Father of Guam Economic Development Authority

Francisco Duenas Perez (1913 – 1997), better known as Frank D. Perez, is known for many things: a farmer who pioneered the raising of hens for the local sale of eggs; a long-time political leader who helped found three political parties on Guam; the founder of the Guam Economic Development Authority; and a successful businessman in concrete manufacturing who helped build many homes in Guam today.

Perez was born in Hagåtña to Jesus Flores Perez and Margarita Mendiola Duenas on 5 July 1913. He attended Guam Elementary School and began his career with the US Navy’s Bureau of Yards and Docks, where he got a coveted job as a steno-typist at the age of 15. He worked at the job for 13 years, until Japanese forces invaded Guam in 1941.

He graduated from Guam Evening High School in 1933 and had hopes of becoming an engineer and going abroad to pursue his education. He was awarded a full scholarship to the University of California at Davis and had saved money from his job with the Navy and from work at the family farm. But he remained on Guam to help care for his ailing mother.

Fresh eggs came first

In the late 1930s, Perez became the first CHamoru farmer to import fertilized chicken eggs from the United States in order to sell locally produced eggs to stores throughout Guam. He eventually began to export fresh eggs, avocados, and other agricultural commodities throughout the islands, including Midway. He continued to own and operate his commercial farm and piggery and raise cattle throughout the Japanese occupation of Guam.

It was during World War II that Perez became famous for his courage. He risked his life during the Japanese occupation by operating a secret radio, listening to American news reports about the war and relaying the news to trusted friends. The radios were strictly prohibited by the Japanese, and the news reports differed greatly from the reports given to the CHamorus by the Japanese. Perez and other secret radio operators shared the truth with others they trusted, as such an activity could cost them their lives. Perez was also among those who helped American escapees, harboring two of the six American navy men who didn’t surrender to the Japanese in 1941.

Construction companies next

When the Americans retook the island in 1944, Perez was named administrator for Agricultural Development under the Bureau of Naval Intelligence. In 1947, with his brother, Greg Perez, and Jose Salas, Jesus Crisostomo, and Van Smith, Perez founded the Pacific Construction Company and was president of the company until 1951. He then started Frank D. Perez & Brothers, a construction company, concrete business, and a hardware store. The concrete business still survives today as Perez Bros. Inc.

In the early 1950s, when Guam was in dire need of a civilian hospital under Governor Carlton Skinner, Perez sold 48 acres of his land in Tamuning for the construction of a new Guam Memorial Hospital in 1956. In 1951, he used his company to develop Guam’s first modern housing subdivision in Oka, Tamuning, called Perezville. It was the island’s first subdivision that applied the concept of protective covenants. In 1955, Perez’s company constructed the Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral-Basilica in Hagåtña after it was destroyed during the war, completing the structure in 1958.

Just as he was successful in business, Perez was also a major force in Guam politics. He was first appointed to the House of Assembly in 1937, and served in the 7th, 9th, and 10th Guam Congresses. He was part of the 1949 Guam Congress walkout that attracted national attention and eventually led to the passage of the Organic Act of Guam and US citizenship for Guam residents. Perez was then elected to I Mina’ Uno na Liheslaturan Guahan/ the 1st Guam Legislature (which was created by the Organic Act), helping found the Popular Party of Guam – the island’s only political party at the time, and predecessor of the Democratic Party of Guam.

Political career

He was Vice Speaker of I Mina’ Dos na Liheslaturan Guahan/ the 2nd Guam Legislature and also served in the I Mina’ Tres na Liheslaturan Guahan/ the 3rd Guam Legislature and I Mina’ Ocho na Liheslaturan Guahan/ the 8th Guam Legislature. In 1956 Perez helped found Guam’s second political party, the Territorial Party of Guam, and helped found the Territorial Party’s successor, the Republican Party of Guam in 1966.

Perez is best known in his role as a senator for his legislation in I Mina’ Ocho na Liheslaturan Guahan/the 8th Legislature that created the Guam Economic Development Authority, which offered economic incentives such as tax rebates (called “Qualifying Certificates”) aimed at promoting and attracting new businesses to Guam. His law, known today as the “Frank D. Perez Economic Revitalization and Enhancement Zone Act”, is credited with much of the economic boom that followed in the late 1960s, into the 1970s and 1980s, and stands out as a major catalyst of the tourism industry.

Perez was one of four founders of the Guam Contractors Association and was a founding director of the Guam Savings & Loan Association board. He continued to be active in his business into the 1990s, and in 1995 was inducted as a laureate in the Guam Chamber of Commerce Hall of Fame. Perez received an honorary doctorate degree from University of Guam in 1984. He was an active member of several community and religious organizations, including the Young Men’s League of Guam, Helping Hands of Guam, Knights of St. Sylvester, Knights of Christ the King, and Knights of Columbus.

Perez was married to the former Carmen Sirena Camacho Duenas, and they had 10 children: Frank, Joseph, Gregory, George, Thomas, Daniel, John, Mary, Carmen, and Margarita. Perez died on 22 December 1997 at the age of 84.

By Leo Babauta

For further reading

I Manfåyi: Who’s Who in Chamorro History. Vol. 1. The Hale’-ta Series. Hagåtña: Political Status Education and Coordinating Commission, 1995.

Rogers, Robert. Destiny’s Landfall: A History of Guam. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1995.