WRENCHING RELOCATION FOR RESIDENTS OF "PARADISE"

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SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, May 20) – Residents of the
volcanic Northern Marianas island of Anatahan, which erupted May 10, want to be
relocated for safety and security reasons.

But if the commonwealth government cannot provide them a
permanent resettlement — which they have been requesting for nearly two
decades — the remote island’s 83 residents are willing to return to the
island they still call "paradise."

"We are not going to be moved from one island to another
for the next 100 years when we still do not have land titles," former
Northern Islands Mayor Joseph T. Ogumoro told Variety Friday evening.

As Northern Islands mayor from 1994 to 2002, Ogumoro said he
lobbied for the resettlement of his constituents.

Former Mayors Vicente Aldan (1982-1989) and Ambrosio Ruben
(1989-1994) also pushed the resettlement of the Northern Islands residents.

On May 15, 1981, the volcanic island of Pagan, about 173
nautical miles north of Saipan, erupted and its 60 residents were relocated to
Saipan.

They eventually received land titles to what is now called the
"Pagan Village" at Upper Miha in Garapan.

This time, Ogumoro said, "I am asking the government to
give the people from Anatahan land on Saipan."

As a parent, he said he is "striving hard" so that his
children could get land titles.

He said for several years now, several Northern Island residents
have also been requesting the government to award them permanent land titles in
the Northern Islands.

"I don’t know why (the government does not award us the
land titles). All we are asking is a portion of land that we can claim as
ours," said the former mayor.

Under the Constitution, all NMI descent individuals are entitled
to receive homestead lots.

Marina Iguel was born on Anatahan but she now favors relocation
to Saipan.

A mother of six who depends on farming as a source of their
livelihood, she is appealing to the authorities to give her family a piece of
land on Saipan.

"I do love Anatahan very much. (But) I want to transfer
here for safety. It is not safe anymore for us to go back home," she said.
"I am appealing to the government (to give us land)."

Anatahan’s lone school was destroyed in 1994 by Supertyphoon
Zelda.

Gov. Juan N. Babauta said yesterday that the proposal of
Northern Island Mayor Valentin Taisakan for permanent resettlement or relocation
contains "big ifs."

"It’s a question of whether we can do it," Babauta
said. "It is something that we obviously need to deal with because I don’t
know how long these volcanic activities are going to go on," Babauta said.

The cash-strapped CNMI government, he told reporters, is still
trying to find the source for the $20,000 to $25,000 that will be used to fund a
scientific study on Anatahan conducted by the Hawaii Volcano Observatory. The
island’s volcano erupted on May 10.

The 83 Anatahan residents are afraid to lose what they worked so
hard for all these years, Taisakan said.

The mayor said he sympathizes with his constituents.

"They want to go back there. You know how they feel about
the island where they worked very hard for so long. All of a sudden they have to
be moved away from there."

Ramona T. Rubueno, 45, said they love the "way of
living" on Anatahan.

Married to a retired government employee and now a mother of
four, Rubueno said she also wants to spend time with her family on Saipan. But
if given the chance to go back to the island, she said, "I’ll take that
chance — I want to be in paradise again."

There is no place like home, said 23-year-old Jimmy Saures.

The former mayor’s wife, Doris Ogumuro, 45, said she endured
the many years she had to move back and forth from her birthplace to Saipan just
to complete her studies.

She longs to go back home.

"There was no school on Anatahan, but I love living there.
We didn’t have to spend money. Everything is free," she said. "For
us it is paradise."

Lorraine Santos, for her part, is worried that her son, Joseph
Paul, will grow up in a "new environment" faced with the issues of
illegal drugs and peer pressure.

Santos, 26, said she was "heart broken" when she left
Anatahan.

"I want my child to grow up there. It is much easier there
than here. It is safer, no drugs, no peer pressure...just the family," she
said.

May 20, 2003

Marianas Variety: www.mvariety.com 

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