Guam: Where the FilAm’s Day Begins

by Malou Liwanag Aguilar/AJPress

In the next few years, the number of Filipinos in Guam will possibly increase with the strategic move of US military bases from Okinawa, Japan. At present, approximately one-fourth (or larger) of the island’s population are either Filipinos or of Filipino descent.
 

This move opens new opportunities for Filipinos in the island, as an estimated $13 billion will be spent for construction of facilities and housing for military personnel in the span of four years. This is also meant that 20,000-30,000 Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) can find jobs in Guam. Known for their work ethics and English proficiency, Filipino construction workers are preferred by Guam companies, according to the Philippine Association of Service Exporters, Inc. (PASEI).

But Guam is no stranger to Pinoys. In fact, thirty-five percent of Guam’s population is of Filipino’s descent, according to Guam Governor Felix Camacho, during his speech at the “Living the Dream” event sponsored by the Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote (APIAVote) at the recently held Republican National Convention (RNC) held at St. Paul, Minnesota. Camacho, who is also part Filipino, emphasized the significant contribution of the API vote and urged his fellow APIs to get involved.

Also, Filipino businesses thrive in the island. Chinese-Filipino tycoons like Lucio Tan, Henry Sy and George Ty are major investors. Tan owns one of the largest malls in the island – Micronesia Mall, the Tropicana Hotel, American Bakery, Toppy Furniture and I-Connect, a mobile communications company. His banks Allied Bank and Philippine National Bank also have branches, while Philippine Airlines regularly flies between Manila and Guam.

Last year, Sy reopened SM Department Store at the Agana Shopping Center, which he took over in 2003. The SM Group also owns Turtle Cove, a popular dive site on Guam,

Sy owns the SM chain of malls in the Philippines, including the SM Mall of Asia, which is on Forbes Magazine’s World’s 10 largest malls.

Ty’s Metrobank has been a fixture in the island for over 25 years and is eyeing to expand its financial services on the island, while businessman Tony Tan Caktiong’s Jollibee is a franchised restaurant.

Tip of the spear

The largest and southernmost of the Mariana Islands, Guam has had a long history with outside military might, starting in the 17th century, the island has been captured by the Spanish, the Americans and the Japanese. It was retaken by the Americans at the end of World War II, and has remained a US territory. At present, a third of the island is house to US military bases, which cover approximately 39,000 acres.

But in a few years time, that would all change.

By the year 2014, approximately 8,000 US Marines and 9,000 family members in Okinawa, Japan will relocate to this island in the Western Pacific Ocean. It is said to be the biggest military build-up in the history of the United States, amounting to about $15 billion. The expansion could include a new Marine base, an Army ballistic missile defense facility and expanded Air Force and Navy bases by 2014, according to an initial Defense Department time line as reported by the Pacific Daily News.

Guam’s recent role on the US’ over-all defense strategy in the Asia-Pacific region is a significant one, with military analysts referring the island as the ‘tip of the spear.’

A big move to a small island 

However, news of the military build-up has raised fears among the native Chamorros that their culture and population will be further diluted. In an interview on Live Leak, Chamorro leader Debbie Quinata said that she’s not sure that the tiny island can cope with the military influx. With about a 25 percent increase – or 40,000 people — expected to move in the island in less than a decade, that is certainly a big challenge to all issues that affect the lives of the people of Guam.

Another issue is that the $15 billion the US is spending for the relocation only goes inside the military bases. This was why during the RNC last week Governor Camacho reached out to US presidential candidate John McCain, to discuss issues that matter to Guam. “I’ve met with John McCain, and I discussed the importance of Guam to the nation, and I said, ‘Sen. McCain, you understand as a former military man the role we play,” he said in an interview with the Pacific Daily News.

The Governor’s office is lobbying for financial assistance from the federal government over the next few years, money that is to be spent outside the bases’ fence lines. This would mean road, seaport, utility improvements and other projects.

In a visit to Guam last year, US Vice President Dick Cheney stressed Guam’s role in the US bases’ relocation, “The US can move quickly and effectively to protect our friends, to defend our interests, to bring relief in times of emergency, and to keep the sea lanes open for commerce, and close (it) to terrorists. This island may be small, but it has tremendous importance to the peace and security of the world.”

Yet, even with Guam’s significant role to the US military, Gov. Camacho pointed out to McCain that Washington, DC could give Guam better treatment. “We are also Americans,” quoted the Pacific Daily News, “and we need to change the way Guam is treated.”

Protecting the patriotism

With its long history of serving in many of the US’ wars, patriotism carries a big factor with the people’s relationship with America. This history of patriotism has made some believe that the US will take care of its people, and will never let the military bases destroy the island.

As for Gov. Camacho, he believes that under a McCain-Palin White House, “Guam will get a lot of attention. It most certainly will.” (www.asianjournal.com)

 

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