(Ms. Cagurangan is publisher of the Guam-based Pacific Island Times, and was a reporter and editor at various Philippine newspapers, notably Daily Globe and TODAY, before she went to the US territory).
HAGATNA, Guam— North Korea is threatening to ignite an “enveloping fire” of ballistic missiles aimed at Guam, but no one is budging.
The island remains calm — almost stoic — shrugging off reports about the supposed mid-August crack of doom.
For most Filipinos living on Guam, packing up is out of the question.
“Si Kim Jong Un? Wala yan! Mas matindi pa si (Rodrigo) Duterte dyan. (Kim Jong Un? He’s nothing. (Rodrigo) Duterte is fiercer than him),” said Risalito Recina, a truck operator for a local construction company.
Recina, who is from Navotas City, came to Guam in 2006 and has since obtained a permanent resident status. He is awaiting approval of his immigration petition for his wife and 16-year-old son.
He said with Duterte as Philippine president, he feels safer on Guam than in his home country. “Araw-araw may pinapatay. Parang panahon ni Marcos. Konting panahon na lang, martial law na naman. (People are getting killed every day. It’s just like the Marcos time. It’s just a matter of time before martial law is put in place again),” he said.
Provoked by President Donald Trump’s “fire and fury” warning, North Korea has renewed its perennial threats to attack the US-controlled island, with plans to launch a salvo of four test missiles by the middle of the month.
Pyongyang said the four Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missiles would fly 2,085.7 miles in 17 minutes, 45 seconds.
The security threat level has not been raised. George Charfauros, Guam’s homeland security advisor, said there is “.00001 percent chance of any North Korean missile hitting Guam.”
In the event it actually happens, he said, residents would have a 14-minute window to duck and cover.
“We will probably have 10 minutes to seal the master’s bedroom. That will be our shelter. I have stocked up on a ration of bottled water and Spam just to comply with public advisories,” said Vene Bourbon, a resident of Dededo. “I’m not really scared. I still believe they will find a way to resolve the conflicts diplomatically.”
Bourbon came to Guam, with his wife Emma, in 1996 after resigning from his job as a reporter for People’s Journal.
“This has been our home and we have no plans of leaving,” said Bourbon, who works with the Guam Department of Education’s support staff.
Filipinos on Guam account for 29.3 percent of the island’s population of 160,000. They work in various sectors of the community. A few are holding elective offices and appointive seats in government. Many own different types of businesses.
Like Bourbon, Rolly Zepeda has no intention of going anywhere. “I know the US military is capable of protecting us,” said Zepeda, an art teacher at Saint Anthony’s Catholic School in the village of Tamuning.
Zepeda arrived on Guam in 2001, with his wife Tina, a retired art teacher, and their daughter Kristine, a nurse who recently moved to the US mainland.
“If Kim Jong-Un is smart he should know better than to attack Guam. That is suicidal,” Zepeda said. “If the US strikes back, North Korea will disappear from the face of the earth.”
On Friday, Trump tweeted that “Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!”
In a phone conversation with Guam Gov. Eddie Calvo on Saturday, Trump gave assurances that the United States is “1,000 percent behind Guam” and that the island would be adequately protected.
Guam is home to 6,000 armed forces personnel, four forward-deployed fast-attack nuclear-powered attack submarines and THAAD missile systems. The military expansion plan will bring 5,000 US Marines from Okinawa in the next couple of years.
“I am not a military man, a strategist or military planner,” Calvo said in a press briefing at the governor’s complex on Friday, “but based on the information that we have, the confidence level of the US and their allies, and also knowing a little bit about the limitations of North Korean capability, I have reasonable confidence.”
Just the same, he advised residents to get their emergency plans ready. “For those of you who are from Guam, you know typhoons can strike anytime,” Calvo said.
He advised his constituents to “go out have and a good time. Enjoy the beaches and live your lives as if it’s business as usual.”
Which is exactly what everyone on the island has been doing. Stores and gas stations have been operating normally. The day they heard of the North Korea threats, parents swarmed to the stores to buy school supplies in time for school which opened last week.
Leilani Joy Mendoza, an administrative assistant at a Catholic school, did her own “emergency shopping” at Home Depot. “I’m looking for a belt rack. I have a couple of new belts and it’s time to organize my closet. This is an emergency.”
Remarkably, even as the Philippine government has been assuring the public it has a contingency for Filipinos based in Guam, including taking them in; or in the worst case bringing them back, some Filipinos apparently would rather live with Kim Jong Un’s threat than, say, brave Metro Manila’s traffic or be pestered nonstop by relatives demanding for doles.
One grocery cashier, who asked she be identified only as “E.M.,” articulated this. She said she’s scared to have to live through the city traffic. And added: “Puede ba, ‘wag mo ilagay ang pangalan ko, kasi tatawagan na naman ako ng mga kamag-anak ko at hihingi ng pera. Mas nakakatakot ‘yan kesa sa North Korea [Please don’t put my real name, because my relatives might keep calling me again for money. That’s scarier than North Korea].”