Guam World War II War Claims: A Legislative History
After nearly 8 decades, a resolution
World War II ended for the people of Guam in 1944 when the United States military liberated the island from nearly three years of Japanese occupation. The war remains a sensitive issue for the Chamorros, in no small part, because, for decades, payment of war reparations by the US, for wartime atrocities committed by the Imperial Japanese Forces, was delayed as the number of Chamorro survivors from the war continued to diminish. Finally, in 2016, President Barack Obama signed into law the Guam World War II Loyalty Recognition Act, clearing the way for federal payment of reparations. In 2019, while a correction to that law made its way through Congress, the governments of the US and Guam agreed to let GovGuam make payments to war survivors, with GovGuam later to be reimbursed by the federal government. Those GovGuam payments to war survivors began in January 2020.
The US considers Guam an important logistical area for national security as well as for the security of the Pacific and Asian regions. Guam became a war torn disaster area after massive air and sea bombings by US forces which destroyed most homes and buildings in order to recapture the island from the Japanese during World War II. Although US forces arrived on Guam on 21 July 21 1944 it was not declared secured until 10 August 1944.
As it had before WWII, the US Navy resumed local government authority. It’s primary mission after the war was to reconstruct and build several permanent military bases on Guam. Other competing priorities included the rehabilitation and resettlement of the Chamorro people, repair war damages, to seize the land the Navy needed to build its bases, and settle war claims from residents.
Due to frequent changes in US congressional and presidential leadership, Guam leaders continuously provide a historical overview on this period and Guam’s unresolved political status in order to keep these issues on the national agenda.
Foreign Claims Settlement Primer
There are two ways that the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission (previously known as the War Claims Commission) can settle claims. The US government will often negotiate directly with a foreign country for settlement. When the foreign country agrees with the settlement, those funds or assets liquidated are deposited in a special account and used to pay out claims to US citizens, nationals, and corporations. In the case of the Cuban Claims Act, for example, where the US has not been able to settle claims with the Cuban government, the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission adjudicates claims and renders a final judgment decision on the claims. Such judgments for claims are not paid out with US funds; however, in the event a settlement is reached in the future, those claims will be paid out with the foreign funds deposited with the US.
For most war claims against the Japanese for World War II, including Guam’s, the US appropriated funds for settlements after World War II. The US signed the Treaty of Peace with Japan in 1951, waiving its reparation claims against Japan which included claims made by of people of all its territories, making the US responsible for paying the claims.
Guam Meritorious Claims Act of 1945
On 15 November 1945, Congress passed Public Law 79-224, “The Guam Meritorious Claims Act.” This Act authorized the Secretary of the Navy to adjudicate and settle claims for a period of only one year for property damage occurring on Guam during the Japanese occupation. Claims in excess of $5,000 or any claims of personal injury or death were to be forwarded to, certified, and approved by Congress which was to provide additional appropriations for the payment of such claims.
The period for filing a claim began after 6 May 1946, the date the Navy Regulation was promulgated to implement the Act, and ended on December 1, 1946. This time period gave residents of Guam a little more than six months to file a claim at a time when Guam was still in a state of disaster and people were still struggling to simply survive.
Efforts toward resolution
The Hopkins Report
The Hopkins Report (1947) stems from the US Navy’s establishment of a third War Claims Review Commission to continue the work on adjudicating and paying war claims. The Guam War Claims Review Commission report says that on 8 January 1947 the Secretary of the Navy appointed a three-member committee to evaluate the Navy’s handling of its reconstruction and rehabilitation responsibilities, on Guam and American Samoa and to submit its report containing recommendations for improvement. Dr. Ernest M. Hopkins, former President of Dartmouth College, chaired the committee. The Hopkins Committee was critical in its findings and determined that the Navy’s process of settlement and payment was too slow. The committee recommended several changes in both the claims statute and Navy regulations on this matter but many of the committee’s recommendations were not adopted by Congress to incorporated into future war claim laws by Congress.
The Bamba Report
Perhaps the most comprehensive local report, “The Bamba Report,” was written by former Guam Senators George Bamba and Marilyn Manibusan. Efforts to compile this report was begun in the early 1980s by Bamba’s mother, the late and former Senator Cecilia Bamba, who had documented written and oral testimony from hundreds of Chamorros on Guam and in the US mainland.
According to the Bamba Report, Guam’s war reparation parity demands that began in the mid 1950s were challenged with objections by the Department of Defense, and a “General Counsel opinion to the effect that the people of Guam prior to the passage of the Organic Act were not citizens of the United States.”
Bamba and Manibusan pointed out that there were local legislative attempts to pass legislative resolution in 1967 and 1972 to request that Japan make reparations, but the resolutions never passed because of technical and procedural rules of the local legislature.
On 1 July 1971, the US enacted Public Law 92-39, “The Micronesian Claims Act.” This Act gave rise to a perception among the people of Guam that the US government was giving more favorable treatment to the people of the Northern Mariana Islands and other islanders within the US Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, who had never been US nationals, than it had given to the Chamorros of Guam under the Guam Meritorious Claims Act.
From that point forward, Guam began to pursue more aggressive measures to seek and resolve war claim disparities. Beginning in 1977 Guam Congressional Delegates Antonio Won Pat, Ben Blaz, Robert Underwood and Madeleine Bordallo have proposed legislative action in Congress for the US to provide war claim parity and justice to the people of Guam who suffered under the Japanese occupation during World War II.
A total of fourteen Congressional bills were introduced into Congress but were unsuccessful. These bills either attempted to establish a Commission to review the history and results of the Guam Meritorious Claims Act of 1945 or provided additional recognition of loyalty and war claim compensation parity.
Perhaps one of the biggest setbacks over that twenty year time-period, and certainly a failure of Guam leaders and Congress to compromise on war claims resolution, occurred in 1990 during the 101st US Congress with negotiations on the language of H.R. 2024. That was the first time where Congress had bipartisan effort to jointly develop a substitute resolution on war claims for Guam. Congress sent a request to the Guam Legislature seeking its support through resolution. Sadly, the Guam Legislature never officially responded to Congress.
What Congress ended up receiving instead was a letter from the Guam War Reparations Committee, chaired by Guam Governor Joseph Ada, who offered language for a substitute H.R. 2024, which materially changed the intent of the bill. Congress was disappointed and found it not worth its while to proceed anymore with H.R. 2024 and it was dropped. The Guam War Reparation Committee’s effort then became a futile sentiment because the Guam Legislature did not respond as an elected body of the people of Guam as requested by Congress, and instead received a response from a committee.
While some have argued that if Guam responded in the manner as requested by Congress, substitute H.R. 2024 would have became law and Guam’s war claim issues resolved, others have maintained that substitute H.R. 2024 was still deficient in parity.
Guam War Claims Review Commission Report
In 2002, a major political milestone for Guam’s efforts occurred. Guam Congressional Delegate Robert A. Underwood was successful in getting Congress to pass and establish the Guam War Claims Review Commission. The Commission completed and submitted a required report to Congress in 2004. The comprehensive report provided an in depth comparison of the Guam Meritorious Claims Act of 1945 to several other and similar war claim acts (Japan related) enabled by the US. The report also included previous reports on war claim efforts and testimonial hearings conducted by Guam and the US. Guam’s persistence on many of its assertions for war claims disparities and flaws were a part of the Commission’s findings and recommendations.
From those recommendations, Guam Delegate Madeleine Z. Bordallo submitted “Guam World War II Loyalty Recognition Act,” which, for the most part, incorporates the recommendations of the Commission and were subsequently incorporated into bills; beginning with 110th Congress H.R. 1595, and then with the current 111th Congress, H.R. 44, H.R. 2647 and the current H.R. 5136, National Defense Authorization Act Fiscal Year 2011 as amended and approved by the House; pending in the Senate.
Commission’s recommendation and proposed Act
There are two key differences between the Commission’s recommendation and the Guam World War II Loyalty Recognition Act. Although these differences exist, the Honorable Mauricio Tamargo, former Chairman of the Guam War Claims Review Commission, and former Chairman of the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission, has endorsed the proposed Act as written.
The first difference in the two documents is the recommended compensation for claims depicted in the comparison table below.
|Rape or severe personal injury (such as loss of a limb, dismemberment, or paralysis)||$12,000||$15,000|
|Forced labor or a personal injury not under subparagraph (A) (such as disfigurement, scarring, or burns).||$12,000||$12,000|
|Forced march, internment, or hiding to evade internment.||$12,000||$10,000|
|Survivors of deceased injured residents (limited to spouse, children and parents)||$12,000||$7,000|
The second difference is that the Commission recommended limiting the eligibility for survivors of victims that sustained injury, forced march, internment, or hiding to evade internment to individuals who were alive as of the year of 1990. The Commission’s rationale being that was the year which:
“represents the last time that the Administration, the leadership of the US Congress, and the leadership of the Guam Legislature were within reach of achieving agreement [for war claims].”
This was initially placed in H.R. 1595, but later amended and removed during a markup process in the House.
The US has no legal obligation for any war claims. However the Commission stated:
“The Review Commission affirms that there is a moral obligation on the part of our national government to pay compensation for war damages, in order to ensure to the extent possible that no single individual or group of individuals bears more than a just part of the overall burden.”
In 2009, during a Senate Committee meeting on H.R. 2647, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 bill included the Guam World War II Loyalty Act. However, the Senate committee was concerned with the bill setting some precedence. Delegate Madeleine Bordallo said in 2009 that Senators Carl Levin and John McCain had two main concerns:
- that H.R. 2647 would potentially set precedence for war claims in a defense authorization bill; and
- payment of claims for personal injury to spouses and children of survivors in the case in which the survivor has since passed away after the war. In a compromise attempt, the Senators offered Bordallo to keep Guam’s war claims in the final defense bill if they were awarded solely to descendants of those killed during the war and to living survivors, but not to their heirs.
Bordallo informed them that she could not accept the offer because:
- it would not recognize all those who suffered through the occupation, and
- she did not have the consent of the people of Guam to negotiate those terms.
In 1990, the US Congress noted that it would like to see the Guam Legislature’s support of these bills, since it is the representing body of Guam. Since then, the Guam Legislature has passed Resolutions in support of bills for Guam’s war claims. On 4 May 2007 the 29th Guam Legislature passed Resolution 52, which endorsed the Review Commission’s report and guides Delegate Bordallo to proceed with introducing such legislation in Congress.
What appears to be a final concern of the US Senate are the total costs of war claims for CHamorus of Guam. The last Congressional Budget Office (2006) estimated that administering these war claims at $193 million ($180 million for claims, $8 million to administer, and $5 million for the grant program). Delegate Bordallo has estimated the cost to be lower, at between $80 million and $160 million.
Precedence on claims payment to heirs
During the first Guam War Claims Review Commission hearing on Guam, Del. Bordallo (2003) stated:
“I urge the Guam War Claims Review Commission to also consider the fairness of war claims for Guam in contrast to efforts by the United States government to compensate the neighboring islands whose residents were Japanese nationals during World War II. The United States appropriately dealt with these claims generously and expeditiously, enacting the Micronesian Claims Act in 1971 for our neighbors. Significantly, this Act also authorized compensation for heirs in cases where the claimant has passed away prior to the settlement of claims. We would urge you to consider these issues in your recommendations to Congress.”
During a House Armed Services Committee hearing on 2 December 2009, Congressman Buck McKeon asked whether heirs of occupation survivors who have since died should be eligible for claims and what would be the justification for giving it to them. Former Guam War Revision Commission Chairman and also a former Chairman of the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission Mauricio Tamargo responded,
“…the Guam Claims Review Commission included survivors in its recommendation, strictly because that as a matter of parity that is how all the other claims programs were administered. They all allowed for heirs to pursue the claims of their decedents and war victim and that was why we included it in the report.”
Steps to resolution: 2016 – 2020
On 23 December 2016, as stated by the US Justice Department, “President Obama signed into law the Guam World War II Loyalty Recognition Act, Title XVII, Public Law 114-328, which authorizes the (US Department of Justice’s Foreign Claims Settlement Commission) to conduct a supplemental war claims compensation program for victims and survivors of the attack and occupation of Guam by Imperial Japanese military forces during World War II and the liberation of Guam by United States military forces. The Act, the relevant portions of which are provided below, covers claims for death, rape, personal injury, severe personal injury, forced labor, forced march, internment, and hiding to evade internment.”
In 2018, the Treasury withheld $6.4 million from Guam’s 2019 Section 30 fund payment, which it deposited into the Guam War Claims Fund to pay for settlement claims. Section 30 funds are taxes withheld from federal employees working on Guam.
In February 2019, Del. Michael T. San Nicolas, who replaced Del. Bordallo as Guam’s nonvoting representative to the House of Representatives in the U.S. Congress, said that payment of reparations checks had been held up because of a flaw in the Guam World War II Loyalty Recognition Act, which was written by Del. Bordallo. Although the Department of Justice’s Foreign Claims Settlement Commission had reached decisions on nearly 250 Guam claims – notifying claimants that they had won reparations – payments couldn’t be made because the law lacked a provision to authorize them.
Shortly after learning of the delayed payments from Del. San Nicolas, Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero wrote to David Bernhardt, the acting secretary of the Department of the Interior, seeking his help in clearing the way for reparations checks to be paid.
In the second week of February 2019, Del. San Nicolas introduced House Resolution 1141, which contained the language needed to allow the Treasury Department to issue the checks.
On 26 February 26 2019, Del. San Nicolas introduced a different measure, H.R. 1365, as an alternative to H.R. 1141. San Nicolas said the new bill – written with input from the Treasury Department – removed the appropriations language of the Guam World War II Loyalty Recognition Act, and allows the Treasury to issue checks drawn on the $6.4 million it has set aside in 2018.
In April 2019, Sen. Louise Muna introduced Bill 3-35 to exempt war claims payments from collection by creditors.
In May 2019, Gov. Leon Guerrero signed Bill 3-35 into Public Law 35.12.
On 6 June 2019, Gov. Leon Guerrero announced that the Guam Legislature would introduce legislation to pay reparations to war survivors. She said that, because the federal disaster aid bill would cover all of Guam’s Medicaid costs for the year, Guam could use the money it had set aside as local matching funds for the Medicaid program to instead pay reparations to war survivors.
To do so, the Leon Guerrero-Tenorio Administration a few days later said it was working with the Justice Department to learn the names of those war survivors whose war claims had been adjudicated, so it could pay reparations to those claimants, and later be reimbursed for those payments by the federal government.
On 17 June 2019, Guam legislative Speaker Tina Muña Barnes proposed to:
- Create a local fund from which to pay war claims.
- Give the governor authority to transfer GovGuam money to pay out claims.
- Authorize a local agency – likely the Department of Administration or the Department of Revenue and Taxation – to cut the war claims checks.
On 18 June 2019, Department of Interior Secretary Bernhardt sent letters to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, urging both the House and Senate “to expedite its consideration and approval” of H.R. 1365.
Days later, the U.S. House of Representatives’ Natural Resources Committee unanimously passed H.R. 1365, Del. San Nicolas’ bill to facilitate the federal payment of war reparations authorized by the 2016 Guam World War II Loyalty Recognition Act.
On 28 June 2019, Speaker Muña Barnes announced that her office had drafted the legislation to pay war claims locally, and that the draft legislation was being reviewed by the Trump Administration.
On 18 July 2019, Speaker Muña Barnes and Minority Leader Sen. Wil Castro introduced Bill 181-35, which would establish a local Guam war claims fund and give governor the authority to transfer up to $7.5 million into it. The bill didn’t specify a specific funding source, but the $7.5 million authorized would cover $10,000 payments to almost all of the 754 manåmko’ whose war claims had already been adjudicated by the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission.
The same day, Guam time (July 17 in Washington), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that H.R. 1365 would likely pass in the House with bipartisan support in the following week.
On 24 July 2019, the House unanimously passed H.R. 1365.
On 20 August 2019, Speaker Muña Barnes brought her local war claims compensation bill to the floor of the legislature, where it was debated.
On 22 October 2019, The Republican Party of Guam, fearing that Bill 181-35 – because it could send mixed signals to Congress – might hinder the passage of H.R. 1365, appealed to Gov. Leon Guerrero and Del. San Nicolas to ask the Guam Legislature to suspend work on the local bill until the end of November.
On 10 December 2019, in Washington, D.C., Del. San Nicolas announced that his Guam war claims bill, which as H.R. 1365 unanimously passed in the House in July, had, without changes or objections, been moved to the floor of the Senate for a vote.
On 19 December 2019, in the Guam Legislature, a substituted version of Bill 181-35 was up for a vote. Several senators objected to this. For one, because the bill had been drastically rewritten, and approved for a vote without first being discussed in the Committee of the Whole with input from the Bureau of Budget Management and Research.
Sen. Therese Terlaje also objected to the removal of the $7.5 million cap in the original bill, as well as the change in the funding source. Sen, James Moylan also opposed the new bill’s lack of a specific funding source. Additionally, the new bill gave no details about the memorandum of agreement between the local and federal governments required to reimburse GovGuam for its early payment of reparations:
“I Maga’hågan is authorized to transfer such sums as are available from the General Fund to pay adjudicated claims as of the passage of this Act from the General Fund appropriations contained within Public Law 34-116 and Public Law 35-36 … Any funds transferred to the Fund shall only be used to pay Compensable Guam Victims with certified claims by the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission and such use shall be consistent under a Memorandum of Agreement between the Guam Department of Administration and the U.S. Department of the Treasury.”
Sen. Terlaje asked her fellow legislators to review and discuss the new bill, but Speaker Muña Barnes ruled her out of order because the motion for a vote had already been made.
On 20 December, 2019, Guam senators voted 12 to 3 to pass Bill 181-35.
• Voting in support were: Speaker Tina Muña Barnes, Vice Speaker Telena Nelson, Sens. Wil Castro, Clynton Ridgell, Jose Terlaje, Sabina Perez, Amanda Shelton, Kelly Marsh, Regine Biscoe Lee, Joe San Agustin, Therese Terlaje, and Telo Taitague
• Voting in opposition of the bill were: Sens. Mary Torres, James Moylan and Louise Muna
On 3 January 2020, Gov. Leon Guerrero signed Bill 131-35 into law (Public Law 35-61) and said reparation payments to war survivors could begin by the end of the month.
“The measure, now Public Law 35-61, is intended as interim legislation, creating a local fund to pay war claims while a congressional solution to a technical flaw in the World War II Loyalty Recognition Act moves forward,” explained The Guam Daily Post in a 4 January 2020 article titled “$37M reparations closer to payment.”
On 23 January 2020, Gov. Leon Guerrero announced the Treasury Department had signed the memorandum of agreement that allows GovGuam to issue expedited reparations payments to Guam war survivors.
On 24 January 2020, the Guam War Claims Processing Center at the old Hakubotan building in Tamuning began receiving World War II survivors whose claims had been approved for payment by the U.S. Foreign Claims Settlement Commission. According to Gov. Leon Guerrero, between $13 million and $14 million in local funds had been set aside to pay claims.
On 28 January 2020, Speaker Muña Barnes announced a signature drive to ask Congress to reopen the filing period for Guam survivors of World War II to file war reparations claims. The original deadline for file a claim with the U.S. Foreign Claims Settlement Commission was 20 June 2018.
On 29 January 2020, the Guam War Claims Processing Center made the first reparations payments to survivors of Japanese atrocities on Guam during World War II.
Also on 29 January 2020, the Guam Bar Association began providing deceased war survivors’ heirs free legal help in making their claims for reparations. The GBA’s volunteer lawyers would help families of deceased claimants “already in receipt of letters of acknowledgment and/or decision letters from the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission and in need of probate services.”
On 30 January 2020, the Guam War Claims Processing Center began home visits to war claimants who aren’t able to travel to the center in Tamuning. On the same day, the Governors Office also said that of the 1,400 Guam war survivors federally approved for reparations payments, about 700 live on Guam, and, of those, more than 600 had had their claims locally processed.
In the first week of February, the Guam Department of Administration paid out about 300 local war claims checks.
As of 7 February 2020, GovGuam had paid out more than $3 million in war claims checks, from a local fund of about $14 million set aside to make payouts while the approval of the mechanism for direct federal payments – H.R. 1365 – awaited Senate approval.
On 11 February 2020, the Senate unanimously passed H.R. 1365, bringing the U.S. Treasury once step closer to making direct federal payments of reparations to Guam war survivors. Because the Senate passed an amended version of the House bill, H.R. 1365 had to go back to the House for a final vote to pass it into law.
On 13 and 14 February 2020, the Guam Department of Administration paid out 285 war claims checks at the Guam War Claims Processing Center, nearly 76 years after Guam was liberated from Japanese occupation during World War II.
On 9 March 2020, the House passed the revised version of H.R. 1365 and sent it to the president for ratification into law.
For further reading
Guam War Claims Documents. (accessed 22 May 2017).
29th Guam Legislature. (2007, May 4). Relative to Implementing the Recommendations of the Guam War Claims Review Commission. Legislative Resolution (accessed 22 May 2017).
Bamba, G. and Manibusan, M. (1988, August 2). Report Supporting Formation of a Federal Commission on War Reparations for Guam, Appendix C, 2004 Guam War Claims Review Commission Report.
Bordallo, M.Z. (Statement made on December 8, 2003).
Bordallo, M.Z.(Statement made on October 7, 2006).
Congressional Budget Office. (2006, June 9). Guam War Restitution Act. (accessed 22 May 2017).
Guam War Survivor Stories (accessed 22 May 2017).
Hopkins, E.M., Tobins, M.J., and Hyerson, K.A. (1947, March 25). Hopkins Committee Report for the Secretary on the Civil Government of Guam and American Samoa, Appendix B(10), 2004 Guam War Claims Review Commission Report.
Tamargo, M.J., Unpingco, A.R., Cruz, B.J., Lagomarsino, R.J., Van Cleve, R.G. (2004, June). Report on the Implementation of the Guam Meritorious Claims Act of 1945. Guam War Claims Review Commission.