Posts by Mar-Vic:

    US Homeland Security puts the Philippines on blacklist

    January 22nd, 2019

    Asian country dropped from list of countries eligible for work visa applications, citing visa abuse

    By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

    Photograph of a U.S. Department of Homeland Security logo.Photo ©

    THE United States Department of Homeland Security has dropped the Philippines from the list of countries eligible under the H2 visa programs this year, citing the country’s alleged high rate of visa abuse and high volume of human trafficking.

    Under the new rule posted on the Federal Register on Jan. 18, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services may no longer approve H-2A and H-2B visa applications from the Philippines unless it determines that “such participation is in the U.S. interest.”

    Also on the blacklist besides the Philippines are the Dominican Republic and Ethiopia.

    The new U.S. policy is likely to add another crack to the relationship between the U.S. and the Philippines. Historically, the diplomatic ties between the two countries have been strong. But the current Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte supports a foreign policy that is less dependent on the United States, favoring one that prioritizes closer relations with China instead.

    The Homeland Security’s new rule will exacerbate Guam’s labor shortage as the Philippines is a main source of manpower for the island’s construction industry.

    Guam has been experiencing a labor crisis since the USCIS removed the island’s exemption from the 66,000 annual visa cap since December 2015. The National Defense Authorization Act authorizes the USCIS to approve up to 4,000 H2B visa applications but only for projects that are related to the military buildup.

    “I am concerned about the Trump Administration’s removal of the Philippines. Though we will still be able to petition for H-2B labor because of the National Defense Authorization Act, the extra step being proposed of employers who seek to use H-2B labor will continue to be burdensome,” Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero said. “This crisis remains a priority, especially given the denial of nearly all petitions over the last few years.”

    Guerrero said she will seek a legislative remedy to the compounded labor problem on Guam.

    Under the new federal rule, which took effect Jan. 19, exemptions may be determined based on the following factors: 1) the petitioner provides evidence that a worker with the required skills is not available either from among U.S. workers or from among foreign workers from any visa eligible country; 2) the beneficiary has been admitted to the United States previously in H-2A or H-2B status; 3) the potential for abuse, fraud, or other harm to the integrity of the H-2A or H-2B visa program through the potential admission of a beneficiary from a country not currently on the list; and 4) such other factors as may serve the U.S. interest.

    The federal rule identifies 84 countries whose nationals are eligible to participate in the H-2A program and 81 countries eligible H-2B program for period between Jan. 19, 2019, and Jan. 18, 2020.

    Labor is the Philippines’ major export, which brings $26 billion to its economy annually. 

    In blacklisting the Philippines, Homeland Security noted that the country “has a high H-2B overstay rate.”

    In FY 2017, DHS estimated that nearly 40 percent of H-2B visa holders from the Philippines overstayed their period of authorized stay.

    “Additionally, among all U.S. posts throughout the world, [the] U.S. Embassy Manila issues the greatest number of T-derivative visas, which are reserved for certain family members of principal T-1 non immigrants (certain victims of a severe form of trafficking in persons,” the federal rule states “U.S. Embassy Manila issued approximately 40 percent of the total T-derivative visas issued worldwide from FY 2014-2016. A recent review of certain T-1 status recipients, whose spouses were issued T-2 visas during this same period, shows that approximately 60 percent were determined to have been trafficked to the United States on H-2B visas.”

    Homeland Security said it is concerned that the “potential that continued H-2B visa issuance may encourage or serve as an avenue for future human trafficking from the Philippines.”

    The federal agency also believes that “these overstay and human trafficking concerns are severe enough to warrant removal from the H-2A visa program as well. This concern is informed by a four-fold increase in H-2A visa applications from nationals of the Philippines between FY 2015-2018. The Philippines’ continued inclusion creates the potential for abuse, fraud, and other harm to the integrity of the H-2A or H-2B visa programs.”

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    Guam elects first female governor; Democratic Party back in Adelup

    November 8th, 2018

    By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

    Lou Leon Guerrero, Guam’s newly elected governor

    BANK executive Lou Leon Guerrero became Guam’s first female governor following Tuesday’s hotly contested race — preceded by mudslinging— that brought a Democrat back to Adelup.

    Based on the Guam Election Commission’s unofficial results, Leon Guerrero and her running mate Joshua Tenorio garnered 18,081 votes, or 50.70 percent of the votes cast, averting a runoff that was speculated as a result of a three-way match.

    According to election law, a gubernatorial candidate must obtain 50 plus one to win an election.
    Leon Guerrero’s Republican opponent, Lt. Gov, Ray Tenorio and his running mate Tony Ada, received 9,419 votes (26.41 percent), while write-in candidate Frank Aguon and his running mate Alicia Limtiaco received 8,161 votes (22.88 percent).

    “This election has been rough for our entire community,” Leon Guerrero said in a brief victory speech before her supporters after the GEC completed the vote count Wednesday morning.

    “And as we move forward in healing, Josh and I look forward to working on behalf of all the people of Guam. Over the last two years, you have invited us into your homes. We have listened to your concerns, and with your input, developed a plan to change Guam for the better.”

    The only pro-choice candidate in a predominantly conservative Catholic community, Leon Guerrero also battled a conflict-of-interest issue. Her family owns the Bank of Guam, which holds the government of Guam’s account. She also survived allegations of racism resulting from her “I was born and raised here, Ray” speech.

    “Now, you have entrusted us with the responsibility to carry out that mandate. Josh and I commit to you that we will apply the principles of fairness, equality and justice to the highest level of your government,” Leon Guerrero said.

    “We will fight for fair wages, enhance public safety, health care and education, and work each and every day to improve your quality of life. The healing begins now. The work begins now. And we are honored to be by your side as we enter this new era of change and prosperity.”
    Leon Guerrero is the first Democrat to set foot in Adelup since former Gov, Carl Gutierrez ended his term in 2003.

    CNMI Gov. Ralph DLG. Torres sent his congratulatory message to Leon Guerrero and Tenorio.

    “Lou is a personal friend of mine, and I spoke to her earlier today about continuing the partnerships between our islands and the collaboration between our governments. If given the opportunity to serve as Governor again, I look forward to working with her to build an even stronger relationship between the CNMI and Guam,” Torres said.

    “I also want to congratulate every single candidate who successfully won a seat in the Guam Legislature. This election for Guam was historic with the election of their first female governor and a record 10 female senators to the 35thGuam Legislature. The people of Guam have spoken, and I look forward to working with their newly elected leaders to usher in a new era of progress for the Marianas.”

    The Tenorio-Ada team has yet to concede.

    “We would like to thank our supporters and the people of Guam for exercising their right to vote yesterday. Because of the slim margin for a 50 percent +1 declaration and the absentee ballots that remain to be counted, it is prudent that we wait on this process to be completed next week.”

    Leon Guerrero, a former nurse, served as a senator of the 23rd, 24th, 26th, 27th, and the 28th Guam Legislatures before assuming the leadership of the billion-dollar family-owned Bank of Guam in 2011. In 1998, Leon Guerrero ran as the running mate of Sen. Thomas C. Ada in a primary gubernatorial challenge of the incumbent ticket of Carl Gutierrez and Madeleine Bordallo.

    Leon Guerrero is the daughter of Bank of Guam founder Jesus Sablan Leon Guerrero and Eugenia Calvo Aflague Leon Guerrero. She earned her nursing degree at California State University, where she also obtained her master’s in public health. She worked as a staff nurse at Santa Monica Hospital in Santa Monica in California. She returned to Guam in 1980 to work at the Guam Memorial Hospital, where she became assistant nursing director.

    The rise of women power on Guam is also evident in the incoming 35th Guam Legislature, which will be composed of nine women senators led by Speaker Therese Terlaje, the most senior legislator who topped the legislative race.

    Incumbent senators Telena Nelson (D), Mary Camacho Torres (R),  Regine Biscoe Lee (D) and Luisa Muna (R) have secured their seats for another term. Former senators, Tina Muna Barnes (D) and Telo Taitague (R) found their way back to the session hall. They will be joined by newcomers Amanda Shelton, Sabina Perez and Kelly Marsh.

    Incumbents Will Castro (R) , Joe San Agustin (D) have also been reelected. Also in the mix are newcomers former broadcast journalist Clynt Ridgell and James Moylan.

    Landing on the 15th spot, Jose Terlaje (D) is hanging by the thread. With 11,840 votes, Terlaje was ahead of Celestine Cruz Babauta (D), who received 11,768 votes and Adolfo Palacio, who got 11,721. A recount for these spots is anticipated.

    The Democratic Party obtained a super majority with 10 members versus the Republican Party’s five.

    “History was made today in the U.S. territory of Guam. Voters elected the island’s first female Governor, first openly gay Lieutenant Governor, and, for the first time in the island’s history, women will outnumber men in the Guam Legislature. In fact, in the coming term, it is likely that all three branches of government – to include the judiciary – will be headed by a woman,” the Democratic Party said in a statement.

    “10 of the 15 senators in the upcoming 35th Guam Legislature will be women – and most of them Democrats. Democrat Lourdes “Lou” Leon Guerrero captured 51% of votes cast in a three-way contest for Governor, beating the sitting Republican Lieutenant Governor and a write-in candidate and longtime Senator. Leon Guerrero’s running mate Joshua “Josh” Tenorio will become the island’s first ever openly gay Lt. governor.”

    “We didn’t win for ourselves, we won for those who wanted change and were willing to work for it. Guam is where America’s day begins and so from our little corner of the pacific begins a tidal wave of change that sweeps across our nation and turns the page on the politics of divide and conquer,” Biscoe Lee said.

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    The changing airscape: What’s killing the region’s major airline?

    October 31st, 2018

    By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

    Tamuning, Guam. Image by

    THE daily bustle and large crowd of visitors at the A.B. Won Pat International Airport are reflective of Guam’s currently robust tourism — a volatile industry that drives the island’s economy. Monthly reports from the Guam Visitors Bureau reinforces the industry’s optimism.

    According to the latest GVB report, Guam achieved its second-best fiscal year with 1.52 million people welcomed to the island shores during fiscal. It was also the fourth top September with 116,515 visitors recorded in a month. The GVB Research Department noted weather events in the Pacific region, such as Typhoon Mangkhut, also affected September arrivals in the markets of Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Philippines, and China. The Valiant Shield exercise, which brought 15,000 troops to Guam and Northern Marianas in September, helped boost military arrivals for the month.

    It’s been a tumultuous year for our visitor industry but our tourism partners have pulled through to achieve the second-best fiscal year in the island’s tourism history,” Gov. Eddie Calvo said.

    GVB anticipates the winter travel to Guam to see an increase in airline seats in the Japan market. Japan Airlines has extended its second daily flights between Narita and Guam through March 2019. Daily flights on Jeju Air from Osaka and Guam have been in operation since July. Additionally, United will reintroduce its Boeing 777-200 aircraft effective Oct. 28 on two of three daily flights from Tokyo. United will also be adding four more flights a week beginning Dec. 2 between Guam and Nagoya.

    At the airport’s terminal, mixed in among the tourists returning home are Guam residents bound for off-island trips for various purposes, such as visiting friends and relatives, traveling for business or seeking medical treatment. Once at the mercy of United Airlines, the main carrier in the region, Guam travelers now have more options.

    As the aviation industry continues to grow and evolve in Asia, some changes will affect how Guamanians make plans for their next trip off-island,” wrote Jeffrey Teruel, founder of Flights in Asia, an online industry publication dedicated to global aviation trends.

    In jeopardy is the sustainability of United Airlines — formerly Continental Micronesia before the merger in December 2010 — which is facing stiff competition from Asia’s low-cost carriers.

    Low cost carriers have changed the landscape of the aviation industry globally. While it continues to maintain its strong route network from Guam, some of the foreign airlines on Guam are adding new challenges to United’s presence on key markets such as the Philippines, Japan, and Korea,” Teruel said.

    While low-cost carriers may not necessarily need to add more flights, Teruel said, they could offer their own brand of customer service and attractive airfares that could attract travelers from Guam to try flying with them for the next trip off-island.

    Flights in Asia analyzed the economics of airfares and the travel options for Guamanians, using the combined automated and manual search method and collecting 1,045 roundtrip economy class base airfares, including the lowest and most expensive options. “This initial study is not scientific, but to provide insights using a snapshot of airfare data during a given time period and does not account for extra fees such as baggage allowance or meals on low cost carriers,” Teruel wrote.

    Data collected by Flights in Asia established that as of October 2018, the current number of weekly scheduled departures out of Guam is around 207 flights operated by 11 airlines to 20 destinations in Asia, Micronesia, and Hawaii with United Airlines serving the most flights from Guam. Along with being the source of the majority of tourists coming to the island, over 73 percent of the flight departures from Guam are to cities in South Korea and Japan. South Korea has the most flights to the island, with 86 flights per week followed by Japan with 66. The large number of weekly flights to/from Japan and South Korea are followed by the Philippines (18), Hawaii (11), and Saipan (9).

    Based on more than 1,000 roundtrip airfare itineraries collected, Flights in Asia found that the cheapest airfares were found on trips to Saipan where roundtrip airfares range from US$214 to US$250. The average airfare was US$469.20, which accounts for much more expensive options connecting that involve a connection in Japan that travelers will shun.

    The most expensive destination is Majuro in the Marshall Islands (US$2,069.44) followed by Honolulu (US$2,069) and Palau (US$1,547.60). Most airfares for roundtrip tickets to most destinations from Guam is between US$500-US$1,000. 

    For flights between Guam and South Korea, low cost carriers such as Jeju Air, T’Way and Jeju Air offer round trip airfares to Seoul or Busan for less than US$400. Most airfares from the Korean low-cost carriers can be found in the US$300s/low US$400s, with some fares to Busan going lower for around US$276. These fares can be US$200-US$400 cheaper than airfares from Korean Air with their fares to Seoul and Busan found at around US$600s.

    In addition to offering low cost airfares to Korea, Jeju Air and T’Way also offer decent fares to Osaka, Japan. Both airlines offer roundtrip fares from Guam to Osaka for around the US$400s and low US$500s. For the same route, United’s fares were US$100-US$200 higher at around US$660 to US$811.

    The Guam-Manila route also sees the low-cost carrier effect. Cebu Pacific, which launched the Guam service in 2016, offers the lowest roundtrip airfares at less than US$400.

    United and Philippine Airlines offer fares in the low US$400s, with the additional benefits of baggage allowance and meals included. “Depending on the season and time of booking, it is possible to get airfares on the Guam-Manila route on any of the three airlines serving the route for less than US$300,” Flights in Asia said.

    While low-cost carriers continue to challenge United directly on routes to key markets, Flights in Asia recommends that other Asian carriers follow the Philippine Airlines’ lead in offering competitive fares for travel to Japan, Hong Kong, and Taipei from Guam.

    But budget airfares may not stay for long.
    Flights in Asia predicts a potential rise in airfares to some destinations, such as the Philippines and Hong Kong, in 2019. “The Philippine Civil Aviation Board in September approved the request by local airlines to impose fuel surcharges – fees passed on the travelers to offset rising global fuel costs,” Flights in Asia said. “Hong Kong’s government has made a similar move, ending a ban on fuel surcharges in place since 2016. As part of Hong Kong’s government policy, airlines will also be able to impose additional charges provided that they are disclosed before a traveler chooses to book the trip.”


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    A matter of life and vote

    October 20th, 2018

    By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

    The Aguon-Limtiaco tandem in one of their sorties. Photo by

    ABORTION did not figure in the early stages of this year’s election season until Frank Aguon and his running mate Alicia Limtiaco launched their write-in campaign before a predominantly pro-life crowd last weekend.

    The Guam Democratic Party’s runaway team has thus found a solid constituency that will carry their torch. It may be small —  a single-issue lot — but quite intense and loud enough to cause a dent on the campaign of the party’s standard bearers, Lou Leon Guerrero and Joshua Tenorio.

    “My loyalty of service is to a higher authority in my life that compels me to fight my best fight for the innocent and protect and defend the unborn,” Aguon told his supporters.

    “Do we want a leader who believes that abortion is the way to build a better community?” Aguon asked, in an apparent jab at Leon Guerrero, who served as president of People for Choice when she was a practicing nurse in 1990.

    That Aguon instantly became the sweetheart of pro-lifers is a twist of fate. When he was on the campaign trail as Carl Gutierrez’s running mate in 2010, he was nailed to the cross by the Esperansa Project, a pro-life group, which accused him of stalling the Women’s Reproductive Health Information Act, a bill that proposed restrictions on abortion on Guam. Then chair of the legislative health care committee, Aguon passed the bill on to the Office of Attorney General to determine the “legal and social implications” of the proposed measure.

    That year, the Democratic Party’s gubernatorial team was the subject of assault from the pulpit every Sunday toward the general elections.

    In 2013, Aguon authored the “Infant Child’s Right to Life Act.” This year, he co-authored “The Unborn Child Protection Act of 2018,” hence recouping some points with the pro-life group.

    The abortion debate flared up at the gubernatorial forum hosted Thursday night by the Guam Medical Association, where Leon Guerrero and Republican candidate Lt. Gov. Ray Tenorio clashed on several health care issues.

    “Life begins at conception, period. We must protect every life,” Tenorio said, adhering to his party’s ideology.

    “Being pro-life means loving and caring for all our children, even those who have been unfairly characterized as unworthy or unwanted,” Tenorio said in a subsequent press statement a day after the GMA debate.

    As with any civil rights issue, abortion is a splitting discourse. Though predominantly a Catholic community, Guam has its own liberals, as well, who seek the preservation of the endangered Roe vs Wade. A recent full-house forum hosted by the American Association of University Women-Guam Chapter at the Hilton Guam Resort & Spa saw the gathering of women who desire to keep their wombs off-limits to government.

    While Leon Guerrero may have secured this voting bloc, she opted to play it safe, lest she alienate the Catholic and pro-life vote— which may now be split between Tenorio and Aguon if this sector is indeed voting based on the candidates’ position on abortion and rights to life. At the GMA debate, Leon Guerrero skirted around the abortion subject. “I became a nurse because I love life. I am the only one here who has given birth to life,” she said.

    In a chapter of the “Asian/Pacific Islander American Women, A Historical Anthology/Chamorro Women and the Politics of Abortion in Guam,” the authors Vivian Loyola Dames, Shirley Hune and Gail M. Nomura celebrated Leon Guerrero’s pro-choice position. “It was through her participation in a women’s consciousness-raising group that she became pro-choice. Lou also attributes her becoming pro-choice to her Catholic education, which she says helped women like Anita (Arriola) and her to become strong and unafraid to speak about their beliefs.”

    When asked by her opponent at the GMA debate if she would support pro-life bills should she become governor, Leon Guerrero replied, “As I have said, I love life. I am running because I want to improve the quality of life. I am running to make sure that health care is provided to everybody because I love life. I support life.”

    Guam is a paradox. The community shows a semblance of social permissiveness, bearing a relaxed demeanor toward liberal ideals. Homosexuality, for example, is socially embraced. But Guam’s political attitude tells a different a story. Local proposals on gambling and same-sex marriage have repeatedly seen defeat at the legislature. That the Congress building stands 5 ft. across from the Cathedral on the street named “Chalan Santo Papa” may be emblematic of the local lawmakers’ conservative bent.

    Guam’s legislative conservatism can be traced back to 1990, when the legislature passed a very restrictive law that banned all abortions—without even an exception for rape, incest or a fetal deformity, defying the 1973 jurisprudence on Roe vs Wade. The Guam OB-GYN Society and Guam Nursing Association sought judicial intervention that culminated in a U.S. Supreme Court decision that “guaranteed all women the right to an abortion through the sixth month of pregnancy.”

    In recent years, the Guam Legislature has passed several bills that make it difficult to terminate pregnancy.

    In July this year, Guam lost its only doctor who provided pregnancy termination service, seemingly aborting the relevance of abortion policies on Guam. This is a serious civil rights and constitutional issue, but at this point, without a local provider, abortion discourse on Guam is rendered moot and academic. In this election season, talks of right to life and right to choose are more of a political  sound bite rather than a real policy debate.


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    Guamanians remain calm despite US President Donald Trump’s word war with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un

    August 10th, 2017

    North Korea Kim Jung Un (left) and US President Donald Trump (right) Image ©

    HAGÅTÑA — Guamanians remain calm despite the worsening word war between the United States and North Korea, the most recent of which is the latter’s threat to hit the island, home to a large US military base, with Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles.

    “This is no time to panic. There is no change in the security situation on Guam,” Gov. Eddie Calvo said as he downplays the threats as “either bellicose statements or some unsubstantiated media reports.”

    Calvo said he has been in communication with the White House, the Department of Homeland Security and the Joint Region Marianas Command.

    “I want to reassure the people of Guam that currently there is no threat to our island or the Marianas. I spoke to Joint Region Marianas Commander Rear Adm. Shoshana Chatfield who confirmed this with me,” the governor said.

    “I want to ensure that we are prepared for any eventuality. I will be convening the Unified Coordination Group, which includes myself and the rear admiral, to discuss the state of readiness of our military and our local first responders.”

    On Tuesday, President Donald Trump threatened North Korea with “fire and fury” over its nuclear ambitions. Pyongyang responded with a fresh threat to launch missile strikes on Guam.

    “There is .0000001 percent chance of a North Korean missile hitting Guam,” said George Charfauros, the governor’s homeland security advisor.

    Charfauros said the U.S. military is adequately equipped to keep Guam protected. At this point, he said, “the perceived threat is just that.”

    Guam Governor Eddie Calvo Photo ©

    At a press conference in Adelup, Calvo and Charfauros said Guam has contingency plans, in coordination with federal partners, to keep residents safe in case of any attack.

    Calvo said the Guam community is prepared to deal with any man made or natural disasters. “Everyone knows how to prepare for any catastrophe,” he said.

    In a press statement, Madeleine Bordallo, Guam’s delegate to Congress, said North Korea’s nuclear capabilities are “deeply troubling,” but she expressed confidence that the island remains safe and protected.

    “President Trump must work in partnership with the international community to de-escalate the growing tensions in the region and prevent North Korea from advancing its nuclear program further,” Bordallo said. “While the recent sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council were an effort to demonstrate to Kim Jong-Un that his actions will not go unanswered, President Trump must show steady leadership as these sanctions are carried out.”

    Sen. Frank Aguon said the U.S. military is capable of defending Guam’s interest against any threat in the region. “Readiness is the key here — it is basically the military’s ability to fight and win wars. Are we ready to defend and protect the people of Guam from any threat in the region? We are ready,” he said.

    Stores and gas stations operate normally, with no signs of panic-buying of emergency supplies. Residents go about their business in a normal fashion.

    “I’m here to buy school supplies since schools just opened. I don’t feel the need to stock up on emergency supplies. I’ve heard (those threats) many times before,” said Triya Cruz, a resident of Yigo.

    “If it’s going to happen it’s going to happen. Let’s just pray and make the most of what we have now. Scary, yes, but what can we do? We live on a small island. There’s really nowhere to hide if the attack were to happen,” said Loiue Joyce of Mangilao.


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    To be or not to be Independent?

    November 18th, 2016

    Independence for Guam Task Force Photo ©
    Independence for Guam Task Force Photo ©

    HAGATNA, Guam — Besides the voter eligibility issue that is still locked in a court battle, the decolonization of Guam is paralyzed by our collective ambivalence over what political status is best for the island. Getting a unified voice seems impossible in an island populated by diverse ethnic groups that come from different cultural and political backgrounds.

    Some — especially those ineligible to vote in the yet-to-be-scheduled self-determination plebiscite— sit on the fence, satisfied with the status quo, having no emotional investment in bigger political issues such as participation in the national elections. But being granted the right to vote for the U.S. president, if we are to remain an American territory, is too important for most to pass over.

    What’s best for Guam then? We look to our neighbors and wonder if they have it any better. Are freely associated states in an enviable position? Will the federal government eventually treat Guam seriously if it became a state? And then we look at the most radical option—independence. Is Guam ready for this?

    The skeptics may doubt it, but the Independence Task Force is optimistic. “Choosing independence doesn’t mean choosing a path to doom,” said Ana Borja, a member of the task force.

    I doubt Guam looks at the Philippines, a former U.S. colony, as a model. The Philippines broke away from the United States, inspired by a quite prophetic slogan “It is a better to have a government run like hell by Filipinos, than a government like heaven by the Americans.”

    The Independence Task Force looks at Singapore as a model to follow.

    “In the annals of nation-building, Singapore’s transformation during (Lee Kuan Yew’s) tenure is one of the 20th century’s foremost achievements,” Aliee Wyne, associate at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, wrote in his August 2016 column in the Huffington Post.

    Singapore is an enigma. While Lee’s strategy for economic growth is awe-inspiring, the system of governance is removed from American-style democracy, which he described as “disputatious” and “difficult to manage. The “winning” formula, he said was “more discipline and less democracy.”

    If we are looking at the Singapore model, we must proceed with caution. But this is not to say we can’t learn from Singapore’s political system. Wyne cited at least two lessons the United States should take from Singapore’s success.

    “The first,” Wyne writes, “is that the quality of a country’s leaders depends in large part on the political milieu in which they emerge.” Lee frowned on an electoral exercise in which the contest is based on outward appearance, boosted by “packaging and advertising.” He disapproved of political patronage that makes political candidates beholden to privileged interests.

    “The second lesson is that ideology should not drive policy,” Wyne said.

    “With America’s political center shrinking, so, too, is the ability and willingness of Republicans and Democrats to collaborate to generate nuanced, durable prescriptions.”

    Such prescription can apply to Guam’s own political system, which is a copycat of the national political landscape. No matter what political status we choose, this aspect of Singapore is worth-emulating.

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    The male nurse: Does he appeal to you?

    November 16th, 2016

    Photo © Live Science
    Photo © Live Science

    HAGATNA, Guam  — When you think of a nurse, you automatically summon the image of a woman in white uniform and a cute little cap— not somebody who watches football, loves sports cars and sports facial hair.

    The male nurse remains a bit of a novelty. While it may seem role and gender stereotypes and traditionally associated with women, more men have been entering the field of nursing.

    According to a University of Guam study, the percentage of male RNs increased from 9.5 percent to 12.2 percent between 2003 and 2011— but still remain the minority.

    “Today, nursing remains an ever-growing profession, but the number of female to male nurses is largely disproportionate,” reads a report by UOG instructor Verna Jayne N. Zafra, who surveyed UOG students on their perceptions toward males in the nursing profession.

    “A possible reason for why men are so underrepresented in comparison to women is because nursing is often considered to be a feminine profession.”

    The link between nursing and femininity lies in the general characteristics associated with both females and nurses.

    “Traditionally, females have been prescribed as nurturing individuals, and through the doctrine of separate spheres, are relegated solely to matters of the home,” Zafra wrote.

    In the clinical situation, it was found that a bias still exists against males in certain clinical situations.

    Female nurses are greatly preferred in procedures that involve patients’ private or intimate areas, such as bed bathing and shots to the buttocks. Specific areas in the nursing profession are emerging in which males are preferred and more regarded than females – mainly heavy, physical labor.

    The study, however, found that although it has long been considered a feminine job, this notion is changing, along with the stereotypes commonly associated with it.

    “There is an acknowledgment that males in the field still do face challenges because of their sex. However, male nurses’ work competency is not in question. They are perceived as being just as capable of providing the same care and skill as their female counterparts,” according to the study, which showed 82 percent disagreed that “male nurses are not as skilled as female nurses.” Not a single respondent agreed with this statement.

    Overall, the female respondents of the survey were more positive about the statements about nursing and male nurses than the male respondents.

    Younger respondents, specifically those aged 18 to 21, were more conscious about sex differences of nurses. They were also more particular about the sex of their attending nurse.

    “One speculation to explain this phenomenon could be that the younger respondents lack the open-mindedness toward males in nursing compared to the older respondents, who appear to be more impartial about the issue,” Zafra said.

    The research generally concludes that nursing is a profession currently in transition.

    “As more males enter the line of work, shifts in perceptions will eventually follow. While the results of this research illustrate that the views of college-aged students toward male nurse are already more accepting, improvements must continue,” Zafra said.

    “Breaking down the existing gender barriers in nursing will not only facilitate a more equal work environment among nurses, but it will also benefit those receiving care from them.”

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    H2-B workers hope to be back on Guam

    September 9th, 2016

    Dededo, Guam Village Center Photo ©
    Dededo, Guam Village Center Photo ©

    HAGÅTÑA — About a dozen construction workers clustered outside their barracks at Ukudu Workers Village in Dededo, bantering with one another, some puffing cigarettes as they waited for the bus that would take them to the airport.

    “Guam has been a great experience for me,” said Norbert Valerio, an electrician who worked for Core Tech International/Ace Builders for 16 months. “I may be away from home, but there are a lot of Filipinos here so it feels quite like home.”

    Valerio was among the first batch of 380 workers whom Core Tech has to repatriate to the Philippines due to U.S. Customs and Immigration Services’ denial of their visa renewals and extensions. “This is my first overseas job,” said Valerio, a native of Cainta, Rizal, a province east of Manila.

    With two children to raise, Valerio couldn’t afford to wait or waste time. Before his repatriation, he had set up a new job back home. “I already have a new employer and will continue my work as an electrician,” Valerio said. “But if I get a chance to come back, why not. Yes, I’d like to come back to Guam.”

    The local construction industry relies heavily on off-shore manpower, especially from the nearby Philippines. But the shrinking quota of H-2B visas is threatening to jeopardize several construction projects on Guam.

    Valerio was scheduled to leave Guam with his brother, Randy Valerio, also an electrician for the same company. “I have to leave because there is no visa issuance,” said Randy Valerio, who came to Guam in March 2015. “My boss applied for a visa renewal but it was rejected by the federal government.”

    Before his stint on Guam, Randy Valerio worked in Qatar. “I’m going back to Samal, Bataan to be with my family,” he said.

    Earlier this year, Guam Delegate to Congress Madeleine Bordallo introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2017 to give USCIS flexibility in renewing H-2B visas on Guam, specifically for workers in the construction and healthcare sectors. While a congressional solution for military-related projects is eventually inserted in the Fiscal 2017 NDAA, the law likely won’t be implemented until April 2017 at the earliest.

    “I’ll wait for the company to call me again, hopefully,” Randy Valerio said.

    While working on Guam allowed him to make more money that he would have in the Philippines, he said he hasn’t saved enough to secure the education and future of his three children. “But I am thankful to this company for giving me this break, I hope I get a chance to come back,” he said.

    Meanwhile, Guam Delegate t Madeleine Z. Bordallo wrote to USCIS Director Leon Rodriguez urging him to provide immediate regulatory relief to address the continued H-2B challenges on Guam.

    Bordallo reiterated her concern that the high rates of H-2B renewal denials are impacting Guam’s workforce and will adversely affect Guam’s construction and health industries, among others, including ongoing and future projects related to the military build-up and associated civilian infrastructure projects.

    While seeking to address these challenges through federal legislation, Bordallo said she believes that immediate action by USCIS is required to ensure that Guam continues to have an adequate workforce to meet current and future demands for labor. She underscored that language she included in the House-passed National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 should indicate Congressional intent for the H-2B program on Guam moving forward, and urged Rodriguez to use regulatory authority to defer action on H-2B cases on Guam.

    She noted that stalling projects because of a lack of a qualified workforce from the denial of H-2B visas could negatively impact the realignment of Marines to Guam as well as jeopardize local civilian infrastructure projects.

    “I am deeply concerned about the continued denials of H-2B visas on Guam and the adverse impact they are having on our community,”Bordallo said.

    “While I have appreciated the dialogue I have had with USCIS to address this issue, more needs to be done administratively to ensure we continue to have a viable workforce that is able to meet current labor demands. I am especially concerned by recent news that Core Tech will be sending nearly 400 workers back to their country because of denials of their visa renewals as well as by Guam Department of Labor’s estimate that less than 100 H-visa workers will be on Guam at the end of the year,” she added.

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    Plenty of jobs on Guam but not enough workers

    September 7th, 2016

    A NAVAFAC Marianas poster Photo ©
    A NAVAFAC Marianas poster Photo ©

    HAGÅTÑA — In the summer of last year, Capt. Stephanie Jones, commanding officer of Naval Engineering Facilities Command Marianas, announced that the Department of the Navy was planning to embark on at least 42 projects by 2021.

    “Expect a lot of jobs,” Jones told the Guam Contractors Association.

    She said the labor demand is expected to increase to about 7,000 by 2021 and average salaries related to the construction phase and military operation phase of the buildup are expected to be considerably higher than the median Guam salary in 2012.

    The numbers looked good, but the promising scenario does not correspond to the current labor situation on Guam, where local industries are dealing with a manpower black hole.

    U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ rampant denials of H-2B visa renewal are taking their toll on Guam’s healthcare and construction industries, where positions are mostly filled with Asian workers.

    This week, Core Tech International Corp. will send home more than 380 H-2B workers, whose visa extensions and renewals were denied by USCIS.

    A number of major construction projects are in the pipeline. On the military side, the bulk of the appropriation under the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act is for the $125.68 million live-fire training range complex project in the Northwest Field of Andersen Air Force Base. Another $45 million is allotted for sewer recapitalization for the Navy on island, $34 million for repair and corrosion control for the Air Force and $10 million for municipal solid waste landfill closure for the Navy.

    On the civilian side, the Guam Waterworks Authority is getting ready to solicit proposals for water and water-treatment projects worth $55.30 million. In the private sector, several new hotel projects have either started or are now shovel-ready.

    While Guam is not unfamiliar with labor shortages, this year has been particularly challenging.

    The federal government has set a nationwide hiring quota of 66,000 H-2B workers a year, but Guam was previously exempted from the cap because of its limited pool of skilled workers.

    Guam relies heavily on offshore recruitment, specifically the Philippines, for its manpower supply.

    However, since December 2015, there have been no approvals and slow movement with new H-2B petitions. According to the local labor department’s recent reports, 19 employers have had 515 worker applications denied and 34 employers have 1,866 positions pending possible denial through the request-for-evidence process.

    According to Guam labor officials, 99.9 percent of the H-2B applications filed by local businesses since January have been rejected by the USCIS.

    The visa situation is also taking its toll on the otherwise expanding healthcare industry.

    Earlier this year, the Guam Regional Medical City — the only private hospital on island — was forced to trim its operations and shut down some of its departments due to an acute nursing shortage. In May, the nursing shortage forced the GRMC to reduce the number of available beds from 57 to 42 after losing 50 specialty nurses whose H-2B visa renewal applications were denied by USCIS.

    The  medical facility said from a little more than 200 in January, the number of nurses has gone down to 159 because those who left the island upon expiration of their visas were unable to return to Guam. The hospital was prompted to delay its original plan to expand with 200 beds before the end of the year and, at one point, it was forced to temporarily shut down its pediatric department.

    The visa situation is equally problematic for the construction sector, which is mostly dependent on skilled foreign workers to pick up the jobs generated by the military buildup. “Unless the federal government eases its nearly 100 percent denial for the foreign labor petitions for H-2B visas, work to build our economy, upgrade utilities infrastructure and prepare Guam for the buildup on Guam could stall,” Gov. Eddie Calvo said in his newspaper column. “The military buildup on Guam has spawned several new constructions projects in recent years, but contractors warned that the visa situation is likely to slow down these projects.”

    According to Greg Massey, administrator of the Guam Department of Labor’s Alien Labor Processing and Certification Division, there are about 1,200 H-2B visa workers currently on Guam, but that number may drop drastically by the end of the year if there is no change in how visa requests are currently processed, He said the number of H-2B visa workers may fall below 100 — and may even drop to zero — by the end of December.

    “This is an example of how the federal government needs to understand the unique situation on Guam so they can make decisions that don’t harm our island’s economy — and military construction is just a part of the overall picture,” Calvo said.

    He noted that some capital improvement projects require agencies, such as the Guam Waterworks Authority, to comply with federal requirements. Their compliance with court orders is likely to be jeopardized. “Failure to comply will result in increased cost for ratepayers via a threatened federal receivership,” Calvo said. “Yet, it is the federal government that could prohibit Guam from the opportunity to comply. Contractors bidding for the CIP projects, to help agencies meet said requirements, are concerned that they cannot complete these projects without the help of H-2B laborers.”

    Besides the visa situation, Guam has been dealing with the problem of convincing locals to enroll in trade schools. There are a number of training programs offered at the GCA Trades Academy with an end goal to build a resident labor pool. There are, however, not as many takers as hoped for.

    The prospects of tapping manpower from the mainland are not bright either. Many states are dealing with the same predicament. And with the immigration issue at the center of political debate, the situation is not likely to be resolved anytime soon.

    The local labor department’s hands are tied. While the Alien Labor Processing and Certification Division is involved in the processing of visa petitions and renewal applications, the final actions are done by the San Francisco district office. During a budget hearing at the Guam Legislature in July, Massey explained that his office plays a supporting role in the H-2B process. “(The feds) gave us that delegated authority,” Massey told the Guam senators at the hearing. “We don’t want to become an aggressor and they turn around and decide that they are going to take away that labor certification authority.”

    A press release from the governor’s office said Calvo is meeting with U.S. Department of Labor and Office of Economic Adjustment representatives this week to discuss short-term and long-term alternatives. “I am hopeful that this upcoming meeting will net the results our island needs to move forward,” the governor said.


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    When Marvel comes to life*

    August 19th, 2016

    mar-vic cagurangan-1SPOILER alert! Season 2 of Netflix’s “Daredevil” is filled with graphic violence. The bad men must die, especially those who deal drugs. Those within proximity of bad people are equally guilty; they must be shot dead, too. No questions asked.

    This is the Punisher’s brand of justice.

    In season 1, it was just Daredevil — a devout Catholic masked man who beats up the bad elements of society to teach them a lesson. He doesn’t believe in killing; he beats them up until they are unconscious and throws them in jail, hoping they’ll reflect on their transgressions and become reformed citizens.

    Against the backdrop of Hell’s Kitchen’s corrupt prison system, the Netflix series seems to find a moral justification for vigilantism without apologies.

    Blurring lines

    The verbal exchange between Daredevil and the Punisher in the third episode is a philosophical discussion that blurs the line between right and wrong.

    Punisher: I think that the people I kill need killing.

    Daredevil: You left men hanging from meat hooks!

    Punisher: They got off easy, in my opinion.

    Daredevil: You shot up a hospital!

    Punisher: Yeah, nobody got hurt that didn’t deserve it.

    Daredevil: You run around this city like it’s your damn shooting gallery.

    Punisher: Yeah? What do you do? You act like it’s a playground. You beat up the bullies with your fists. They throw them in jail. Everybody calls you a hero, right? And then a month, a week, a day later, they’re back on the streets doing the same goddamn thing.

    Daredevil: Yeah, so you just put them in the morgue?

    Punisher: You’re goddamn right I do.

    The world, according to the Punisher, needs men who are willing to make the hard call to break the revolving door of crime.

    The episode on the Punisher’s court trial reveals a polarized society, confronted by a moral dilemma. The God-fearing faction condemns the Punisher’s thirst for blood; his supporters hail him as a hero, convinced that the only moral thing to do is to kill criminals in a world where the justice system is the epitome of failure and government authorities are crooked.

    The Philippines has its own version of Hell’s Kitchen, a country mired in crime, where drug lords are in bed with cops and court officials.

    Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte – the real-life “Punisher” – repeatedly warned them during the campaign. His war on drugs involves a flood of gore. He sanctioned – even endorsed – vigilantism, giving everyone blanket authority to act as judge and executioner. “If (a criminal) fights, and he fights to the death, you can kill him,” he said in his post-election speech.

    “Please feel free to call us, the police, or do it yourself if you have the gun … you have my support.”

    Rising death toll

    The Philippine Daily Inquirer’s death list of suspected drug dealers places the estimate at 465 between June 30 – the day Duterte assumed office – and Aug. 1.

    And he is not about to stop. In Filipino expression, “walang sinasanto” (doesn’t believe in saints). “If you don’t want to die and get hurt, don’t pin your hopes on priests and human rights (groups). They can’t stop death,” Duterte said.

    Duterte’s main appeal to the electorate has always been his toughness. For a population that is tired of nonperforming politicians, Duterte is a novelty. For the generation that is ignorant of what happened during the martial law regime, he is a hero. His supporters would continue to applaud, until the next dead person is somebody they know to be innocent.

    In the realm of the TV series adapted from Marvel comic books, one can judge the Punisher kindly without any guilt. But in real life, where a real-world Punisher actually exists, one can’t have blurry moral judgment.

    No matter how farcical the Philippine justice system may be, the rule of law must still reign and one must hope for true justice.






    * The opinion of this author is his/hers alone. It is not necessarily the views of Beyond Deadlines.

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