Guam Voters Approve Most Of Commonwealth Package
AGANA, Guam (AP) _ Voters in this U.S. territory in the Western Pacific on Saturday approved a measure asking Congress to make Guam a U.S. commonwealth, which would grant the island greater autonomy and more federal aid.
Voters in Guam cast ballots on each of 12 sections of the draft Commonwealth Act, narrowly defeating two controversial provisions.
One defeated proposal would have given Guam’s government total control over immigration. The other proposed self-determination rights of the indigenous people and five-year residency requirements before voting in local elections or obtaining local government benefits.
The proposed Commonwealth Act was drafted by Guam’s Commission on Self- Determination, prompted by a 1982 plebiscite in which island residents showed a preference of commonwealth status over statehood.
Guam has been a U.S. territory, the nation’s westernmost soil, since it was ceded to the United State by Spain 89 years ago.
The proposals being forwarded to Congress include one to allow Guam to trade freely with other countries and one for Guam to collect rent on land used by the U.S. military.
The two proposals that failed will be rewritten and submitted for another vote before the end of the year, said a spokesman for Gov. Joseph F. Ada, who chairs the commission that wrote the draft act.
Only 38 percent of the 36,000 residents who were registered to vote cast ballots, a sharp contrast to the more than 75 percent turnouts in most elections. Many voters said they did not understand the complex draft.
The Commonwealth Act, if approved by Congress, would replace the much- amended 1950 Organic Act, which serves as the framework for Guam’s civil government, and would allow islanders to write their own constitution.
It has no provisions for representation in Washington, though it would establish a joint commission of Guam representatives and federal officials to oversee the applicability of federal law to the island.
Guam currently elects a governor every four years, has a unicameral Legislature that serves two-year terms, and sends a non-voting delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Opposition to the proposed immigration changes came from Guam’s Filipino- American community, representing about 20 percent of the population.
Guam, about 1,500 miles east of Manila, has long attracted Filipinos seeking U.S. citizenship but the proposed changes would not have allowed immigrants to gain U.S. citizenship on Guam.
Immigrants typically gain temporary residency status, eventually become citizens and then sponsor other family members into the United States via Guam.
Among those who reluctantly endorsed the draft act was the Guam National Party for Free Association, which seeks greater political autonomy than the draft act proposes. It called the commonwealth proposal an acceptable interim status.
The governor, who is a statehood advocate, last week gave a similar endorsement.