892.001.0001

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Appendix 16 Washington Post Guest Column about the Walkout

Appendix 16 Washington Post Guest Column about the Walkout

We Fought the Navy and Won

Doloris Coulter Cogan

University of Hawai'i Press

Guam Rebels at New Navy “Rule”

Four years after Agana, the capital of Guam, was reduced to ruins in the Pacific war, the Guam Congress Building emerged from the rubble, built by the Navy with American taxpayers’ dollars.

Dedication of this building by Gov. Charles A. Pownall last July marked what Guamanians hoped would be a new epoch in their history. Eleven months before, Admiral Pownall had appeared before the Congress, meeting in a Quonset hut, to proclaim its authority increased from advisory to legislative status, as decreed by Navy Secretary John L. Sullivan.

Now less than a year since that building went into use, the lower house has considered its legislative powers so curtailed by the same Governor who proclaimed them that the members have voted to adjourn until the United States clarifies Guam’s political status and protects their rights by act of Congress.

The Assembly adjournment March 5 was precipitated by Pownall’s refusal to permit the arrest of a recalcitrant witness in an economic inquiry.

Behind the Scenes

Since the war the naval government has sought to protect Guamanian business by preventing “the unrestricted admission to Guam of outside business interests until such time as the Guamanian economy has been rehabilitated.” Guamanian congressmen contend that business has been exploited not by business interests in Hawai‘i and the mainland alone, but by former naval officers and Navy civil service personnel in Guam, using Guamanians as “front men.”

Last November, the Guam Assembly delegated the commerce and trade committee to investigate the matter.

On February 3, Abe Goldstein, a civil service employee alleged to have a financial interest in the Guam Style Center, a women’s clothing store, was subpoenaed by the committee. He repeatedly declined to submit to questioning, saying, “I hereby respectfully question the authority and jurisdiction of this committee and of the Guam Congress to inquire into the matter.”

On February 5, at a regular meeting of the Congress, assemblymen emphasized that they did not wish to prejudge Goldstein. They did, however, consider him guilty of contempt of Congress. A motion to issue a warrant for his arrest was carried by a large majority. Assemblyman Joaquin C. Perez advised the (p.213) Assembly that the attorney general of Guam had informed him informally that such action was in order and that he would honor such a warrant. [Guamanians since have informed this writer that the attorney general was notified before every move the Assembly made and that he “granted permission with his blessings.”]

At the next regular meeting, February 12, the speaker of the Assembly reported that he had signed the warrant for arrest, but to his knowledge it had not been served.

Commerce and Trade Committee Chairman Jesus C. Okiyama, in an applauded speech, observed:

“The Governor of Guam, as I understand, has already intervened in this case. … The Governor has no right to intervene until such time as Goldstein is brought before the Island Court. … If that warrant of arrest is not honored and Goldstein is made immune to the laws of Guam, gentlemen, we might as well dissolve this Guam Congress.”

The Governor continued to object to the arrest. Early news reports of his reasons for doing so were exceedingly vague. The Navy Department recently explained to this writer that the Governor considered the Congress to be exceeding its legislative authority in attempting to arrest and perhaps imprison an uncooperative witness. Officials said that to their knowledge the issue was not whether the power of subpoena extended over military personnel and Federal civil service employees on Guam, as has been suggested by some sources, but whether the Congress, by assuming judicial authority and ordering the arrest, might place the government of Guam in an untenable position.

Whatever the reason, Governor Pownall stayed the order to commit Goldstein. This resulted in the walkout of the Assembly March 5.

Four days later, Antonio B. Won Pat, speaker of the House of Assembly, wrote the Governor of Guam:

“It must be emphasized that the Assembly’s action was not based upon any single incident, but upon a series of actions which have occurred with increasing frequency since the issuance of the proclamation of August 4, 1947 [which granted the Guam Congress legislative powers]. Definition of the scope of its powers has become, in the opinion of the Assembly, a matter of interpretation of individual actions of the Congress by the executive branch of the government without observance of any uniform rule. This has created an atmosphere of uncertainty as a result of which the Assembly does not feel that it can determine when it is performing its mission and when it is not, when it is being repudiated and when it is not, and when it is being circumvented and when it is not. …

“The members of the House of Assembly consider that the powers of the three branches of the government must be defined. … Until such time as they are permitted to play their proper role in the government of Guam, they prefer not to attempt to discharge their duties as members of the House of Assembly, Guam Congress.”

(p.214) Backed by Legal Ruling

The assemblymen then declined to attend a special session of the Congress called by Governor Pownall for March 12. As a result of these actions, the attorney general ruled the adjourned assemblymen’s seats vacated and informed the Governor that he was empowered to appoint new members.

On March 19 Pownall announced that he would “form a new House of Assembly at the earliest practical moment and clothe it with identical power to that of the defaulted House of Assembly.” He asked each village commissioner to submit names of three candidates from his district.

At mass meetings since in 12 of the 19 village districts, the Governor’s action has been opposed. Villages have voted unanimously to retain their elected representatives and have indorsed messages to Governor Pownall saying they “have no intention of recognizing appointed representatives.”

Carlos Taitano, an ousted assemblyman, told the press March 23 that while this incident was the last straw, the political revolt grew out of three major longstanding grievances: “(l) Arbitrary rule by naval government; (2) lack of a constitution or documents anywhere guaranteeing civil rights; (3) lack of a court of appeal beyond the Secretary of the Navy.” He said Guam feels this sort of government is fit only for conquered peoples, not nationals who have been loyal to the American flag for 50 years.

The issue is so explosive that it is regarded in some quarters as likely to bring to a head the transfer of administration of Guam to a civilian agency.

Variable “Self-Rule”

Since it was ceded to the United States by Spain in 1898 Guam has been under control of the Navy Department. Its self-government has been proportionate to the liberality of the presiding naval officer.

No native Assembly existed until 1917. Until 1931 the Guam Congress was not elective. It remained purely advisory until 1947. Then the 15-member council and 36-member Assembly jointly requested the power to enact law. “Interim” legislative authority was granted by the Navy Secretary in August 1947, pending enactment by Congress of organic legislation embodying law-making rights.

Two months before, President Truman had recommended to Congress that organic legislation for Guam be adopted and that jurisdiction of the island be transferred to a civilian agency at the earliest practicable date. He was supported in this recommendation by the Secretaries of Navy, Army, State, and Interior.

The final act of the Assembly before its protest adjournment March 5 was to vote unanimous approval of a proposed organic act introduced in the Eighty-first Congress by Representative Norris Poulson (R., Calif.). This bill would give Guamanians United States citizenship, a bill of rights, a resident commissioner, a two-house Legislature with power, among other things, “to institute and conduct investigations, issue subpoenas to witnesses and other parties concerned and administer oaths,” a Federal court system, and extension of miscellaneous (p.215) Federal services to Guam. It would vest administrative authority for Guam under supervision of a civilian agency.

[Doloris Cogan, guest column in the Washington Post, April 3, 1949]